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FIRST PERSON: Bi-Polar and Magnets

Bi-polar has always made me think of magnets. You know the red and black ones that you got in school? It was never synonymous with depression until recently when I really started thinking about it in earnest. I was in my early teens when I was diagnosed with manic depression and was given some understanding as to why I felt that everything sucked. I had no idea that manic depression was just another word for bi-polar disorder and I would class myself bi-polar in a heartbeat over the other option, because manic depression can carry negative connotations. Whereas ‘bi-polar’ … that’s just magnets.

Contrary to popular belief bi-polar does NOT mean instant and extreme mood swings – it  differs from day to day, month to month. For instance, in my case I may go through a period of depression (usually triggered by a particular event) and then a week, or even month, later things will often improve. At times I will feel incredibly motivated and plan out my strategy for world domination or plan to learn a new language or have a better diet… these are the times of extreme motivation and energy that i can feel really glad to have bi-polar, as long as i can make sure it doesn’t get out of hand, and it is of the utmost importance that you take all of the positives you can from this condition rather than allowing it to dictate your life.

For example, people with bi-polar (note that I say ‘with’ and not ‘suffering from’) are apparently better in the bedroom – I guess it’s because there is a reason to be up all night! In these peaks of mood, senses heighten and you can be extremely productive.  So many great minds were (and are) bi-polar. Stephen Fry, for example, is a stellar example of this and if you haven’t done so I urge you to watch his documentary on depression. Beethoven, Churchill, Dickens… the list goes on. So there is a strong link between bi-polar disorder and creativity. A study by KCL and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm involving more than 700,000 adults showed that those who scored top grades at school were four times more likely to develop bi-polar disorder than those with average grades.

But this study doesn’t mean that people with bi-polar will always achieve good grades. I wish that was the case!  What this does show, however, is that the bi-polar mind works in a different way, and particularly in creative settings. This is why standardised testing, at school in particular, is flawed. It is efficient, I give it that, but flawed nonetheless. Think of it this way – imagine a menagerie of animals, all asked to climb a tree – the monkey has no problem but the elephant struggles. This analogy, when applied to bi-polar, shows that people excel in different tasks and fields, none of which are more a sign of intelligence or ability than the other. The trick is finding your niche, discover what you are really good at, and when you do, you will achieve great things!

During my years at school I was found submerged in a world in which social standing relied on how many Porsches daddy had and breaking the 6 foot tall barrier. My less than statuesque stature (and lack of Porsches) really hindered my social standing amongst my peers and made it incredibly hard to fit in, but it really fuelled hard work in me behind the scenes. It was clear that in this particularly troublesome part of my life, I was depressed. The lengths I would go to avoid eye contact were truly remarkable – I grew a fringe (which saw every colour of the rainbow) in order to ease this process. I found myself obsessing over trivial matters in order to fit in, for example: to what degree is one supposed to sway their arms when walking? In school, I was so afraid of confrontation that I would walk in a very awkward penguin like fashion, with my arms stuck to my sides, something that the older students would feel obliged to remind me of on a very regular basis.  Cheers guys.

Why should one worry about these kinds of trivial things? There are so many more important things to worry about: War, corruption, Kim Jong Un and Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance, to name but a few. But through my bi-polar I have learnt to block out irrelevant information and hone in on important things. It would be a lie to say that I never have any depressive thoughts but the best way I find to counter this is to keep busy. One of the most positive things is did was to restart judo and be more proactive in learning the guitar.  Breaking the Facebook/video games/eat/sleep cycle is really important. Don’t let your mind go idle and wander off into dangerous territories.  This may be easier said than done, but the effort is certainly worth it.

Unfortunately, insomnia often goes hand in hand with bi-polar. Many nights of sleepless unrest led to a strange OCD in me which requires me to lie down left, right and then on my back in order to reach any state of sleep. This leaves a lot of time for thinking; the best thing to do here is be creative. Write memos down, read, think of some new musical melody, compose a poem, draw something. I find this so much better than just thinking ‘I wish I could get to sleep’.

Now, my mother must have read an article on self-harming or something because after two years of religiously wearing the same wristband (ew) she noticed that something was up. Off to the doctors! As  I’m sure you already know, depression does not have a quick fix. On the one hand, altering the levels of neurotransmitters can help to stabilise your mood, but on the other, for me there was a constant feeling of dependency or annoyance on taking pills. For heaven’s sake, I don’t even take Paracetamol for headaches! As a strong willed person I have always thought that I could get through depression with no help whatsoever, or I was simply at the point at which seeking help was too much effort and watching the clock tick down was a more appealing option.

After a lengthy discussion with my doctor I admitted that I did not want to seek help because, from a personal standpoint, I felt it was a sign of weakness.  I could sort myself out, thanks very much.  Thankfully he provided me with an analogy that I will always remember: a diabetic would go to the doctor and take insulin to regulate their condition.  This is not them showing signs of weakness, it is just something that they need to do to stay healthy. Why should this be any different for bi-polar? The counselling side really helped too, just having someone there who would listen to me.

In conclusion, I have a few points to emphasise. Firstly: keep busy. Find your creative niche and explore new ones; keep an open mind. Secondly don’t be afraid to seek help, there is always somebody who will listen, whether it be CALM, doctors, friends or family it will help to get things off your chest; and lastly … magnets.

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