What It's Like to Be a Writer With Bipolar Disorder
There are many stereotypes about having a mental illness. If you have obsessive compulsive disorder you are a clean freak. Schizophrenia? Well, you obviously have a split personality. Bipolar disorder — that makes you a creative genius, right? Here are seven things about the reality of being a writer with bipolar disorder.
There are times when you will not be able to write. Well, there will actually be times when you can’t do anything. When depression hits it sweeps away all “normal” life in its wake. Depression robs you of the ability to think or move normally. I love reading and running, but can do neither in the depths of depression with my brain like sludge and body like a beached whale. In fact, I find it hard to even watch crap daytime TV when I am deeply depressed.
In contrast, there are times when there are a million books running through my head. Every news story, conversation or random thought becomes a potential bestseller. My dropbox is littered with the graveyard of books that never made it past the first few very enthusiastic pages.
A high word count is not always a good thing. I generally experience hypomania rather than full-blown mania. To many on the outside this may seem fantastic! Great! This is when I am buzzing with ideas, feeling creative and energetic. However having read back many of my reams of pages written when I am on this high, it becomes apparent that most of it is pretty illegible. In fact, it is just nonsense. Flights of fancy, not literature. I used to open businesses or go on spending sprees, I guess writing a load of crap is less damaging!
Depression kind of ruins your self-esteem. Writers do really need thick skins. How many other careers would you expect to be rejected for your very personal thoughts and skills, not just once, but possibly hundreds of times over? In fact, rejection is almost worn as a badge of honor. Us writers all know how famous writers such as J.K. Rowling had to go through this, too. Usually this is taken with a grain of salt, it is part of the process after all. When depression grips however, your ability as a writer is suddenly called into question. After all, who would want to read the drivel you have written? My dropbox is also littered with story plans that never made it due to lack of confidence. This is the one that can go on for months and stop me picking up that pen (or laptop).
All writers know of the perils of procrastination. Social media always draws me in when I have a deadline. Need to finish a chapter? Oh, but look, there are kittens to be seen on Twitter! In a hypomanic stage, social media literally becomes my playground. Friends now know this is one of the signs I am unwell. I am literally on it 24/7. Commenting, posting and making inappropriate friends. Try keeping up a full time-social media addiction while you write, it’s hard!
On the plus side, reading and writing can be really therapeutic when I’m becoming unwell or on the route to recovery. Writing down my thoughts can give them some order, as long as I don’t try and make these jumbled thoughts into anything worth reading. I also love the idea of reading by prescription, there are definitely books which have helped me out of my hole, made me feel less alone or just encouraged me to have a good cry!
It also gives me a perspective into what it’s like for a character with mental health problems. Books are all about looking inside the lives and thoughts of others. The mind is absolutely fascinating and can be dramatic and fascinating when done well in fiction. Films often make the mistake of making mental illness brash and the story in itself, whereas books can be far more subtle but just as interesting. It is no coincidence that my books always include a character (or three!) with some sort of mental health problem. After all, they do say to “write what you know.”
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Thinkstock photo via undrey