Question: What are some examples of beliefs that might be standing in the way of one's liberation as a healthy bipolar?  What were they for you?

Answer: Beliefs are believed by most to be sacred, even when they are far from relevant, personally upholding, and inclined toward the highest mind.  The beliefs that many of us bipolars wrestle with, in respect to their usefulness within our aberrant lives, are beliefs that we inherited from others, namely our parents and elders.  Religion has its say in our consciousness from an early age, but that is religion as it is customarily translated by family and ethnic/social tradition.  Tradition could be defined as a blueprint of beliefs, with the beliefs not really needing to be embraced at all or understood.  Holidays ring plangently of tradition beyond belief system, the popular, long-standing cultural rites taking precedence over any proportional religious or mystical fervor.  To question beliefs and traditions in this world is essentially to question religion and not too many young, newly diagnosed bipolars have the mental armor or training to do so, when it could well save them from years of undo suffering in the mind.

     Religion as I see it is a freedom of choice for conformist non-bipolars and a mental prison sentence for any bipolar.  The gift of being born without a disposition to react to the poison of the world atmosphere through bipolar symptoms (depression, mania, hypo-mania, psychosis, agitation, poor judgment, suicidal ideation, and suicide) comes with its own unique caveat: Be careful not to assume that a non-bipolar symptom-free life is a mentally healthy life.  Healthy, symptom-free bipolars have a fighting chance to become like the tortoise from the fable of the tortoise and the hare, winning for themselves entire mental freedom, if they steer away from beliefs that belong to others.  Non-bipolars who hold fast to others' beliefs and traditions will likely manage that practice their entire lives, just as many generations of non-bipolars before them have managed to do so.  Surviving a loveless marriage, enduring a meaningless job, remaining faithful to a religion's pre-ordained God, are not necessarily signs of well-being; they are public exhibitions of the dull power of not being inherently sensitive enough in the mind to suffer conditions like these and recognize that they are destructive to anyone's sense of mental health and freedom.  A looming shock to a non-bipolar could well be that the healthy, symptom-free bipolar has taken the lead in the human quest for mental freedom.

     Conventional ideals drove me deep into bipolar symptoms for decades.  I was never overtly conventional in my bearing or my ideology, but it's not the big picture that shapes bipolar health; it's the finest detail of convention that can become like the straw breaking the camel's back.  Pursuing a career in the arts is imaginably an unconventional pursuit, yet, there are many ways to follow one's artistic passions.  The business of the arts is not unconventional and it is the dream of many artists like me, bipolar and non-bipolar, to be sponsored or signed by a representing business entity in the arts.  The purest thought might be that someone in the world loves my creative work and simply wishes to help me realize the dream of reaching the widest possible audience.  The common pitfall of unconventional bipolar artists, despite a possible noble will to reach out inspirationally to an audience, is that they are adopting conventional beliefs about the arts in order to realize their unconventional dreams within the arts.  Just like the non-bipolar religious people, non-bipolar artists can likely survive the conventions of the respective businesses of art, music, literature, film, dance, and theater, but it doesn't mean that they are living well within the stricture of this natural mismatch of commerce and artistry.  Bipolars usually fare badly in this conventional design and there are many suicides to tell that lurid tale, from Vincent van Gogh to Montgomery Clift to Marilyn Monroe to Whitney Houston to Robin Williams.  I escaped that bipolar fate by a hair in 1997 and live to tell another story, that of an unconventional pursuit of an unconventional passion.

     In order to solve a problem like having a jellyfish in your toothbrush, you might have to get creative.  If you are a creative being in the least, then it won't be the greatest challenge of your life to look for new ways to overcome the chronic bipolar obstacle of being raised on convention and needing to circumvent it at all cost, all the time.  Our beliefs should lean toward the unconventional, if we are bipolar.  Otherwise, it would appear that these beliefs do truly belong to someone else. 

 -The Blue Bear  

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Question: Aside from medication, what have you found to be most helpful in coping with bipolar disorder?

Answer: Medication, more often than not, saves lives in the bipolar disorder realm.  Lithium is notably regarded as a suicide preventer by most mental health practitioners.  If something saves a life, does it then need to take up an active role in maintaining a life?  That is a question that many bipolars could ask themselves daily, for reasons ranging from the hope of ridding their lives of medication side-effects to wanting to feel life and manage life first hand, without the aid of psychotropic drugs.  My sense of bipolar medication's worth is that it saved my life many times and, yet, did so in such a heavy-handed way with regard to side-effects that I felt constantly moved to seek an alternative treatment plan.

     The formal treatment plan can change for all of us bipolars, but we must first change something about our condition to justify a modification of the cure.  Many bipolars want to be medicated, nearly induced into a coma, during depressions and to go al fresco and drug-free during manias and hypo-manias.  If only that were a sensible option, bipolar disorder would have many more champions of its cause, fewer dead bipolars as its caveat.  If you perceive mania and hypo-mania as your natural bipolar gift, your exclusive bipolar birthright to spread your broken wings and fall, then a strict regimen of medication would surely be the best prescription for you.  Most people, bipolar and non-bipolar alike, somehow are not threatened as much by mania and hypo-mania as they are by depression, even though most of the poorest judgment and extremist acts are mania-driven, not enacted by depressed minds that have enough trouble negotiating a day's journey from the bed to the shower.  Remembering that bipolar disorder is a disorder of two poles, not one, mania is the wild catalyst of many, if not all bipolar depressions.  You cannot praise the immortal feeling of mania once you know that it is essentially the Grim Reaper dressed as a perpetual sunny day; you must be wise enough to discern that not every symptom of a disease feels awful all the time.  Mania is just a symptom of bipolar disorder and must be treated no differently than depression, psychosis, agitation, suicidal ideation, and suicide.

     Perspective is the first and most critical change for a bipolar to embrace because a perspective change will directly lead to a change in behaviors and eventually to a detectable life change.  To change one's perspective is to realize that he or she is not being blessed by an existing belief system.  Beliefs can run deep in us and that is the reason we must take tremendous care on the journey toward a medication-free, symptom-free bipolar existence.  Pulling beliefs up from the roots is the best way to examine them and to determine for ourselves how much these beliefs are helping us and how much we believe they are helping us because we are attached to them emotionally.  Bipolar disorder does not bode well for those of us who are sentimental; we bipolars have to be pioneer spirits in this world, detach ourselves from anything or anyone standing in the way of our whole mental health.  Our beliefs cannot change us for the better; we need to change our beliefs in order to heal.  Medication can save us from having to dig as deeply within our own self-understanding, but it will not replace that personal awakening with anything but a clamp on our worst bipolar symptoms and a myriad of undesirable side-effects. 

     Laziness will get you nowhere as a bipolar.  Medicated and lazy, you will suffer symptoms and side-effects, identity crises from courting others people's perspectives and beliefs, and you will deny yourself the one bipolar birthright that is about spreading your wings and flying: the liberation of the human soul.  The soul of the bipolar is the soul of every human being; it must have its chance to change the world from within one's self.  When such a soulful change begins to take root inside of a bipolar's mind, then a change in his or her treatment may well ensue.  Medication can save a life and it can also diminish its quality, if that life beckons freedom from the unhappiness of an unhealthy perspective and useless beliefs.

 -The Blue Bear  

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Question: If, by your description, careless young adult use of drink, drugs, sex, and cigarettes are the primary bipolar poisons, how is it that a wholesome teetotaler like you managed to have three breakdowns? 

Answer: Bipolar breakdowns are like lightning bolts to the bipolar, especially that first one.  One tends to discover his or her life limitations entirely by accident, certainly by surprise, when too much poison enters the bipolar consciousness.  To be clear about my sense of poisonous adult influences, it isn't alcohol or sex unto themselves that threaten a bipolar's state of mind; it is the despoiling of these otherwise benign and often wondrous life pleasures.  Illicit drugs (and cigarettes) are naturally an unhealthy influence for any bipolar because they don't come in standard doses that have any effect other than to alter the chemical make-up of the body and mind.  Bipolars need mind and body-altering drugs like a ship needs an iceberg.  Alcohol and sex can be experienced mindfully, wondrously, without adversely altering mental or physical states, but this mindful application is far from the root of so much bipolar suffering, as I see it.

     There is a formal stage production in the NYC Off-Broadway domain called, DRUNK SHAKESPEARE.  It is a theater performance that demands one of its actors (each night) to guzzle several shots of whiskey before joining the troupe for an unpredictable, besotted evening of Shakespearian excerpt.  This concept sounds like a silly, offhanded remark during a long-winded theatrical company meeting, not like a legitimate show design.  Its inherent flaws are that it is unmindful of the potential, damaging effects of overindulgence in alcohol on those who participate in the performance and it sets a mood in the world of children and adults that there is clearly a divide between the two, that it is a perfectly acceptable adult practice to become grotesquely inebriated, even to get drunk for the sake of your profession.  DRUNK SHAKESPEARE is an insult to those of us who care about composition, sober thought, mindfulness, and innocence.  It is also a good example of worldly poison that we bipolars can avoid experiencing actively within a theater, but one that we cannot ignore in concept.

     As we adults apply our too often misguided appetites for alcohol and sex, we can find ourselves in escalating expressions of primitive behavior, alcohol as a delightful complement to cuisine being traded for binge drinking and competitive shot glass-tippling, sex as a private enlacing of lovers' limbs and devotion somehow deviating to sportive encounters with strangers, striptease, live sex shows, pornography, and rape.  Love and innocence are the missing ingredients in most unmindful adult practices.  Too much of a void of love and innocence in day-to-day life is what leads many bipolars to breakdowns, in my opinion.  It was not the poison of mishandled alcohol and sex on a college campus that had me lose my mind in the summer of 1986; I believe it was a lack of love and innocence in countless expressions of life around me that made my life suddenly unmanageable.

     After one violent breakdown, then two, then a third, over a period of twenty-two years, what moved me to declare that three breakdowns were more than enough practice with the abyssal darkness was my sense that there must be poisonous influences beyond the obvious that are undermining my overall pursuit of whole mental health.  My life depended on me becoming a master detector of any atmospheric poison at all.  What I discovered in my forty-second year is that I needed to examine all of my thoughts, my words, my actions and those of everyone around me and to make a formal decision to commit my life to a minute-to-minute practice of meaning and protection from unnecessary, seemingly innocent emissions of less mindful thought, expression, and behavior.  I sought to become the keeper of innocence in my own life, when no one around me seemed to have the same limited threshold of life tolerance and no one seemed to have to pay such an exorbitant cost for any compromised personal regard.

     Having committed these past seven years to an non-medicated, constant life vigil and a whole life embrace of high-minded thought, expression, and behavior, I report that I am entirely bipolar symptom-free and that I have surprisingly become much more tolerant of the chronic, poisonous adult atmosphere in the world.  I have healed not only the wounds from my perspective of the world around me, but the perspective itself.  Apparently, it takes a long time to figure out that one's ideal vision of the world is the world.  When you take up power as a mindful, loving, and deeply feeling, reasoning person, you conquer the world enough to keep it from destroying you.  That is the gift that my symptom-free bipolar life has accorded me: a veritable breakdown blockade, a surprising tolerance for the same poison that once put me in the hospital, a fighting chance in the adult world atmosphere as long as I continue to rid my mind, my words, and my actions of any of its influence.

 -The Blue Bear  

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Question: As parents, how do we handle bipolar behaviors...agitation, suicidal leanings, etc. while maintaining our own sanity?  

Answer: Bipolar behaviors need to be acknowledged, counseled, and managed all the time, if they are symptomatic behaviors.  If, however, the behaviors are natural human reactions to trauma, shame, a feeling of inferiority, then they need to be honored.  Parents have to be good judges of the difference between bipolar symptoms and the direct symptoms a bipolar child is likely experiencing from the shock of another suicide attempt, the disappointment of failing to meet basic human goals, and the shame of being bipolar in a non-bipolar house and a mostly non-bipolar world.

     Part of normalizing bipolar disorder is relaxing into a collective understanding of it.  Parents and bipolar children all know what is going on.  If you are afraid of them or for them, then you are acting like people who have never seen a spider kill a fly.  Watching a bipolar struggle for good mental health is like watching a nature program where violent behavior is going on customarily between species.  We know things about animal behavior because we have studied it or witnessed it.  It doesn't bother us so much that cats hiss and scratch, that dogs bark and bite; we simply know what to do to normalize that non-human behavior, sometimes by backing away, sometimes by counseling our pets, sometimes by checking our own behavior as it might set the animals off.

     Bipolars need a tight leash and that leash has to be held by them at all times, if they are going to heal fully.  When everyone (friends, family, practitioners) is working toward exemplary bipolar health, then the language is a shared language of concern for what it will take to change bipolar behavior from symptomatic to non-symptomatic.  It's not an us-versus-them dynamic; it's an all-for-one-and-one-for-all dynamic that works best.  Fear interrupts progress for the bipolar and the support chain of friends and family.  Fires need to be put out sometimes and they are best put out by someone who isn't frantic.  If you start in a place of acceptance that your son or daughter is not normal, but a lovely bipolar human being, with great potential to live a beautiful existence, then it might get easier to fight for him or her and feel less like you are fighting against the bipolar and the mental illness.

     Acceptance is the hardest first leap for anyone with bipolar disorder.  How could it be otherwise?  Everyone else is managing life, relationships, studies, work and he or she is sitting in a hospital somewhere, wondering how to pick up the thousand pieces of the puzzle.  Patience, courage, determination will help the cause once acceptance has been reckoned.  There is no way to proceed positively, if the bipolar and the family simply want the disease to go away.  Families can break down and they also can become fortresses by the effect of unforeseen challenges.  These challenges come in all different forms.  My family dealt with an alcoholic father and a seven month hospitalized bipolar son back in 1986/1987.  Other families deal with untimely death, terminal illness, drug abuse, criminal behavior.  All families have their doses of distress.  Yours is quite particular right now and can be managed well, depending on your level of acceptance of present circumstances, your will to evolve collectively, and your ability to diminish fear of the known and the unknown.  It's not an easy task, but it is a possible one and one that will most certainly lead to a better life.        

 -The Blue Bear  

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Question: What does the concept of normalizing bipolar disorder mean and, as parents, how do we get back to being as "normal" as possible?

Answer: The notion of normalization is difficult for everyone, bipolars included.  The best way for me to explain it is to put it into metaphor.  Symptomatic bipolars at their worst are stray, wild animals that must either be shot or placed in the circus.  They are initially put in cages, fed, studied and, hopefully, eventually, they are trained to become part of the circus family.  The trained version of these wild animals would be veritably the non-symptomatic, healthy bipolar.  It is normal for any wild animal to be unmanageable in captivity, before it learns how to react differently than it would in the wild.  A dancing bear or tamed lion, or circus elephant may never become entirely tame, but it can co-exist with humans, especially those who understand animal behavior.  In a circus it is normal to see lions, bears, and elephants engaging with humans and it is immediately perceived as abnormal the moment you take away the circus tent and place these animals in conventional society.

     During severe bipolar symptomatic stretches, parents, friends, and practitioners are essentially in the position of caging, feeding, and studying the bipolar sufferer, before he or she is able to join the circus as a tamed lion or a dancing bear, or a pageant elephant.  Bipolars have to be trained because their natural path in this poison-filled world is a path of self-destruction and suicide.  The training is mostly self-training, although it helps tremendously to have friends and family nearby who understand (as much as they can) that bipolars are not normal, but need to feel entirely normal in order to improve their lives.  Parental acknowledgment that you are father or mother to a wild animal (not a badly behaving human son or daughter) begins a pathway of normalizing bipolar behavior, not necessarily condoning it.  It is normal for a 'wild' bipolar to become depressed, manic, hypo-manic, psychotic, agitated, suicidal, even though that isn't normal behavior for most other people.  As the bipolar heals and trains him or her self more and more to become a manageable circus animal, he or she will get close enough to a universal sense of normal, but will never actually be normal.  The highest expression of normal will be as a tamed lion or a dancing bear, or a promenading elephant, not as a lion tamer or a bear wrangler, or a circus ring master.

     I am nothing more than a dancing blue bear myself and that is the closest I will ever come to being normal.  I don't bemoan my fate because I feel normal in my 'circus' life.  The key for all bipolars is to search earnestly for alternative visions of life, while they are seeking their own versions of normalcy.  Happiness for bipolars is the feeling of being able to live fully, to sense no second class citizen status for themselves, but to establish a class of citizenship all their own.  We normalize our mental illness by identifying its limitations and living fully within them.  Others can help us normalize our bipolar lives by accepting our limitations and by celebrating everything that we do in order to live exceptionally well within those bounds.           

 -The Blue Bear  

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Question: You often refer to the poisonous influences of the world that bring bipolars to their knees.  Can you tell me some specific instances from your own life of toxic influences that you were able to banish and how this contributed to your freedom?

Answer: The poison influence of the world is a constant rainfall and bipolars by nature have no raincoat, no hat, no umbrella, and no waterproof shoes.  When we are young the adult world of cocktails, cigarettes, and sexual tension, foul language, violent outbursts, intense competition, pride and patriotism, glamour, secrecy, climbing the ladder of success, strict male and female role playing all seems too mysterious and alluring to resist.  How could the adult world possibly want what we children have, when it has film noir to our neighborhood puppet show?  I tried my first and last cigarettes when I was twelve just for the reason of being beguiled by what adults could do with paper, tobacco, and a match.  It was pure magic to my young senses, yet, somehow I knew that it belonged to a class of poison and, so, two cigarettes were my childhood's sole act of rebellion, my only traceable leaning toward adult sensibility as a child.

     What impels us to trade childhood virtues for adult vices?  Coming of age for some young men is tantamount to drinking to inebriation, getting stoned, having sexual intercourse, sometimes with a stranger or a prostitute.  These are leaps from a childlike sensibility and the disappointment is that they are leaps to nowhere.  A rite of passage should ideally take us from one land to another higher or greener, or wider land.  My sense of the college version of rite of passage is that these promising young people are led like lambs to slaughter early in their matriculation and, before they are aware that they dwell in a poisonous atmosphere, they are tempting other, younger lambs to self-slaughter.  College was my first encounter with widespread, senseless imitation of adult sensibility.  From personal witness of excessive drinking and indiscriminate sex to cocaine snorting, pill popping, and mushroom tasting, I had my vicarious fill before the end of my first semester.  My roommate took a Freshman shine to marijuana and decided on one occasion to bring the bong and party into our room.  I played parent on that occasion and, unwittingly, did my best to protect myself from the poison rain a little while longer.

     If bipolars needed only to keep their bodies free of poison chemicals, bipolar disorder would have been wrestled into submission centuries ago.  The spread of the poison may begin with the mimicking of adult appetites by young men and women, but it moves quickly into the belief that these unhealthy, unmindful practices are an essential part of becoming mature citizens of the planet.  That belief system is stronger than some religious doctrines and, in many cases, religious people are found practicing active faith in God and a more active faith in their sense of what it truly means to be an adult.  If being an adult is mere license to drink, smoke, and sex your way to a belief oblivion of vanity, sentimentality, chauvinism, prejudice, profanity, violence, tradition, exploitation, greed, and pride, then I propose a new title for myself as a fifty-year-old bipolar man: responsible child.

     People might imagine my senses to be so precious that I could not even withstand violence and profanity in films.  Well, I don't cheer between gunshots and curses, but I'm not a fool for fiction; it's the rain of reality that potentially beats me down.  Art, I once understood, was for the sake of lifting the human consciousness to a higher plane.  There has long been a split in that particular theory of art and we in the modern world have become the customary beneficiaries of high-minded and below-the-belt offerings, both.  With or without highbrow sensibility, art is still art, not reality.  We are supposed to know the difference as readers, viewers, and listeners.  If the poison atmosphere of the world is being perpetuated or exacerbated by contributions from the art world, then there exists another poison in the human realm, that of an inability to sort fact from fiction.

     I am not naturally protected from the world's chronic lack of innocence, but lean on my own sense of reality, when it only takes one perspective to shape a reality that heals us more than it mutilates us.  Smoking a cigarette is not tantamount to being an adult.  I knew that when I was twelve and I know it now.  More adults than I can recall have mentioned to me how much they miss their childhoods.  So many of us children wanted to be precocious adults - some of us succeeded.  Bipolars do well to make their rite of passage one of adding responsibility to their childlike approach to life.  Responsibility is the only salvageable feature of adulthood, in my opinion.  My responsibility to my mental health, to the regard of others' well-being is my handmade raincoat, my protection from less desirable realities.      

 -The Blue Bear  

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Question: How do you maintain such a cool head in the face of all the objective pressures of the world?  So called "normal" individuals find day-to-day living in the current social system unbearable and unsustainable from an economic and emotional stand point.  It is to your enormous credit that you have survived and thrived, but how? 

Answer: There is no incantation or potion, or talisman for the warding off of worldly influences that threaten bipolar and non-bipolar stability - no mystery.  I am not naturally able to survive in this world atmosphere, at least the way that it is now and has been my entire adult life.  There was likely an ancient setting that favored the mental health of someone like me, a time and place of less civilization, more community, but that consideration doesn't help the present cause of doing more than surviving in the modern world.  What I must do to make my bipolar existence extraordinary is rooted in discipline, failure, and paradox.

     My will is an indomitable one, I admit, but discipline is still practiced by the second; it isn't a character quality; it's a circumstantial, willful act that makes difficult and necessary tasks possible.  When a suggestion of self-improvement comes to my mind, I don't hesitate to adopt a new practice, knowing well that I can use all the help I can get from others and from my own imagination.  Understandably, some bipolars are not self-motivated; they depend on the proverbial bottom dropping out or their backs being put up against the wall, in order to make a life change for the better.  How many times, however, does a bipolar need to have the bottom drop out, before he or she gets the message that a life transformation is in order?  We bipolars get used to uncontrollable and unbearable life circumstances through our symptomatic struggles, so the answer is not clear for most.  My sense of discipline has me understanding that life at the bottom is no life at all, so naturally, it might not take me as many trips to the abyss to decide that I should change my bipolar ways.  Unfortunately, it is easier said than done, since many of us bipolars are working tirelessly on self-improvement and have no idea that we might be working against the tide, not having particular salmon-like strength to swim upstream and make it to our ideal life goals.  Discipline only works when it is applied thoughtfully.  Otherwise, you find imbalance: bipolars exercising regularly, eating and sleeping well, but keeping company with people whose presence amounts to exceeding emotional stress.  Influences that surround bipolars are the triggers of their symptoms, so, imaginably, discipline could easily become like raking leaves in the wind, if good personal practices are met with unwieldy social, environmental, and occupational conditions.  To practice discipline is to practice it fully, within every engagement of a bipolar's senses.

     I am a believer in failure as a critical life tool.  Acceptance is the beginning, but outright declaration of it seems to put me in a balanced position mentally.  Failure is a truth teller, a friend for the long journey.  No harm ever came to anyone who faced the truth of life failures.  Forsaking appearances, bipolars in particular may have more life freedom than most after overt, public breakdowns, hospitalizations, suicide attempts, and symptomatic exhibition to break as many eggs as humanly possible in order to make the proverbial perfect omelet.  Not seeing or knowing the truth is a happenstance that can slow most bipolars' pathways to facing the truth.  Being fearless is a noble quality that serves us well, even better, if we apply it to the proper daring circumstance.  If we are liberal with our courage, we will likely stack up many failures, but as failures go, their gift is that they do eventually lead us to success.  This is my story: my determination and my blindness leading me to failures, which in turn led me to a recognition of my blindness to the forces around me that were contributing to my destruction.

     Sensitivity is the bipolar's strength.  Although sensitivity is often deemed a sign of weakness in the human realm, it is the shared, singular feature of every apex predator on the planet.  The paradox of the bipolar plight is that sensitivity brings us to our knees at the onset of our diagnoses and, yet, represents our only chance of living an extraordinary life.  Discipline and failure sharpen the senses; the eyes become vigilant, the ears become discerning, the sense of touch detects deep and distant rumblings beneath the surface.  A healthy bipolar will often be more fit for human existence than many non-bipolars, this phenomenon attributed to an embrace of sensitivity as a strength, an employing of its virtues in a human world that believes its own apex predators to be best equipped without much sensitivity at all.   

 -The Blue Bear  

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Question: What do you consider to be examples of helpful/accurate representations of bipolar disorder in popular culture?

Answer: Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life, a 1956 film by Vincente Minnelli, is a fleshy portrayal of the bipolar painter, a surprising, detailed approach to the passionate miscues that defined van Gogh's alienation from others, his distress and decline.  The performance is not delicate at all, yet so sincere, serving the story well, in my opinion, by demonstrating how different van Gogh's sensibilities were to most everyone else around him.  His fractiousness and his whole-body immersion in his life's work paints a portrait of bipolar disorder hypo-mania that feels quite true to me.

     Camille Claudel, the Bruno Nuytten 1988 filmic depiction of a late 19th century French bipolar sculptor might be my favorite foray into the bipolar artist domain.  Isabelle Adjani plays Camille with a furious and fragile loveliness, a character for whom one cannot imagine such tragic fate as her midlife life sentence to an insane asylum.  The surrounding world in the storyline seems indisputably the mentally ill, misguided one, Camille herself, a casualty of her own faith in love and artistic vision. 

     Maya Forbes' Infinitely Polar Bear from 2014 is a refreshing, non-sensationalized, bitter-sweet, modern cinematic portrait of a bipolar plight, its tone somewhat light-spirited, despite the ponderous life circumstances of the main character, Cameron, played by Mark Ruffalo.  The humor somehow plays itself out as a third party, an innocent, impartial bystander who may or may not understand the bipolar condition and reacts to some of its absurdity in a natural, unabashed way.  I experienced this film viscerally and loved how comfortable the director and cast seemed with the palette of pure bipolar colors.    

 -The Blue Bear  

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Question: I wonder if you go too far in suggesting that medication should never be part of the bipolar disorder solution.  No doubt there are many like yourself for whom lifestyle change alone would be sufficient.  But might there not be others for whom a combination of lifestyle change and medication would be the necessary prescription?

I suppose what I am asking is: Do you think there is a danger that you are universalizing your own experience?

Answer: If you are fixing the proverbial boat at sea, then medication is likely essential to keeping ballast on the open, wild, bipolar symptom-infested waters; if you are, however, bringing it into dry dock, why not fix the hull and the sails, and the rudder...and the captain for that matter?  My root point of view on the bipolar plight begins essentially with heresy - Bipolar disorder is entirely a manmade disease.  My sense that medication of most kinds tends to diminish symptoms over mending deeper human wounds is only as provocative as the base ingredient of any heretical stew.  Bipolars must find their own way through support and resistance, just as I did.  My exhortation to question every synapse, every shift in the wind, every morsel of life, is good medicine, I think, since we bipolars do need to decide what side of the life-and-death struggle we would rather defend. 

     Half of a lifestyle change possibly dictates half of a medication change.  No lifestyle change dictates much medication, much therapy, much modified, but constant symptomatic behavior.  People have to decide for themselves if they want to be wholly mentally healthy, entirely symptom-free, or if they would rather appear that way to others time-to-time and have some of their symptoms kept temporarily under control.  I don't propose that anyone should follow my regimen; I merely wish for people to understand what it means to be mentally ill and to determine what they are willing to do to become fully mentally well.        

 -The Blue Bear  

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Question: How does faith in a good and powerful God come into play with the struggles of a bipolar?  Do you find you depend on God more or less?

Answer: When I was hospitalized in 1986, following my first breakdown, I had an orthodox Jewish roommate, whose father visited him regularly and heaped prayers and phylacteries upon his severely mentally ill son.  My roommate went through the ungainly rituals of his traditional role as a young man of Judaic faith, but did not serve his father's sense of God well in the disobedient timing of his healing.  God certainly wasn't failed by the boy nor was God failing him; God was speaking through him, at least that's the way that I see it.  For every religious seeker and child of religious seekers of conventional, traditional faith in a higher, creative, omniscient being, there is a chance that childlike mystery, wonder, and spirituality might overcome the adult mind that seeks answers for questions beyond human purview.  Mental illness is one of those chances.  Bipolar disorder was that chance in my life.

     I was raised as a Protestant and felt certain that I understood what it meant to walk traditionally, even somewhat passionately, in faith, hope, and love, until I dwelt in darkness for seven months inside a mental institution.  A personal calamity (like losing one's mind) that can sometimes bring men and women into formal, religious practice shook everything that resembled conventional understanding from my consciousness when I was twenty.  I lost religion in a mental hospital, just as I began to see life in an entirely mystical fashion.

     (God as) a creative, loving, deeply chastening force is a stronghold of my bipolar path, but it is not the God of my ancestors or my friends, or of anyone in the world around me; it is a distinctly bipolar God.  Bipolar disorder is a liberator of the soul, if it is anything at all.  Liberation of the soul is the promise of many religions and I am not inclined to gainsay any of their claims.  My intention in life is to experience the highest possible communion with thought and emotion, to the effect of diminishing my personal sense of thinking and feeling and, therefore, conventional Gods and beliefs have no meaning to me.  Bipolars have a life-and-death struggle on their minds and in their hands, and need to be able to change their beliefs freely, constantly, in order to live well within their natural life limits.  Religion offers comfort in conformity and obedience, two social behaviors that immemorially have driven most of us bipolars into the ground, into symptoms, into breakdowns, into suicide attempts, into hospitals, into conformity and obedience within the parallel religion of psychiatric medicine.  Just as conventional religious believers have the mere potential of the compromised comfort that comes from someone else's beliefs, conventionally-treated bipolars may achieve a semblance of balance in their minds from psychotropic drugs and weekly therapy, but it won't be a liberated mind that gets balanced; it will be the balancing act of a prisoner in his or her or cell, learning the survival art of standing on one foot, with one leg placed in a perpetual, proverbial cast.

     Bipolar disorder comes as unconventionally as it can to us sufferers and, in my understanding, it should be manifested in its healing with that spirit in mind.  What liberates us is what we should believe in as humans.  It shouldn't be forced into our consciousness the other way around - to call something liberty because we believe it to be so.  I would go as far as to say that my bipolar path has been mystical from its onset, a constant reminder of the soul's will to be free.       

-The Blue Bear  

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Question: My current view is that not all who suffer from mental illness can
achieve a full recovery, though I've never surrendered hope for myself.  I
less seek a full recovery and am more interested in gaining the tools
(of any kind) necessary to stop smoking.  Can you help?  That is my
question. 

Answer: If recovery means living without (bipolar) symptoms, then I would be classified as seven years recovered, but that isn't the nature of mental illness in my understanding.  I'm convinced that it is a civilization-borne condition that affects the most sensitive pool of the population.  Civilized society caters its questionable ideals to the least imaginative and vulnerable factions, essentially forcing extinction or evolution upon those of us who are marked as unconventionally wrought.  To recover ostensibly from our respective afflictions would in essence denote a detachment from our true selves, not necessarily an improvement in our mental health. 

     Onset of mental illness is the tell-tale for most of us, a sudden dictation of our life limits, not a cool report of our latent brain chemistry imbalance as many onlookers choose to believe.  That we were not mentally ill at one point and then unmistakably diagnosed, hospitalized, and branded is our link to the truth of what it is that we were up against then and what we must face day-to-day now.  When we become wont to the ways of the conventional world, we are hopefully able to steer ourselves from the pitfalls of our youthful perspective.  We didn't know that we weren't made identical to those around us, in the respect of our natural intolerance for dull sensibility.

     Pure recovery is reclamation of our true selves, the non-bipolar/non-mentally ill children that we were for likely twenty years or more.  I don't believe that we sufferers can simply ensue healthily after decades of symptomatic disposition.  Medication certainly cannot deliver us to a new landscape that resembles the one we left behind after diagnoses; we merely become the keepers of second class citizenship, if we don't reclaim our constitutional freedom in the senses, that which potentially gets us into the most trouble and that which saves us from the damning self-identity as a mentally ill person.

     Now, to quit smoking, in my estimation, is to take yourself to a time in your life when your tastes were not so influenced by the adult world around you.  It is possible to be an adult and not to be seduced by any of the poison atmosphere, e.g. alcohol, drugs, vanity, violence, tradition, chauvinism, greed, profanity, escape, prejudice, that perpetually enlaces civilization.  If you seek to reclaim your non-smoker self you may reclaim more than you ever imagined you were, more than you ever hoped you could be.

-The Blue Bear  

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Question: It seems that there are so many more diagnoses of bipolar disorder now than there were when I was growing up.  I realize that could be because of personal and general lack of awareness and possibly expanded news coverage we experience with media today.  Do you think it really has increased and, if so, what factors do you attribute to this swing?  Also, and this might reveal my childlike hope and faith, do you think there are preventive measures we as a society could take to decrease the numbers...to head it off at the pass, so to speak?  

Answer: Undeniably, there is more layman and medical focus on bipolar disorder, more active acknowledgment of its baleful effects on the lives of its sufferers than I remember at the time of my diagnosis in autumn 1986.  Just as it is said of the United States still being a young country, bipolar disorder is a young mental illness as are all mental illnesses, I believe.  What we the onlookers tend to find after a terrorist strike or following a breach of security is a battened-down world, one in which we concede that something abhorrent has come to pass, but refuse to allow it to happen again, at all cost.  That civilized problem-solving approach essentially describes the medical world's embrace of bipolar disorder, its will to pound bipolar symptoms into submission with psychotropic drugs.  Freedom of the senses - every human being's birthright - is the bipolar sufferer's cost when such a will to control another's anomalous mental process is exacted, prescribed medically over years and decades.  I believe that we are hearing more and more about bipolar disorder in the media because the medical world continues to develop new security strategies to keep the terrorist-like bipolar symptoms from attacking all of us, directly and indirectly.

     You cannot kill ideology with a gun nor can you cure bipolar disorder with drugs.  The brain is not the culprit; the brain is twice the victim when bipolar symptoms and psychotropic drugs collide in a psychiatrist's laboratory.  New as bipolar disorder is taxonomically alongside its arranged matrimonial partner, psychiatry, there are some clues in the wide world culture that the disease remains a deadly one and could benefit from a healing perspective that isn't entirely western and medical.  Who or what is the culprit in the fight against bipolar disorder symptoms?  There are many.  Not one of them, however, is the bipolar's natural brain chemistry, in my opinion.  From an early age, upon diagnosis, we bipolars are exhorted to wage war on our own minds as we are also counseled to use them second-to-second to navigate the forbidding world around us.  How are we meant to win this war?  Our best possible outcome is second-class citizenship. 

     What will help to balance popular perspective on bipolar disorder as it gets further media attention, but not necessarily accurate or hopeful depiction, I think, is dialogue over unfavorable report.  No one will better understand the mind of a suicidal bipolar if he or she is only given the headline: Another Bipolar Jumps Off The Bridge or Bipolar Disorder Strikes Again.  Healthy, symptom-free bipolars are the ones who need to be heard in the world right now, if bipolar disorder is to be understood as a deadly disease that can be explained in terms other than brain chemistry and sickness of the mind.  My sense of my own mental freedom these past seven years is that I was perceiving my condition in an inside-out, upside-down fashion for more than two decades.  If I experienced severe symptoms, I blamed myself for failing to keep up my discipline and I normalized a life of bed-ridden depressions and pitiful hypo-manic judgment.  What if bipolar disorder is more akin to a food allergy than a disease like diabetes?  That is the question that turned my critical gaze away from my own mind toward the host of direct, poisonous atmospheric influences around me.  Decisions to change my circumstances followed in great succession and soon after I landed in unimaginable realms of non-symptomatic bipolar existence.  There I remain, still changing circumstances freely, landing in farther-flung symptom-free realms.

     When we highlight certain professional identities in the world do we customarily imagine the best or the worst examples?  When we consider mental illness cases do we search for exemplars or do we crave the desperate, wretched, sensational lost causes?  The exception must become the rule for bipolars, if we are to improve our personal and public plights.  Acceptance of second-class citizenship is not part of an exceptional life.  Reclaiming one's freedom in the senses and acknowledging that bipolar disorder is entirely a manmade disease are good starting points for a bipolar life change.  There is a cost to this new fight, but it won't be taken out of your self-esteem or charged to your life liberty.

-The Blue Bear  

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Question: After having had the experience of hypo-mania - when you are connected to life and it feels so meaningful, vital, you yourself, full of energy and motivation - how do you deal with the feeling of the 'real' world looking so empty, superficial, and depressing?  How do you get yourself motivated again in life after such an experience?

Answer: Not wanting a song or a season, or a first kiss to end, or a love affair to come down from its cloudy domain to mingle with the mundane, is a reasonable emotional reaction to bliss in the face of a less desirable world of possible circumstances surrounding us at any given time.  Feeling depressed is, in bipolar disorder terms, a normal reaction to the distorted emotional, out-of-mind-and-sometimes-out-of-body experience of mania or hypo-mania.  The foremost reason to dodge the bliss of mania at all cost is because it leads systematically to depression.  In bipolars that is what is referred to as cycling.  Unipolar depressed people are not triggered in their depressions by the influence of mania as bipolars are; they experience unwelcome, ungovernable conditions around them and they become depressed.  Bipolars can become depressed in that manner, but also by the mere presence of a manic or hypo-manic episode.  What comes up must come down applies idiomatically to bipolars and non-bipolars alike in most life circumstances, however, the descent from a long or short-term manic mountain top experience is deathly for bipolars as compared to non-bipolars returning home, let's say, from an exotic vacation.

     Who wants to see the sun go down, except those who love the sunset?  Who wants to come down from the mountain top, but those who understand that you cannot include the mountain top view in your every-day life, if you refuse to accept that mountain top experiences are ideally rare, scanty in number even for those who could formally be referred to as mountain climbers?  Bipolars can become psychologically addicted to mania and hypo-mania after very few cycles, that seemingly natural dose of pure high rendering any other truly natural dose of life's common medicines rather dull to the senses.  Life can feel entirely extraordinary to manic and hypo-manic bipolars, but, like with all addicts, the highs only last so long before they are matched, mockingly mimicked by the lows of depression.

     My personal accounts of hypo-mania are myriad over a twenty-three year affliction from 1986, likely more than doubled by independent and cycling episodes of severe depression.  I remember the symptomatic bipolar ranges well and can report nothing more today than the blissful relief of not having to be at the mercy of any bipolar symptoms, this sane state of mind being wholly upon me for the last seven years.  Manias and depressions are teachers to bipolars, not classmates or friends.  They stay and work with newly diagnosed bipolars as we experienced bipolars hopefully learn our lessons enough not to have to repeat them until they can teach us nothing more than how to take our own lives.  To remember, suicide is the likely fate of any chronically symptomatic bipolar.

     With regard to the wide world as it poisonously is, I would say outright that my hypo-manic version of it felt more wondrous, sacred, safe, embracing, possible, romantic, and visionary, but that world still exists no differently now than it did when I was hypo-manic.  It was in my mind then as I continue to cultivate an extraordinary world within my imagination every second of the day.  As a writer and composer my world depends on the lessons that hypo-mania and depression taught me for more than two decades, the visions that they accorded me on respective bright and abyssal dark days.  What is my gift to life beyond my imagination?  The world doesn't need a bipolar like me to recapitulate worldly woe and the matter of fact; I believe that I am best used when I am off wandering the landscapes of my mind, sometimes remembering manic and depressed imagery, but mostly, forging new worlds of wonder, new dreams that my former symptomatic bipolar self might have deemed impossible without the influence of hypo-manic vision.

     If we bipolars are capable of withstanding the throes of cycling symptoms, we are surely capable of climbing real mountains over manic ones.  Making a hypo-manic-like world has to be a fundamental goal of any bipolar who can manage his or her symptoms enough to manifest what is beautiful about the bipolar mind - both light and dark visions - in the 'real' world.  The stories that we tell as healthy, symptom-free bipolars should ideally still sound like bipolar-minded stories, not conventionalized, diluted expressions without far-flung imagination.  The sickness of bipolar disorder is measured more by something as conventional as seeking the personal drug of mania over and over again, despite its direct cyclical connection to the dreaded anti-drug of depression, than it is by any creative, meaningful integration of manic, mountain top views and depressed, subterranean forays, after we have come down from the mountain and risen from the early grave.  The world begins to become more inhabitable, more beautiful than ever to us, when we healthy bipolars remember that our minds crafted the manias and the depressions that we once frequented and that our minds continue to be made for imagining that brand of exuberance and introspection everywhere as it makes its home outside the bounds of mental illness, deep into the words we speak, the songs we sing, the wild dreams we dream aloud for everyone.

-The Blue Bear

 

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Question: Like many artistic types, I am subject to seraphic highs and infernal lows.  How do I know whether this is bipolar disorder or just plain old moodiness? 

Answer: The question of proper bipolar disorder diagnosis is not strictly left to a medical practitioner.  You as one capable of experiencing highs and lows are likely capable of answering your own wonder about the severity of your mood swings.  I am inclined to caution anyone about accepting unhealthy signs and symptoms as a customary expression of any pursuit in life, professional or personal.  Artists who experience highs and lows in their mood are not showing favorable effects within their pursuit of the arts.  Mood swings are unhealthy and false expressions of emotion, symptoms (mild or severe) of a battle that someone is having with the world around him or her.  Moods should have traceable experiences attached to them - a word, an encounter, a happenstance - that trouble us, dazzle us, charm us, dismantle us; they should not be customarily roaming freely within our consciousness, taking liberties to alter our natural emotion constitution and balance.  Mood swings are mental illness, not necessarily bipolar disorder, but mental illness, in the respect that they are not to be counted as part of a healthy, functioning mind.  They need to be examined and, in so doing, determined clearly to be either of the dangerous class of bipolar mood swings or among the less life-threatening rank of cyclothymia, where many people may dwell uncomfortably, unhealthily, but not necessarily in a life-threatening way.

     No one who has a life-and-death illness will sanely acknowledge his or her symptoms as good signs.  They are morbid signs and, if they are not arrested, death ensues at varying paces.  Such is the case with bipolar disorder, although many bipolars become so enamored of their manias or hypo-manias that they can easily forget that all symptoms of a deadly disease are grave, even the ones that resemble rainbows.

     In rare cases it is possible to manage a bipolar existence without the onset of any grave symptoms, such as clinical depression, suicide attempt, psychotic mania, and, for these spared few, to feel veritably like a mood-swinging 'artist type', even a mildly mood-swinging sort.  This can be achieved for a while, sometimes long stretches, by unwittingly protecting one's self from an excess of poisonous influences in the world that incite severe bipolar symptoms.  Some bipolars garner inherent protection from loving, supportive, unconventional families, early success in their chosen fields, and fruitful, fulfilling relationships, these blessings staving off much of the unwieldy symptomatic bipolar life that plagues most of us bipolars who come from conventional, competitive upbringings, who have no reports of conspicuous career success, and who suffer the emotional stress that comes from imprudent relationship choices.  Eventually, the unwittingly protected bipolars will come to some stage of reckoning in their adult lives and will be forced to play a more active role in their management of the effects that the world has on all of us thin-skinned bipolars.  There is only so much incidental good luck a person can have within a bipolar mental disposition, before he or she needs to develop advanced awareness and a specialized skillset, in order to do more than survive. 

     Mood swings alone should be enough in any culture to inform the moody person or those surrounding him or her that there is a mental condition worth examining.  History has made too many romantic remarks about starving, suffering, mood-swinging artists, to the effect that we idealize mood swings as a form of superior, countercultural artistry.  It's simply a fallacy, an attempt to absolve the callous, onlooker world populace that continually drives bipolar artists to the farthest-flung bipolar symptomatic life that can be manifested.

     I believe bipolar disorder to be entirely a manmade disease, not unlike many examples of cancer, diabetes, and heart failure.  Mood swings are the obvious symptoms of this deadly mental illness, so they should be taken seriously, even if they are detectably mild mood swings.  Until this world of men and women shifts its rock and stone perspectives on mental illness, on artists, on moodiness, bipolars and non-bipolars alike will suffer symptoms of global wrong-headedness.  Are we not all mentally ill, those of us who suffer the effects of harmful ideology and those of us who forge it?

     If you are moody, seek out more and more emotional protection in the world, to rid yourself of this false emotional reaction to your surroundings.  If you are a symptomatic bipolar, you are likely more than moody; you are afflicted with moodiness, not affected by it now and then.  That is the basic difference between cyclothymia and bipolar disorder, cyclothymia not necessarily bearing mood symptoms that threaten one's life and bipolar disorder, being a life-and-death struggle on earth with crookedness, carelessness, violence, and the perpetual void of mysticism.

-The Blue Bear

 

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Question: What, if anything, inspires someone to acknowledge the illness (bipolar disorder) and make life-altering changes for the better?  

Answer: There are many possible sources of inspiration along a bipolar path, but much of one's will to change his or her relationship with bipolar disorder comes from sensibility, not from reason.  I believe that bipolars have to be seduced, overwhelmed in their senses, if they are to change a self-destructive pattern of allegiance (psychological addiction) to mania and hypo-mania, the primary, free, intrinsic drugs of choice, respectively, for bipolars 1 and II. 

     Depression, mania, hypo-mania, psychosis, suicidal ideation - these are not feelings; they are symptoms of bipolar disorder, uncontrollable reactions to unbearable life circumstance.  Because bipolars are deeply sensitive creatures, they tend to begin their life in the senses as children who feel everything to the fullest, like leaves in the wind.  This 'thin-skinned' state is a strength for them as children because they are, within most family settings, encouraged to be so childlike in this manner and are not observed to be so much more sensitive than other children.  Children usually show more sensitivity than most adults, since they are greeting life from the ground up, through innocent eyes, ears, and skin's touch.  What happens to latent (undiagnosed) bipolar children when they come of age and go off to college or into the wide world is what happens at every theater, movie house, carnival, and flight of fancy: lights of a less fanciful reality suddenly come up and everyone must immediately return to that familiar, dimmer, adult-influenced realm.  For non-bipolars the transition from an intensely liberated life in the senses to a more matter-of-fact existence - dealing with the here and now, the arbitrary rules of life's games, the overemphasis of survival on earth - doesn't appear as rocky or impracticable as it does for the young bipolar birds leaving their childhood nests.  This description may sound too simple to account for so many incidences of bipolar woe in adulthood, but in my estimation, most of our life-coping skills hail directly from our graceful or maladroit management of the fundamental transition from us as children to adults.

     As bipolars we have to seek active protection from human atmospheric forces around us that do not have our best interests in mind.  If we fail to protect ourselves within our acknowledgment that we are not normal, we will likely lean toward all of the adult influences in the world culture, e.g. alcohol, drugs, sexual promiscuity, pornography, escapism, and seek protection from the very things that will inevitably destroy us.  It is not uncommon for bipolars to become alcohol, drug, and sex addicts, their sensitivity to the poison air of the adult world unwittingly pulling them toward the 'medicine' that the adult world prescribes for all of us, to relieve our stress, to get away from our earthly cares. 

     To inspire a severely symptomatic bipolar to change his or her life path, I would ask this: "What were you doing and with whom were you doing it when you felt the most freedom in your senses during your lifetime?"  If the answer beckons any experience of innocence from childhood, then there is a good chance that the bipolar will want to revisit the trustworthy nature of that experience again and again, slowly forsaking the false promises of the manmade adult world.  As I mentioned before, it isn't logic that moves a bipolar into action as much as an in-between world where logic and the senses commune.  From my perspective, innocence is the surprising connective tissue of childhood and adulthood, a vital life gift that was not meant to be traded for vain, destructive adult appetites.  Bipolars who choose poisoned adulthood over childlike emotional freedom are common and are desperately mentally ill, but never beyond the reach of their own innocence.  To be inspired to reclaim one's birthright of innocence is within every bipolar's grasp.  Freedom in the senses is freedom from the manmade world, a chance to experience something much more substantial than a mania or a hypo-mania, a likelihood of recovering one's true, fulfilled self.  Who wouldn't commit to that human possibility?

     Adulthood is the natural human passage, so we must surely grow up and leave behind our lives as children.  This does not mean that we leave behind the lifelong torch of innocence that was vouchsafed to us at birth, our one constant reminder that we are to remain childlike in our senses, if we are to live well.  Bipolar disorder is more a natural pathway toward innocent adulthood than it ever was a life-and-death, symptomatic fight for survival in the manmade world of adults that wants so little to do with emotional freedom, or freedom of any kind. 

-The Blue Bear  

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Question: Are there advantages to being bipolar?

Answer: Yes, yes, yes, there are many advantages to being bipolar.  To qualify my certitude in this matter I refer to nature, not to anything that is manmade.  I believe that bipolar disorder as a classified mental illness is entirely manmade; the bipolar disorder sufferer, however, is not naturally mentally ill in the least.  Was I deemed a bipolar when I was a child, an adolescent, a nineteen-year-old?  No.  But after I turned twenty, having completed my sophomore year of college, I suffered a severe mental breakdown, was hospitalized for seven months in a psychiatric facility, and only during that time was I diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  What happened to the young man who had shown no signs or symptoms of bipolar disorder prior to his breakdown in the summer of 1986?  Did he suddenly break out in a mentally-ill fever?  Did he contract the disease from another bipolar?  Did he forget how to be himself?  No.  His latent intolerance for most of the adult atmospheric influences in the world hadn't been tested when he was younger.  College has its way of initiating young men and women in the urgent practice of adulthood, often way too early for them to know what that means or whether it is advisable.  Too many images of immorality and carelessness, and self-indulgence crossed my line of vision before I was able to acknowledge what I was witnessing in the company of many classmates, who were not only leaving their childhoods behind them on campus - they were in essence leaving behind their innocence and their sense of childlike wonder.  This to me was the beginning of bipolar disorder as a manmade mental illness.

     If I could have known what baleful effects my college experiences would have on my consciousness and state of mind, maybe I would have self-prescribed an alternative to a conventional, private, liberal arts education.  Knowing now that no one can anticipate his or her incapacity to manage unforeseen life experiences, I went the way of most bipolars: downward after the first violent wind of the world blows.  Not much can be done to protect an incredibly sensitive person's regard of sacred life when he or she leaves home and begins to carry unwittingly some of the dark debris of others' expressions of adulthood.

     Those years of reckoning the constitutional shaking of my sensibility are long past and I am now able to manage what I see, hear, and feel, without breaking down, showing bipolar disorder symptoms, or spending extended time in mental hospitals.  At this deep, middle-age phase of life is where I see most clearly the advantages of bipolar disorder.  I may not have been able to praise my condition as much before these last seven years of symptom-free life.  The advantages of being a bipolar at fifty are the same advantages that I had as a non-bipolar when I was a child.  We bipolars have thin skin, like most children do, and that is an advantage, if you know how to use it.  I liken it to the parallel sensitivities of an eagle's eyes, a wolf's ears, a snake's tongue, a bear's nose, a spider's sense of touch.  These animals are apex predators, not at all low on the food chain.  Sensitivity is a strength to be practiced to near perfection by those who can use it to make their lives manageable, but more than that in my case - to make life extraordinarily fulfilling.  To will one's self to see, hear, and feel deeply, when the world does not customarily produce beautiful sights, sounds, and interpersonal human expressions, is the clearest advantage that I have as a bipolar.  The difference between my senses now and when I was in the throes of bipolar disorder symptoms for twenty-three straight years is that I didn't know that feeling life purely and deeply was such an ideal human state, until I didn't have to pay so dearly and so constantly for this thin skin.  I learned over more than two decades that every sensitive creature on earth will suffer the threat of extinction if it denies itself the birthright or, in the case of animals as compared to humans, the instinct of self-protection.  To have advantages as a bipolar is to take extreme care in the senses, to look, listen, and feel deeply, but to choose one's sights, sounds, and encounters (human and otherwise) carefully, just as an eagle, a wolf, a snake, a bear, and a spider might.

-The Blue Bear  

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Question: Suppose I have a bipolar loved one. What should I know about how to be a supportive presence in this person's life?

Answer: Bipolars come in different forms.  The symptomatic bipolars, those who suffer conspicuously, may need more from you directly than those who have taken it upon themselves to live vigilantly, healthily.  Not much can be delicately ministered to someone who believes that mania is an ideal human state or that suicide is a reasonable life option.  These bipolars need intervention, which can take the form of an outcry from those who love them or a strong, constant presence that will not recede, until the bipolar is treated or out of the proverbial woods of a particular threatening symptom.  Because of their one-size-fits-all approach, hospitals are generally not ideal healing grounds for bipolars, but sometimes they can take the burden off of friends and family, who should not have to watch over the well-being of a bipolar sufferer noon and night.  When the symptoms are arrested, either by a balancing of medication or personal perspective, loved ones can enter the bipolar picture again and resume their good will, without becoming veritable nurses or police officers.

     Facing one's bipolar plight head on is the beginning of teaching those around him or her how they can be instrumental in the maintenance of good mental health.  Fear of relapse can be a paralyzing influence during recovery for bipolars and bystanders.  That is where acceptance of the condition, moreover, love of the condition helps the bipolar cause for everyone.  Bipolars are not at war with themselves as many believe them to be strictly the victims of a chemical imbalance; they are extremely sensitive creatures that need to eat healthy food, practice healthy physical habits, and forge healthy relationships.  If a bipolar can become a healthy, honest, symptom-free, sometimes even medication-free bipolar, then the healthy presence of an aware friend, family member, or lover can be expressed through unabashed dialogue, genuine curiosity, and direct questions about how the bipolar is managing his or her life, day to day.

     My sense is that bipolar mysteries tend to be foremost in the consciousness of those on the outside of the disease.  Mystery, if unsolved or unconsidered, can lead to fear, which is the undoing of any healthy life practice.  When everyone in a bipolar-aware community rids his or her mind of fear of what the disease can become at its worst, then there is a good chance that bipolars and non-bipolars can begin to share an asymptomatic life together.  The best kind of bipolar disorder symptoms are the ones in the past for bipolars and friends of bipolars, alike.

-The Blue Bear  

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Question: Can you describe the experience of mania?  Are there greater creative possibilities during a mania than during a state of mental balance?  Do you miss mania?

Answer: Hypo-mania and mania are the symptomatic candy of bipolars, of which I can only speak of the former.  Mania belongs to the bipolar 1 sufferers, who seem more like cocaine-tripping bipolars when they are under the influence of mania.  As a bipolar II - it is the version more often associated with female bipolars - I have experienced hypo-manic highs, but they are more intellectually focused episodes, a sense of distilled mental and spiritual states. 

Different, not greater creative possibilities hail from a hypo-manic state.  I believe artistic expression is at its best when the artist, him or her self, is fully present and able to integrate high-minded principles and far-flung notions.  Hypo-mania could be likened to the LSD trips that are purported to have made some of the mid-sixties rock bands legendary.  Notably, the music of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band made a difference in the pop music world, but I believe that more mature and grounded work came from those same musicians, when they were less overtaken by the outside force of a hallucinogen. 

To miss the effect of hypo-mania would be to crave immaturity, its appetites and short-sighted pleasures.  I learned much from my bipolar symptoms over twenty years (depression, hypo-mania, suicidal ideation, psychosis, poor judgment) and understand now that all of them are augurs of severe mental suffering, even the ones that taste like candy, feel like sex, and act like LSD to a psychedelic rock star.  As we bipolars age we need to be the constant keepers of reason, not in any way sentimentalists.  Mental health is aided mostly by keeping one's head in times of travail and temptation, when the mentally ill need to be reminded most that they are not normal, but can live exceptionally well, if they keep a good progressive sense of themselves and steer from self-pity and a leaning toward self-gratification. 

-The Blue Bear  

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