One Crazy Idea, or a Model for Recovery?

John McManamy Health Guide
  • With my illness, sometimes I get wild and crazy ideas. Psychiatrists have several terms for this. Grandiose and delusional are two that come to mind.

    My friend Tom Wootton also has a term. He calls it the bipolar advantage. My friend John Gartner has a similar term. He calls it the hypomanic edge. Tom and John are the authors of eye-opening books with those two titles, respectively.

    Here are other terms they use: Creative, visionary, inventive, revolutionary, productive, entrepreneurial, leaders, boat-rockers …

    Starts to make bipolar sound pretty good, doesn’t it?

    Yes, we know our illness is one of the worst on the planet, and that our brains need an occasional brake and lube job (not to mention frequent muffler maintenance), but let’s not treat our true advantage as a sickness that needs to be medicated out of us, is their point.
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    If bipolar were truly so bad, says John Gartner, our wacky wild side would never have been genetically transmitted from generation to generation. We would have been selectively weeded out eons ago.

    Hell, do you think it was some normal caveman who came up with fire? C’mon, going into a burning forest and bringing back a flaming souvenir is just, well … think what your mother would say.

    Okay, maybe a few of our ancestors got fricasseed to death before the concept of fire caught on, but you get my point.

    And so Pyro Man’s genes lived on in the persons of such wackos as Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, Craig Venter (who mapped the human genome), and the Hollywood movie moguls of the silver screen era, amongst many others.

    Talk about lighting up the world. Oh, yeah, add Thomas Edison to that list.

    Get this. Tom Wootton is actually giving seminars telling us that we’re better than everyone else.

    Back in 1999, I had a truly crazy idea. I would write about my illness. I had only just been diagnosed and was unemployed, with no prospects in sight, and knew absolutely nothing about my illness. But I would write, anyway, and not only that, I wouldn’t get paid for it.

    It got even crazier. I would learn as I wrote, I decided, one article at a time. I would slowly build up a readership. I would gradually establish my credibility. Eventually, I would be regarded as an authority in my own right. I would become Google’s bipolar go-to guy. I would get a book published. Somehow, the money would materialize.

    Believe me, I heard the G-word (for grandiose) more than once.

    One major Web site, one email newsletter that the former head of the NIMH calls the most influential in the field, one blog, one book by a major publisher, one public service award, two new zip codes and three modest but steady income streams later, well, call me crazy, but here goes …

    I just started on a major project – depression and bipolar diagnostic, treatment, and recovery guidelines for patients and their loved ones. There are plenty of guidelines for psychiatrists that tell them how to handle their patients. Well, why not guidelines for patients that tell us how to handle our psychiatrists?

  • Example: Don’t just tell me I have depression. Tell me exactly what kind of depression I have. Chronic or recurrent? Typical or atypical? With anxiety features or without? With mixed manic/hypomanic features or not? And listen, until we work together to get a precise read on my illness, let’s treat my diagnosis as provisional. Who knows? I may really have bipolar disorder.
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    And once we start to bring my illness into sharp focus, then let’s figure out the type of things I need to be working on. Sleep? Anger? Lack of motivation? Irrational thoughts?

    Meanwhile, don’t just tell me to take my meds and shut up. The success rate isn’t exactly spectacular with meds, you know. Give me a recovery plan. Give me a time line.

    You get the idea.

    And while we’re at it, why not guidelines for handling our therapists, nutritionists and other treating professionals, employers, bureaucrats, and personal relationships? And, oh yes, let’s get something started for anxiety and schizophrenia and addictions and personality disorders, as well. Start our own organization, bring in lots of people. Not only that, we’ll put the whole kit and caboodle into a computer program. Enter the appropriate info, click a button, and voila – your own personalized recovery program, a set of blueprints you can get your clinicians and all the others in your life to sign onto.

    We’ll do it with government grants. We’ll do it as a business. Whatever. Start small, build up credibility, get others to buy into the idea. We’re talking several years at the earliest before we start building up a head of steam. In good time, though, we’ll get it to work. Eventually, we will make this the model for recovery.

    How do I know this?

    I’m bipolar, that’s why. I’m crazy. I’m nuts. And I also have an advantage, an edge. It’s no guarantee for success, but believe me, someone who is normal wouldn’t even be thinking about this. And that’s the point. Without that distant ancestor with the same screwy genes I have and you have, we’d all still be shivering in caves.

Published On: February 05, 2007