Does Bipolar Disorder Help or Hinder the Writing Process?

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Writing a book takes a certain amount of mental stability.

Despite the fact that creativity is linked with mental illness in the popular imagination, having a mental disorder is not all that conducive to productive work, particularly to the sort of sustained, focused writing that a book requires.

Still, writers living with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, and other conditions have managed to write books – some very good and highly acclaimed.

I have taken on that venture myself. I am writing a book.

Now, settle down. I am not (yet) asking you to buy this book. It is still only a book in process. Nothing has been published. Maybe nothing ever will be. Nevertheless, I persist.

Actually, I have two books in the works. One is out of my hands now. It is languishing at a publishing company, where it has languished for a year, waiting for them to determine if their interest in it will lead to actual publication. That book is a memoir of sorts, based on these blog posts. Unless I want to start pimping it to agents and other publishing companies, there is nothing more to do with it right now.

In the meantime, my attention has turned to the other book. It is a mystery, and has nothing to do with bipolar disorder — except that the writing of it has everything to do with bipolar disorder.

First depression. Depression is great for writing certain types of scenes – deaths and reactions to them, for example, which are good for mysteries. Depression, however, periodically leads to the “this book is shitty” phenomenon, which I understand is not exclusive to depressive writers.

When depression leads me into that trap, I stop writing. Instead, I do “research.” If I am not too depressed to read, I delve into books about the craft of writing – plotting, description, etc. Or, I study the works of writers who do things exceedingly well – dialogue, word choice, narrative voice. I highlight examples of good technique. Then, at some point the depression lifts and I try to put what I have learned into my manuscript. Of course this means lots of rewriting and revising, which slows my progress, but, I hope, makes the manuscript better.

Then, there’s mania. Or at least hypomania, in my case. It carried me through the first eight chapters of the mystery before the depression hit. If it’s a truism that depression lies (it is and it does), mania is a liar as well. Recently I was tootling along at about 500 words per day, and it occurred to me that, at that pace, I could reasonably expect to have a rough draft by July 4, ready to send to my beta readers. This was mania talking. Lying, rather. In fact, there was no way I could maintain the pace, meager though it was, of 500 words per day and not a chance in hell that I could meet the self-imposed deadline.

What came next? More depression, of course. More research, this time into how various authors use dialogue tags. And a confusing attempt to improve the pacing by scrambling the order of the chapters.

Until writing mania sets in again, I plug away at scenes I know need to be written, even if I don’t know where they go, and keep my eyes and ears open for both the depressive lies and the manic ones. I have over 45,000 words written and refuse to abandon them now.

So I don’t know all that much about whether bipolar disorder is a help or a hindrance to creativity (I would suspect it is both), but I do know that it is possible to work around it.

Eventually, if I’m lucky and persistent, I’ll ask you to buy my books. Someday.

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Unsplash photo via Green Chameleon

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Hey Guys, It's OK to Cry

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I’m a man in my late 40s. I have tattoos, a beard and gray hair. I enjoy smoking the occasional pipe, fishing and going to baseball games. I’ve been known to cuss like a sailor and fall asleep at weddings. But I am not afraid to say I cry at the sight of kittens playing, watching sunsets and when my favorite team wins the World Series.

I also cry sometimes because my heart is just so full of pain I can’t explain and I am so depressed that I just want to crawl into a hole and disappear forever, while cursing the day I was born.

I admit, oftentimes tears do not fall from my face. I think that has something to do with some of the medication I take daily, but often tears do fall. And when tears don’t fall, it feels like my entire soul is shaking from the inside out.

I’m writing this not just to encourage men to show their emotions and admit they either cry or feel like crying, but also to encourage men to be upfront about mental illness. Now, I am not suggesting that crying is directly related to mental illness or is caused by mental illness. Of course not. But both crying and mental illness seem to be taboo topics among many men. They are often seen as a weakness of some sort. I remember hearing as a child, “Real men don’t cry” or even worse, “Don’t be a baby!” Those messages kept me quiet about my illness until the county crisis counselor showed up at my door to escort me to the emergency room for the first of many psychiatric hospitalizations. Those messages made my illness worse. The cloak of secrecy caused me and my family considerable harm.

I have bipolar disorder. Mental illness has affected me for most of my life. I have been hospitalized many times and I take medication every day to help me manage my illness. Most likely, the daily medication will continue for the rest of my life. There is a lot I cannot do because of my mental illness, but there is a lot in my life that has been greatly enhanced as well.

It seems like mental illness and suicide are taking a particularly heavy toll on men my age recently. I have almost been a suicide statistic myself, more than once. I am here to tell you that living with mental illness is not a weakness or a character flaw, but rather it is a sign of tremendous strength. It takes a lot of strength to live with mental illness. It really does. And I can also say that admitting I cry and admitting I have a mental illness and then talking about it and my feelings, helps so much. It won’t cure you, but it will help take care of the needless guilt and shame. There is no shame in talking about a medical condition that causes you to struggle. It’s kind of like Popeye eating his spinach, talking about your mental illness will give you strength you did not know you had. It can also save your life. There are real, strong men who do cry and do talk about their mental illness. It helps keep them alive. It helps us stay alive, so go ahead and have a good cry.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via contributor. 

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Your Stigma Is Offensive to My Bipolar Disorder

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It’s a painful subject to admit I have bipolar disorder, and why should I? My own psychiatrist recommends against this admission for some reason. Not sure what’s so wrong with having bipolar disorder, I didn’t choose it. It runs in my family in various ranges and forms, some taking form as a black cloud-like depression, in others a generalized attitude of rage prevails, and in me…well, I just get spun out of a normal sense of reality. It’s where I land that’s most embarrassing, the humiliating fight to find who I actually am, inside a full-shadow version of myself.

I hide it pretty well, as it comes upon me. Those long manias are as interesting as any version of reality I can cling to, and so it holds me. I’ve committed lots of damage during those lengths of time when I wasn’t sure which was the correct reality. Hopefully it won’t happen again, being twice caught off guard is enough for one lifetime. My doctor says it will happen again, that it’s cyclical. My children have witnessed first hand as I slip away from my baseline and at first gain energy, though it’s lovingly directed. I clean more, cook more, enjoy all of my life as much as I possibly can, start projects. At this point, I’m wary of any project that draws me in, my energy is best directed toward the very basics like housekeeping and childcare.

The few friends I hold close do not even know I’ve been committed to a hospital setting twice, and yes, it is an unpleasant situation, but it’s necessity just to stabilize me, as I drift back down from the grandiose ideas I’d been entertaining, a little too invested in possibilities that I’m not meant to own. Putting my heart and soul into everything I encounter is both seen as a gift, as well as the devil on my shoulder who is intent on taking me down. The saboteur, my unacknowledged shadow, orphaned selves… envy, pride, embarrassingly prejudice, faith, destiny, hope… these all get confronted during my absence from the status quo.

The proverbial onion gets peeled, I contend with disowned sides to myself, inevitably I grow and grow, which is why I always walk away with my head still held high. Society never expects someone “like me” to be managing mental illness, but it’s a daily goal to avoid triggers and to maintain a steady focus on everything I simply love and believe in. Raising an amazing family, being the envy of my peers, never conforming to the expectations of society, in between the cooking and the baking, the childcare, the mountains of laundry I scale every day…I contain multitudes.

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The Two Inner Voices I Have as Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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I hear two voices in my head all the time. I only realized this in the last few years. It’s been so noisy up there for so long that it was hard to get it straight, but once I identified them, something settled in me and things began to make a little more sense. The voices aren’t “hypomania” and “depression” like one might think. They are ever-present as the mood shifts occur and I ride this endless roller coaster of bipolar.

I call one Intention. She is pure light. She is my very best self. She is hope and love and kindness. She has big plans for me, and she knows I can achieve every goal if I just try. She is the happy list of “to-dos” I wake up with on a good morning. She is pure optimism. She never gives up. She feels like an organic part of me, no different than my toes or earlobes. She feels like my guide to my purpose here. She believes in me and I love her for that.

The other voice I hear I call Disorder. She is the cruelest of bullies. She laughs at my plans and dreams and goals. She reminds me constantly of my past failures and inadequacies. She seems happiest when I fall short. She pushes me to do things that are reckless and destructive. She is always there, but she does not feel like a part of me. She feels like an intruder who won’t leave. Trust me, I have tried to make her leave. I have drowned her in booze, I have choked her with drugs. I gave that up. She will not be silenced. I hate her.

There are a lot of days she is bigger and louder than Intention, but luckily, Intention won’t quit. For a long time, the battle between them for my attention made me feel “insane.” I realize now this is my battle of mental illness. A battle in my mind for balance and peace.

When the depression hits again, and the world is gray and everything is heavy, I lose the energy sometimes to fight or the ability to ignore Disorder. She fills my head with worries and darkness. She even tells me sometimes I am a burden to everyone I love and that they would be better off without me.

I’m getting better at catching Disorder at her game, though. Doctors and counselors and medication have given me tools and weapons to fight her. I remind myself when she tells me I’m worthless, that I have people that love me. When she laughs at me and berates me for spending a whole day stuck in bed, I remind myself that sometimes I just need to rest. Sometimes I’m not well and I have to take care of myself. When she pushes me to do something reckless in the throes of mania, I try to remind myself my life is good and I don’t want to do anything to ruin that.

Disorder doesn’t care about me. She likes to see me hurting, but Intention is always there, wanting better for me. The tools that I have been given help me to focus and listen better for Intention. I just have to find her and believe her. Sometimes that’s the hardest part. Some days I just can’t and I believe Disorder. Those are the bad days, but I have learned the bad days (or weeks or months) pass like storms. There are people who want to help me. I’m OK. Disorder won’t win. Intention and I won’t let her.

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Thinkstock photo via Victor-Tongdee.

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The Love I Have for My Children Is Stronger Than My Bipolar Disorder

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I have been so severely depressed that I stayed in bed for days, barely able to move enough to sit up and crawl out of bed, sometimes almost wetting my pants because my brain barely functioned enough to signal for me to move my body to get out of bed to use the bathroom. My personal hygiene skills were gone. It was too much work for me to take a shower, so I would not shower for days because it felt like there were too many steps involved to take a shower. Breathing almost seemed too difficult, but somehow I could at times conjure up enough energy from deep within my soul to move, only when I needed to take care of my young children.

Using every ounce of effort I could find from somewhere deep within myself, I somehow found the strength and determination to move and work enough to be a good mom, doing everything I could for my children. I was severely depressed and full of the pain of anxiety that felt like electrical currents were constantly stabbing me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, but somehow I pretended in front of my children that I was alive and well, so they would not see that I was sick and felt like I was slowly dying on the inside.

My oldest daughter told me when she was young, she didn’t even realize I was sick, which of course makes me very happy. Unfortunately though, my bipolar became increasingly worse as the years progressed, causing it to become more difficult for me to pretend with each passing year.

When I experience depression, I do not feel sad, I have no emotions. I feel empty inside and all over and can’t feel anything. I believe feeling nothingness and emptiness to the point that I feel dead is worse than feeling deep sadness or anger. I believe feeling anything is better than feeling nothing.

Knowing what it’s like to be alive while feeling like I was dead caused me many times throughout my life to sink in a deep dark black hole there seemed to be no escape from. Because there seemed to be no escape from the pain of nothingness, death surrounded me and overcame my mind. Soon death became all I could think about it. My mind was overcome and flooded with thoughts of suicide.

Somehow though, I was reminded of my children and a little spark rekindled the strong flame of love I have for my children and gave me some hope that came from somewhere deep within my heart and soul, making me realize I must fight to live, survive and thrive. I know I cannot leave my children. I cannot do that. I have to find the inner strength from deep within my soul to survive this torture I am living in and remember and learn how to breathe and live my life again, just for them.

Many people say they are alive because of their children. So deep is the love I have and many other parents have for their children that lives deep within our hearts and souls and will never go away no matter how ill our brains can become.

Even though I have a mental illness, the love I have for my three children never dies and is stronger than anything else. My disordered brain could never stop my love and intense feelings I have for my three children, no matter how sick I became or how dead I felt during my depressions.

I am alive today because of my children. I fought and clawed my way out of the deep dark holes of depression many times to live and survive for my children. My three precious children are my greatest treasures and are always my heart and my every breath of life.

Bipolar disorder is my primary diagnosis and I will always continue fighting the many symptoms and struggles I have living with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and will try to live the fullest and happiest life I can to the very best of my abilities.

I am a bipolar survivor, but most importantly, I am a loving mom, a loving bipolar mom. My brain does not have to work or function to feel the deep forever love I have for my three children. The love for my three children is much stronger and more powerful and resilient than my struggles with bipolar disorder.

I believe love is not controlled by our brains, but love lives forever within our hearts and souls.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via ChristinLola.

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How Baking Saved My Life as Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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Since my diagnosis, everyone has had his or her advice on what to do.

Have you tried running?

Running? You mean a slow and horrible death? No thank you.

Have you tried going to the gym?

Fun fact, more often than not, it makes me feel bad about myself. When I exercise, my mind will not shut off about not being good enough, or thin enough, or whatever enough. It raises my anxiety more than it calms me down.

Have you tried yoga?

Oh yeah, 20 plus minutes of being alone with my thoughts… That sounds like fun!

Now, I applaud anyone who can do these things. I encourage you to try yoga, running or working out. Reading and having a weekly television show is helpful, too. Really, try anything if you think it will help.

But for me? It all too often leads to depressed, anxiety-ridden overthinking. It is not pleasant, as I am sure so many others understand.

Things I already hate (like exercise) often send me spiraling down, endorphins or not. And I love a good book, but reading about someone else’s fictional life that I will never have isn’t helpful to me either.

So, what worked for me? What brings me out of the dark haze that is bipolar depression?

Have you tried baking?

When my mom suggested it, I sort of thought she was “crazy.” Cooking? I know many people cook as a creative outlet, but that didn’t really sound fun, considering I would often make something and not want to eat it after looking at it for so long.

Several years later, as I look back, I realize she was right — as mothers often are. Cooking, though, doesn’t really do it for me. Baking, that’s where it’s at, so to speak.

Baking has become a kind of therapy for me. In the last few years, I have found myself making cupcakes or brownies when I’m upset, when I need a way to “escape” for a little bit, or when I have too many thoughts running around my head.

It’s a precise craft. Baking requires a moderate amount of concentration and preciseness. And you know what? That helps clear my mind. Measuring out ingredients, keeping in line with a specific recipe — these aspects of baking help me get through whatever kind of episode I’m having.

Some people run. Some people read. I bake.

Other than covertly saying “Have you tried baking?” I would like to offer you these words of wisdom:

Don’t be disheartened if something that works for someone else, doesn’t work for you.

Baking works for me. You can try it, or not. But really, find something that works for you and don’t dwell on if you hate something everyone else does.

Recovering from mental illness is individual to each person, not something that is “one size fits all.”

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Unsplash photo via Brooke Lark.

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