Hide your mental illness? Why not instead embrace your mental skillness (there’s an interesting TED talk about that by Joshua Walters).
I have bipolar I, also referred to as manic depressive disorder.
I wrestle with deciding whether or not to share this with my employer. To be honest, in job applications where it gives you the option to self-identify any conditions I typically put “prefer not to answer.” On the one hand, it’s helpful for them to know so they can keep me in check if I start getting sped up. On the other hand, I feel I cope well enough to where it doesn’t affect my work, and actually in many ways ENHANCES it so long as I’m careful. The risk of people not wanting me on their team because they might perceive me to be unstable without first getting to know me is too great for me to check the button that says I’m bipolar. But perhaps I’ve been short-sighted.
I feel that it’s BECAUSE of my mental illness, not in spite of it, that I’m able to be as creative and quick-thinking as I am.
Robin Williams. The rate at which that man could shift between voices and characters was dizzying. And it was spectacular. It was brilliant. And it was celebrated. The man was a manic depressive. Kurt Cobain. Carrie Fisher. The list goes on.
I’m able to generate ideas more quickly than others. Manic depressives are skilled at making associations between things. They find connections. Sometimes even connections between things that logically shouldn’t be connected, but that can be if you do so by a very small thread. In reality, every word, every concept, every idea is connected to another one in some way, just as every human is (as Disney’s animated Pocahontas sang, “we are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop that never ends”). The connection (especially between ideas and seemingly unrelated thoughts and actions) is often tenuous, but there’s always one there.
It’s when multiple layers and long chains of tenuous connections are formed in the mind and played out and followed in reality that manic depressives can get into trouble and spin out of control. They lose touch with reality. This can be very beneficial in the creative field because it helps us think, live, and breathe without limits, pushing the envelope. But it can also lead us to believe our ideas are RIGHT and that other people’s are wrong. It’s our way or the highway. We are rebels. We stray outside our lane. We think we’ve been enlightened and see things others don’t (which in my opinion, we truly DO at times). But then we push our agenda. We go too far. We say things we shouldn’t. We try to take charge in an area we’re not ready to yet. And we do it without style and grace at times. We’re too blunt, too bold, and that burns us if we’re not careful. But when we learn to harness our passion, sit back, relax, and breathe, we can be incredibly targetted and effective in our work. This is what I’ve found to be true in my career.
This might sound far-fetched and really “out there” to some, but at least hear me out. Perhaps the ultimate root of this whole mental illness problem and other similar ones is that we are mortal human beings with finite minds and limited capacities. Our feeble minds can scarcely fathom even the smallest sliver of how divine beings think.
Flashes of inspiration. To me, those are manifestations of the divine beings we truly are. We are divine beings, spiritual beings, having a human experience. Pouring the soul of a celestial human who has been developing for perhaps hundreds of millions of years into a small, clunky, clumsy, mortal tabernacle of clay naturally results in some spillage. This spillage to me is what we label as mental illness.
Let’s just be more compassionate. More understanding of those who think differently. Those who live differently. Those who have a different sexual orientation than our own. Because we’re each divine beings. We’re different for a reason. We’re different so we can strengthen each other and grow into the greatest measure of our potential.
So be kind. Cut some slack. Seek understanding. Love. And stay blessed.
This song is so incredibly deep. And one that communicates much more eloquently what I might be getting at.
It’s Colors of the Wind from Pocahontas.
… You think I’m an ignorant savage
And you’ve been so many places
I guess it must be so
But still I cannot see
If the savage one is me
How can there be so much that you don’t know
You don’t know
… You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name
… You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew
… Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind
… Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sun sweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they’re worth
… The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends
… How high does the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you’ll never know
… And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountain
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind
… You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind