Reporting Live from Tom Wootton's Conference

John McManamy Health Guide
  • I’m chilling out in a hotel in Stockton, in between conferences in California. At the national DBSA west coast conference just outside San Francisco, I attended two sessions by Tom Wootton, author of “The Bipolar Advantage.”

    Very few people I talk to or communicate with see bipolar as an advantage, I know that a large chunk of my personality that I cherish – my creativity, my vision, my sensitivity, my mild craziness – can be attributed to some “good” bipolar genes, but this is a hard sell to people still struggling to find the right meds who are looking to pick up the pieces to their shattered lives.
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    So I was very curious to see what kind of reaction Tom would be getting before a live audience. We can be very tough customers.

    “There is no good or all bad,” Tom opened with, or words to that effect. Then he ran through the short version of the all-day or two-day seminar he gives. He started out by having us name all the bad things about mania. Well, that was easy. The list filled up pretty fast. On the wall were about eight or nine sheets of bad things from a previous group he had led.

    Okay. Now the good things. The creativity, the productivity … Surprisingly, this list filled up extremely fast. Tom pointed to the wall. The “good” list from his previous seminar was longer than the “bad” list.

    Knock me over with a feather, said the look on the faces of those in the audience. Since I had already read his book, I had seen this coming. What I was definitely not expecting, however, was the enthusiasm by which this revelation went down. This should have been the cue for the rotten tomatoes to come out. Instead, what I was witnessing was something akin to a religious revival meeting. Nodding heads, knowing glances. Of course, said their expressions. It makes so much sense.

    Tom focused on racing thoughts, which can be both an advantage and disadvantage. Basically, we put all those left brain stuck-in-the-muds to shame. The ease by which brilliant ideas pop into our heads is pure rhapsody. Unfortunately, these thoughts do us no good – or can even get us unstuck – when they are scattered.

    But there are ways to change this “bad” trait to a “good” one. Through meditation and other techniques, we can learn to focus our thoughts. The corporate world highly values original thinkers, Tom reminded us, not the pathetic head-scratching that passes for brain-storming.

    An hour later, I’m back for the second part of Tom’s presentation, this time on what is “good” about depression.

    I raise my hand. “Introspection,” I say. Tom picks up on this. Boy, can we introspect. It was depression that made the saints become saints, he says. Think of the long dark night of the soul.

    So, amazingly, here we all are feeling good about being depressed.

    Unfortunately, you can’t capture this in writing. Tom’s book does no justice to his presentation. I congratulate him on having pulled off the impossible, on what has virtually been impossible for me to do.

  • Tom and I come from the exact same starting point on this. Before you can move forward with this illness, you have to reach a state of acceptance. Acknowledge the good as well as the bad. Learn what you can do to turn some of the negative apects about this illness into something positive. Many of us are not at the stage where we can work on this yet. But please be assured: When you are ready to move forward, you will have a guide. What may sound crazy and out of reach now will make good sense in its own good time.
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    This is John McManamy, reporting “live” from Stockton.

Published On: September 14, 2006