Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Recently, Michael from Stable Moods asked me and eight other bipolar patient authors, plus an abstract artist, to respond to 16 questions. The first few questions I filled in rather quickly, but being a writer, my answers soon expanded to essay length. I spotted a similar pattern when I read the other interviews on the site.
Then I got thinking. Same set of questions. Obviously different answers. How did we compare? I decided to zero in on three questions:
Do you think mental illness is generally looked upon differently now than it was 10 years ago? Better? Worse?
We were all virtually unanimous on this one. "Madness: A Bipolar Life" author Marya Hornbacher's response is fairly typical:
"Yes, I think there's an enormous change for the better. Ten years ago, when I was diagnosed, no one was talking about bipolar, and there was very little public acceptance of schizophrenia either. People still firmly believed in the 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' nonsense, and I think now the awareness that that's just not how mental illness works is more widespread. But I think there's a very long way to go. I think it's improved in some circles, but the larger population still knows too little about it, still fears it, still vilifies it, and still needs to know the truth about what it is."
Lana Castle, author of "Bipolar Disorder Demystified," notes that "people are beginning to be more sympathetic."
I observe that stigma still exists (and that patients and clinicians can be as bigoted as the rest of society). Nevertheless, we may soon see "bipolar lite" on people's resumes and Facebook pages:
"In professions that value creativity and drive, mild bipolar is looked upon as an advantage. In many social circles, people value those bright sparks who are 'a little bit crazy.' Some people even think bipolars make the best lovers, and I am going to do nothing to disabuse them of that notion."
Do you consider bipolar disorder part of who you are, part of what makes up your character, personality and experience of self?
Julie Fast, author of "Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder," is emphatically negative:
"I see bipolar disorder as an illness that sits on the real me. When I'm not sick, I am a happy, balanced and focused person. ... The REAL ME has nothing to do with bipolar disorder. That's an illness."
In a related question, Ms Fast observes, "there is nothing positive about bipolar disorder - I would be a lot better off without it."
Terri Cheney, author of "Manic, A Memoir," is in accord with most of the rest of us: "I consider it integral to my personality, and to my experience of the world. I think I see things more intensely, and feel things more deeply, than the average person. This has its pros and cons, of course. As a writer, it's invaluable. As a human being - it can be tough."
In a similar vein, Mark Kirchmeir, author of "The Province of Hope," adds: "I say it to the world. It defines me. While a mixed blessing, I have a high IQ and am very perceptive. ... I believe that my intellect and intuition are intertwined with my condition."
Abstract artist Susan Olmetti goes all the way: "My bipolar is my best friend, we will be together forever. I could not live without it. The way I see it, you either grow to love your other half or grow apart. I could not exist without it, it's who I am and will always be."
If the medical establishment could offer you a pill tomorrow that would cure bipolar disorder and remove all the associated symptoms (positive and negative) would you take it and why?
This is the money question. A sampling ...
Lynne Taetzch, author of "The Bipolar Dementia Art Chronicles," replies: "Never. It's like wanting to give up your life for someone else's. Who among us would really want to do that? If nothing else, being bipolar has made my life interesting. As a writer and artist, it is all good material."
Susan Olmetti concurs: "No, I like who I am because I am bipolar, which makes me more unique. Ten percent insanity and ninety percent sweat makes you a really smart person."
Julie Fast sees things completely differently: "Where is the water! Hand me a glass! Are you kidding? I'd take the pill."
Holly Hollan, author of "Soaring and Crashing: My Bipolar Adventures," admits to having changed her view:
"In my book, I say that I would not take such a pill. However, at that time, I was experiencing hypomania (not manic, as I was still greatly in touch with reality). However, since I finished the book, I have been in a three-year depression, and have thought that if there were a pill that would take the depression away and make me hypomanic permanently, I would take that pill!"
Jayson Blair, author of "Burning Down My Master's House," would like a smart pill:
"If that cure could eliminate the negative symptoms and consequences, and could preserve the positive ones, I would happily take it. If that pill eliminated both the negative symptoms and the positive ones, I would take it - it would be worth it - but probably not so happily."
How Would You Respond?
Have things improved, stigma-wise? Is bipolar the real you? Would you take that pill? Please leave a comment ...
Check out the interviews.