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When the Box of Our Perception Stops Us From Seeing Beauty

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Sheer emotion
fills his veins
with black.

spits flames
as a voice in his head.
He sits at the edge
and looks down below.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

“Get up, young man!
You don’t want to go,
to spiral to the bottom.

For at the end of this emotion
lies only death,
but I’m going to tell you
you can make it not so.

You don’t have sit
at the edge of that ledge
like your perception tells you so.
Perhaps outside
the box you’re in
the sun shines upon the snow?

life is bleak,
and many will come and
go, but outside of

that box you’re in 

the sun shines upon the snow.

Have you ever seen it?
Outside the box,
Where the sun shines upon the show?

I know you feel your pulse
go by in every moment now,
and you look off the ledge,
to see the darkness
down below.

Perception is a tricky thing 
when it seems so doom and gloom,
but perhaps you only see that way
because you are so low.

Perception is a box, you see,
from your eyes unto your brain;
emotions are a byproduct
of the thoughts your head has made.
Perception is a little box
that grows smaller
when we are low,
but until we look
outside of it
we never see if
the sun shines upon the snow.

So how can you say
it is the end,
and can you truly know,
if you’ve never looked
outside that box 

to see that sun shines upon the snow?”

• What is Bipolar disorder?

When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder. I have experienced mood swings so drastic, it can impair how I perceive reality. There have been times in my life in which I believed I was a prophet or the Chosen One sent from God or something like that. Most of the time, simply getting from bedtime to bedtime is challenging. I have found that one thing has proven to be my voice of reason among the maelstrom that is bipolar 1 disorder. Writing helps me on a daily basis. Often, my perception causes me a great deal of pain. One day, I feel anxious that I have annoyed a friend, or perhaps I feel one day that I am worthless or that no one loves me. Maybe I feel that I am a joke, and that no one respects me, or that I will never escape my pain. Some days, if I am on the high, more manic side, I will feel paranoid, like people are watching me. In these times, when my perception is warped, I feel as if I am in a box. I try to reason with myself, but it seems that sense is far from me. That is often when I write.

Sometimes, we don’t know what to say to justify the magnitude of what we feel. We stay silent. But, after a while, our hearts know what to say. Even if our minds don’t. When I am trapped in the box, and my brain is in wild shambles, I open myself to the first thing that comes out of my mouth. I ask myself: “What is it you want to say?” One night, the poem above is what I had to say. In the midst of the unrelenting hell that can be bipolar 1 disorder, I write messages to myself.

I wanted to share the poem because I thought there was a message that could be taken from it. Depression and bipolar disorder can both include something we call “psychosis.” Psychosis is defined by the medical community as a state in which one loses touch with reality. We, humans, all perceive reality through our senses. For instance, our eyes see the blue sky and send messages to the brain. The brain then processes the information and determines that the sky is indeed blue. The brain, realizing just what a bright blue the sky is on that day, reacts in a way that makes the heart flutter and increases blood flow. Those reactions are what we call emotions. We live the entirety of our lives as slaves to that chain of reactions. That is what we call “perception.” I have dealt with my illness for almost eight years now. Along the way, I have learned about my disease and how it affects me. I had to learn psychological techniques and theories, and I also have picked up a few pointers of my own as well.

Statistics say that about 5.7 million Americans are diagnosed with bipolar disorder and about 15 million with some variation of depression. In the poem, a young man sits at the edge of a ledge with a box on his head. From the way he sees it, he can only peer below him to see that the chasm is very deep and dark. There is, however, a voice on the outside of the box. This voice sits beside the young man, asking to take the box off of his head. You see, the young man can only see within the box and the chasm below. He cannot see outside of the box. If he could, he would realize that what he perceives in the box does not agree with what lies around him. Because of the box on his head, he cannot see that around him, the sun is shining on the snow. This young man, because of the box on his head, cannot perceive that all around him there is some kind of beauty.

Everyone has or will see tragedy in their lives. Yes, life can be bleak. That is true. There will always be bad things happening; there will always be bad people doing bad things, and everyone, at some point, will go to sit on that ledge and put that box on their head. In the box lies pain. In pain lies agony. In agony, there is always the chance we will look down to see how deep the chasm is. At the bottom of the chasm lies death, and the box is there to make sure we see no other way. Perception works in that way. If our brains interpret the world in darkness, we will never be able to see the snow outside.

The trick comes by understanding that what we perceive is not definite. It comes with the understanding that everything we feel stems from how you think. If you think you are worthless, then you will feel worthless. We must understand that the box of our perception is based upon what we think about ourselves and the world around us. The daily defeat of depression and bipolar disorder comes by realizing that our perception is not always true. Life is only as dark as we allow ourselves to perceive. As we allow ourselves to believe, that is. If we never take the box off of our heads, we will never know if the sun shines upon the snow. And until we lift the box off of our heads, we can never truly say we know it doesn’t.

So let’s walk around a bit. Let’s get you out of that box. I encourage you, next time the darkness is all you see, and you look down at chasm below; take a moment to hear that voice, and see the sunshine upon the snow.

A version of this piece originally appeared on William Burk’s blog.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Thinkstock photo via Silent_GOS

Originally published: June 21, 2017
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