Musings in the Dark: The Gift & the Curse


The Gift & the Curse

“We of the craft are all crazy.”  --Lord Byron

Recently, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  I’ve always considered myself a bit…different…than others, especially growing up.  My mother always called me hyper or high-strung.  My temper was explosive, as were my crying spurts.  Neither made any sense; sometimes I raged, sometimes I cried, but during each phase, I wrote like a madwoman.  I have a cabinet of unpublished material that will probably never see the light of day due to the content.

After I lost my mother in 2008, my depression was deep and long.  I slept when I wasn’t working, and when I was at work, I’m not sure exactly what I did to get through the workday.  I was exhausted all the time and in this instance, I was too tired to write.  I knew something was wrong and eventually got some help.  I couldn’t go on like I was.

I was diagnosed first with depression, but my therapist noticed that I was also experiencing mania.  She asked me a series of questions, which ultimately led to the correct diagnosis and the correct medication.  Since that time, I have spent time examining the whole of my life and everything I’d experienced made complete sense.  Everything, especially the unpretty parts, I could understand with total simplicity.  The periods between mania and depression are called shifts, and if you look at the condition as a sine wave, manias are crests and depressions are troughs.  The zero point represents “normality.”

I want to be clear:  There is nothing wrong with me.  I was born with unbalanced neurotransmitters, and it is something I inherited from my mother.  Being born bipolar is no different than being born with diabetes; both are a result of chemical imbalances.  Just like a diabetic has to take insulin to regulate blood sugar, I have to take a pill that regulates my dopamine and serotonin levels.  It is by no means a perfect solution; the higher the dosage, the more balanced I am and I’m on a very low dosage by choice.  

As an author, I need my mania and depression in order to write.  I’ve been writing all my life and I have to do it or I don’t think I’d survive.  I lack the lucidity to tell stories when I’m “normal,” but when I’m shifting, I have total clarity and can write several novels at the same time.  I’ve been doing this for years, and I prefer my periods of shifting as opposed to being stable.  Most artists do, and a lot of them stop taking their meds, or refuse to take them at all because they lose the ability to create when they’re not shifting.  Sometimes the shifts are so bad and so extreme that the mind can't take it, and some people commit suicide.

However, my daily life requires enough stability so that bills can be paid.  Understanding my condition has allowed me to identify triggers of mania and depression and embrace them consequently.  I know what to expect and what to do when they come.  I know that there are times when I’ll cry or rage for no apparent reason, or I’ll find myself writing, painting, or building LEGO houses for hours on end without knowing how much time has passed.  I’ll know I’ll be on medication for the rest of my days, and I accept that as the way my life is.  It’s the gift and the curse.

I’m not afraid to share this information.  Mental disorders in the black community have often been overlooked and ignored.  I’ve often heard that mental illness is a “white folks’ thing,” and “Black folks can’t afford to be crazy.”  Black women are expected to be strong.  However, strength can be demonstrated in knowing when we need help and getting it accordingly.

There are plenty of authors, actors, musicians and artists who have suffered from bipolar disorder, including Virginia Woolf, Linda Hamilton, Charles Schultz, Vincent Van Gogh, Mary Shelley and Ludwig van Beethoven.  Other artists who’ve struggled with the disorder are Charley Pride, Tennessee Williams, DMX, Vivien Leigh, William Styron, and Bobby Brown.  Even people like Jane Pauley, Ruth Graham, Marlon Brando, Abraham Lincoln & Janet Jackson have all had experiences with bipolar disorder.  It is not a black thing, a white thing, or any kind of "thing."  It is a treatable condition, and the more people know about it and understand it, the sooner the stigma of being “crazy” can be put to rest.

Suggested Reading:
Touched With Fire & An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

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