Being bipolar brings with it many different features and personality traits. As a general rule, people with bipolar disorder tend to be more intelligent, creative, and accomplished. Science has proven that humans only use about 10% of the brain capacity, and I’ve wondered if being bipolar utilizes more of the brainpower. In my opinion, it’s a plausible theory. Maybe it taps into a deeper emotional capacity too, resulting in the extreme mood swings. Who really knows?
I’ve always been creative. As a child I could build just about anything I wanted using popsicle sticks or tape. One year at Christmas when I was about 10 years old, I got a pack of about 10 different rolls of electrical tape in all different colors. It might have been the best present I had! I don’t even remember anything else I got that year. I had a wide variety of interests too. From the time I was 6 years old until puberty I was always trying new things and teaching myself. I set up a weather station and recorded the daily conditions faithfully. There was the time I got a chemistry set, and experimented with all kind of concoctions. One summer I purchased a lawnmower engine at a yard sale and spent months taking it apart, studying it, and putting it back together. It worked too! My friends and I had a inventors club, and we would spend hours trying to come up with all kinds of ideas. And we would go exploring the woods near the house; not just learning our way around, but learning about the different plants and animals we found along the way. Radio was intriguing, and I built my own receiver, and had a 50 foot antenna in my back yard so I could pick up broadcasting from all over the world with a short wave radio. My peers were playing sports, building forts, riding bikes and watching TV. I did some of that too, but I was way too interested in learning to spend all my time that way.
There was the down side too. I was different; and I knew it. I so wanted to fit in, and felt very ostracized and alone. I had time to explore and experiment because I didn’t have the friends or activities that ‘normal’ children do.
My jobs have always been something where I could excel. My first real job after junior college was as a bookkeeper. Within a couple of years I was in charge of the entire accounting duties for the whole company. I was only 22 years old when I went into self employment. I started an accounting practice with an older man who mentored me and taught me about the business. He later became my father-in-law, but when the marriage eventually ended I kept the business and grew it to the point that it was my only job.
I lost the practice when I went through a horrible depression that kept me from working for years.
As the years went by, my positions become more and more responsible. By the time I was in my forties I had reached the pinnacle of my career. I was completely in charge of a software development company, answering directly to the CEO. At that point I was on top of the world. I had position and authority. I made a fabulous income. I had all the houses and toys, played golf three times a week, and enjoyed the social life that goes along with that level of success.
A manic episode took that all away.
Of course there was a long progression to get me to that point, but from my early 30’s I had been in a management role, I excelled at whatever I was doing. And my illness took it away, every time.
I started piano lessons when I was 7 years old. In junior high school I joined the band playing trombone. But I could never learn how to read a note of music. My abilities creating music were totally by ear. I taught myself to play guitar. When I was in my late forties I played background music at a little bistro in the evenings. I’ll admit, it was a bit of a farce. I wasn’t really that good, and I was friends with the owners who just humored me I think. But it felt awesome regardless. I was going through another manic episode, and thoroughly enjoyed performing.
I could go on and on about accomplishments and successes, but I won’t. I’m not trying to brag, but I think it makes the point about creativity and intelligence. I’m not brilliant by any means, and I’m sure I have an overinflated opinion of myself. I’m not a world class musician either. But there’s no denying that I’ve accomplished so much more than my education and background would allow. I have no college degree, yet I’ve run companies and excelled in many different industries. I can’t read music, but I can play five different instruments. I’ve failed at every relationship I’ve ever had, but I can always attract someone new.
I’ve heard over and over that being bipolar doesn’t define who you are. I beg to differ. The traits and characteristics that go along with the illness have shaped my basic personality and contributed to my successes. The results of the extreme mood swings have resulted on job changes, financial hardships, lost relationships and suffering. I can control this illness, but it still makes me who I am.
But now I am managing it. The medications and the therapy have evened out the mood swings. The skills and abilities that I’ve developed over the years give me insight and a way to deal with the symptoms before they are out of control. Maybe for the very first time I’m living a ‘normal’ life.
I’m bored silly.
I have a more or less stress free job, where I’m an individual contributor and only responsible for my own results. My relationships are not over the top, and have been with women who were stable and mature. I’ve lost interest in making music, and it’s been months since I’ve touched a guitar or keyboard. I’m just not feeling it. I still enjoy listening to music, but my tastes have changed to soft Jazz and Classical, not the hardcore rock and alternative artists.
Did I mention I was bored silly?
I miss being in charge at work, influencing and contributing to success and mentoring and growing subordinates. I crave the reckless abandon of a wild relationship. I feel lost without the excess energy and drive that goes along with the upside of the illness. Motivation for, well, anything is gone. I’m just existing; not living. I know, I’m better off this way. I’ve hurt an awful lot of people, have suffered through much loss, and whether I realized it at the time or not, had a miserable life. But the excitement is gone. My creativity is stifled. Even the depressions had a very strange appeal. Not while I was going through them of course, but as I recovered. It’s like having a migraine headache. It hurts like hell when you have one, and it feels awesome when it’s gone.
I’m controlling this illness. But in truth, the illness is still there. All the things I’ve done are just to mask the symptoms and suppress the personality excesses. I’m becoming successful at a mainstream life, and I know that overall I’m much healthier. But you know what?
I miss me.