Bipolar - Gift or Curse?

Patient Expert

In a comment to my recent sharepost, When God Seems to Turn His Back on Us, Burnsrunner remarked:

Not everyone feels that being bipolar is a hardship. In fact, many view it as a blessing. Have you read Richard Jarzynka's book "Blessed With Bipolar" yet? He has bipolar, and firmly believes that God is not screwing with you. He will use bipolar for your absolute best. When we are weak, Christ's strength is made perfect in us and His grace is sufficient.
That makes total sense to me. God is loving and just. We are not asked to understand everything, but to use what we have to be the best person we can be.

I can already sense a lot of hackles rising out there. Where was this loving and just God when I lost my job? you may be asking. When I lost my relationship? My friends? My home? Everything?

And where was God, you may ask, when I was cast into the bottomless black pit of depression?

To that I might add: Where was this loving and just God when my good friend Kevin - a very religious man - threw himself in front of a train?

So is Burnsrunner totally off the wall? Not unless you call me crazy, too. About eight or nine years ago, I concluded an article on my website with this observation:

In one way, it's akin to being God's chosen people. As God's chosen, we are prime candidates for God's wrath, but even as God strikes the final blow - as the old Jewish saying goes - he provides the eventual healing. In a way that only God can understand, God has bestowed on us a great blessing. Living with this blessing is both a challenge and a terrible burden, but in the end we hope to emerge from this ordeal as better people, more compassionate toward our fellow beings and just a little bit closer to God.

Okay, you may be thinking. I get the God's wrath part of it. Show me the blessing. I get a lot of resistance to this when I bring this up, so please bear with me. In an email interview on Stable Moods, Michael asked me:

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?

My short answer was: "And become normal? No way."

Julie Fast, author of "Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder," was far less sanguine: "Where is the water" she replied to the same question. "Hand me a glass! Are you kidding? I'd take the pill."

Earlier in her interview,   Ms Fast elaborated:

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. Actually, when I'm not in a mood swing, I'm more able to relax and just have fun. Bipolar disorder completely distorts the real me. My life changed for the better when I learned the difference between the 'me' and the illness.

This sharply contrasts with my take. In my interview, I observed:

Bipolar has wrecked my life many times over, but I see and experience the world in ways that are the envy of the rest of the world. Once I was able to bring my illness under control, then I could truly appreciate its gifts. I paid one helluva price for these gifts, but no way I would ever contemplate exchanging them.

In other words, if I am so quick to blame bipolar for everything that has gone wrong with my life, I need to give credit where credit is due. After all, there is no all good and all bad unless you are talking about Fox News. I see bipolar as a vital part of me - the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is a view outside the psychiatric mainstream, but is one that works for me.

Julie, by contrast, separates out her illness from her personality. This accords with psychiatric conventional wisdom, and my guess is that she is in the overwhelming majority opinion among patients.

So who's right? Me or Julie? Both of us, in fact. A bipolar magic cure, I know, would rob me of my personality. I would much rather endure the downside of my illness than to face the rest of my life with no identity, no sense of self. The same cure for Julie, by contrast, would allow her true personality to shine through.

What are your views? We badly need to learn from each other, here. Please share your wisdom and insight in the comments below ...