“…use your disability to be more clutch,
not as a crutch.”
When we talk about mental health in the news, social media, medicine, so often the conversation has a tendency towards “doom and gloom.” I too am guilty of focusing on the challenges of living with a mental health disability, as if every day is a “hard day.” But the truth is that no matter how deep into the rabbit hole of depression or illness you find yourself, there’s still usually a bit of light, even if for a fleeting moment. Thus it’s critically important to take advantage of those positive vibes and seize the good days.
So here I am, a bipolar person up at 2:00 AM because I guess I’m in a bit of a “manic” episode.
On the spectrum of bipolar condition(s), I lean more towards Bipolar II, categorized by “a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I Disorder.” So what does that mean? When I’m in a “hypomanic episode” as I am today and have been for a few weeks now, I’m not thinking I can fly or gambling or running naked through the streets, just a few of the typical stereotypes associated with mania. Rather, when I experience “mania,” I tend to be a bit lighter, happier, more excited, and most importantly, more creative.
The Science Behind It
An excerpt from Bipolar Disorder and Creativity
By Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD, CRNP, ACRN, CPH and Erica Cirino
There may now be a scientific explanation as to why many creative people have bipolar disorder. Several recent studies have showed that people who are genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder are more likely than others to show high levels of creativity, particularly in artistic fields where strong verbal skills are helpful.
In one study from 2015, researchers took the IQ of almost 2,000 8-year-old children, and then assessed them at ages 22 or 23 for manic traits. They found that high childhood IQ was linked with symptoms of bipolar disorder later in life. For this reason, the researchers believe the genetic features associated with bipolar disorder can be helpful in the sense that they also may produce beneficial traits.
Other researchers have also found a connection between genetics, bipolar disorder, and creativity. In another study in 2015, researchers analyzed the DNA of more than 86,000 people to look for genes that increase the risks of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They also noted whether the individuals worked in or were associated with creative fields, such as dancing, acting, music, and writing. They found that creative individuals are up to 25 percent more likely than noncreative people to carry genes that are associated with bipolar and schizophrenia.
Not all people with bipolar disorder are creative, and not all creative people have bipolar disorder. However, there does appear to be a connection between the genes that lead to bipolar disorder and a person’s creativity.
“Bipolar Disorder and Creativity,” Healthlink, December 6, 2019
From Beethoven to van Gogh to Virginia Wolfe, bipolar disorder(s) has always been linked to creativity; it’s about harnessing the good to be great.
The “gifts” that bipolar disorder gives during a manic or hypomanic episode are these enhanced senses and feelings of elation. I’m generalizing here, but when I’m manic I see colors brighter than the average person, I’m more aware of every nuance of taste and smell, and even sound is more magnified. In other words, when I’m manic, I am better able to mobilize my senses for the task at hand from cooking to writing and so on. Add that when I’m manic I just don’t need as much sleep, there’s an incredible amount of good and creative reward that can come from my mental health disorder.
I like to believe mental health illness, whether it’s bipolar or others, can gift us creative prowess and kickstart short windows to be exceptional. Here are six ways to harness positive vibes to make the most of your good days. Or as I like to say, use your disability to be more clutch,
not as a crutch.
- Try something new
You’ve got creativity on your side. Test a new recipe or take a run at that hobby you’ve always wanted to adopt, now is the time. And if you fail (but hopefully you won’t), it won’t sting quite as much and you’ll have the confidence to try again.
- 15-minute sleep rule
When I’m experiencing mania I use the 15-minute rule to determine if I’m actually tired. Here’s how it goes: lay down and if in 15 minutes you can’t fall asleep, get up and try to do something productive until you either tire out or blink and it’s dawn.
*On this, beware. The sleep deprivation will come back to bite you. Take short naps when necessary in order to help you catch up.
Oh, I LOVE this one. When I am manic there is almost nothing I love to do more than organize, specifically my closet. For you, it might be cleaning or doing laundry. Whatever it is, put the extra energy into decluttering. It will clear the mind and could be very fruitful if after your good day(s) you experience some depression. I find that clean, aesthetically pleasing surroundings make navigating my depression a little less tedious by creating room for mindfulness.
- Grow a garden
There’s something so satisfying about gardening. I fully admit I do not have a green thumb, but I can appreciate all the folks that have been growing their own vegetables and fruits during COVID as a way to channel their energy into something positive.
NOW, just because you might not have a full blown garden doesn’t mean you can’t get a plant. I have taken a significant amount of joy from the basil plant I’ve kept alive for a few weeks. And again with that increased sense of smell, it’s a pleasure to have in my kitchen.
So if you’re feeling a bit manic or excited, try to focus on a garden or plants. They’ll provide some satisfaction today, but also be that special something you can continue to care for in times when you’re feeling a bit lost. Let the garden guide your way one might say.
Of course this is challenging during the COVID era, but if you can, socialize or call those friends you’ve been meaning to reconnect with. One side effect of my mental health disorder is social anxiety, therefore I am at times reluctant to get out into the world.
Not the case when I’m manic. Because of the “elation” associated with hypomania, I enjoy human interaction and brushing shoulders with new and old friends alike. Socializing on good days also helps reinforce those relationships that prove extra valuable when we’re not necessarily at our best.
- Read, Research, Rediscover
The book you’ve neglected to read or the research you need to complete for an upcoming project or piece of thought leadership. Use the creative juices flowing on your good days to jump right into all of the intellectual things. Bonus energy will thrust your curiosities into places you’ve maybe never been. Embrace the opportunity to learn something that will propel you further: spiritually, emotionally, and professionally.
As always, own your mental health, the good and the bad. Recognize that mental health illness doesn’t need to have a negative connotation. In fact, when we are self-aware and able to take advantage of the creativity on our good days, we can achieve really amazing things and even create positive continuity that will carry us through our hard days.
*I am not a mental health professional. This is my own unique lived experience. I manage my mental health in consultation with a therapist and psychiatrist. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance please seek out medical attention immediately*