Writing While Bipolar
One of the writing groups I belong to just posted a question: Where do you want to be this time next year?
Honestly, I had to answer that I wanted to be exactly where I am today. Then I started thinking. Does this mean I am complacent? Don’t I have any ambition? Is my writing stagnating?
Well, maybe. On the other hand, I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and I’m enjoying it. Every week, I may do the same things, but they’re fulfilling things. It’s been a long road getting here, and my bipolar disorder has set me back at times, but I need to keep doing what I’m doing.
It’s a bitch trying to have any kind of career with bipolar, but I’ve had several. They haven’t all been in the creative area, but many have been. I used to be a poet, but no one ever made any money at poetry except for Rod McKuen and Helen Steiner Rice, and I didn’t want to be either of them. I haven’t written any poetry in years, except for a couple of haiku and sonnets about bipolar disorder.
At one point in my life, I had a job at an advertising agency. When I was let go from that, I applied for similar jobs. Then one day, I asked myself whether I would rather be writing about table saws or about books and ideas. The answer was painfully clear. I went back to school for another degree in English, with no idea what I would – or could – do after I finished.
The day after I graduated, though, I got a job as an assistant editor at a magazine publisher. It was a small place, so in addition to editing, I had to do a lot of writing. It was good for me. But after about 17 years, I was let go, largely because I had become reclusive and unreliable. I lost the editing job that came after that one, for similar reasons. Actually, I quit it, with dreams of a career as a freelancer. I was sailing on the dream of making my own hours, publishing what I wanted to write, and being a great success.
Guess what? That was hypomania talking. And when I came down, I hadn’t become a success. I crashed hard. For several years, I sank into a deep depression, perhaps the worst and certainly the longest-lasting I ever had. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t even summon the focus to read.
At last, my psychiatrist and I found a cocktail of meds that worked for me and brought me back to life. I started writing again, starting with my two blogs, this one and another one for non-bipolar topics. They were a labor of love, which means I didn’t make any money at it.
After a couple years of that, I realized that I had enough material for a book about bipolar disorder. I found a small, semi-indie publisher that specialized in mental health books. They published two collections of my blog posts, Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us. I got a few 5-star reviews on Amazon, but neither one of them sold. While I was finishing the second book, the publishing company went belly-up, under inauspicious circumstances. I couldn’t face going back to querying publishers, so I retreated to just writing blog posts. (I now have enough material for a third book, which I would call Bipolar World, but I haven’t pursued it.)
Hypomania struck again, and I wrote a murder mystery with a bipolar main character. I sent it to over 100 agents and got only rejections. When I came down this time, I realized that the book was deeply flawed and that I had rushed into trying to sell it when I hadn’t written or self-edited well.
Then, last year, I found a side gig ghostwriting to supplement my Social Security. It took off, and now I am working steadily at it, writing mostly self-help books. I’m finding it satisfying, and I’m good at it.
That’s where I want to be next year – ghostwriting and blogging. I make some money and am proud of it. Proud? Even though I’m not writing my own ideas and books? Yes. I keep getting customers and getting good reviews from them. I’m stable and working steadily. My bipolar disorder is in check. What more could I want?