I just received a personally autographed book in the mail called “The Bipolar Advantage” by Tom Wootton. I haven’t read it yet, but the opening two sentences kind of intrigued me:
“This is bullshit. There is nothing good about being bipolar.”
Tom, a corporate trainer and bipolar patient, had the bright idea of putting together a seminar for fellow patients. In the seminar, he urged participants to volunteer both the bad and good about their illness. The “bullshit” comment, he admits, stopped him in his tracks.
Two and a half years ago I posted on my web site this question: "We know that bipolar disorder is a horrific illness. But do you also regard it as a gift that you would not trade to be normal?"
Predictably, my readers were less than sanguine.
“A ‘gift?’ wrote one. “Are you having a laugh? My mother has just ended her life after struggling with an illness that robbed me of the most beautiful person to ever walk the earth.”
Another individual, who had never experienced the highs others "so glowingly describe," responded, "If it is a gift, then I must thank Satan, because only he could be so gracious and generous."
Yet another reader, who has been to ****and back more times than she can count, concluded: "I will gladly return this gift if someone will point me in the direction of the Customer Service Counter of life."
Clearly Tom Wootton and I are in the minority here. I find myself suggesting to people in my support group that if we are to blame our illness for just about all the woe in our lives, the least we can do is give it credit for a few of the good things. But I usually find myself staring into blank faces, which is my cue to bring my little pep talk to an unconvincing close.
So what good can I say about an illness that has made an outsider of me from early childhood on, that robbed me of my carefree years, derailed me academically, turned me into a loser and social leper, rendered me unemployable, resulted in financial ruin, and nearly killed me several times?
Well, not much, admittedly.
Hold on. I take that back. I’m bipolar and proud. I have only pity for the dreary unimaginative drudges who have not experienced a sunset through my eyes or listened to Louis Armstrong through my ears, who look at a tree and see only a tree, and who put one and one together and only come up with two.
I am one of the fortunate live ones in a world of the walking dead. Yes, I hate my illness, but I can hardly hate what my illness has made of me. For most of my adult life, I was in denial about my illness. With acceptance came a coming to terms about who I am. An outsider? Yes. Different? Certainly. A loser? No way. The rest of the world should be as lucky as me.
In another week I’m headed out to a conference in San Francisco where Tom Wootton is one of the speakers. By then I will have read his book. The two of us should have a lot to talk about.
Published On: August 31, 2006
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