Sorry Patty Duke, bipolar disorder ain’t a brilliant madness!

I really respected Patty Duke as an actress and as an outspoken mental health advocate. She owned her illness publicly when it wasn’t cool to talk about such things. And she wrote a book called “A Brilliant Madness: Living with manic-depressive illness.” It was even a New York Times best seller. I still have my copy.

But…as much as I have heard how people with bipolar disorder are so smart and creative, artistic, bold and flamboyant I just want to call B.S. on the whole theory that an illness could make me special. I believe that those who are selling bipolar disorder as some magical, cool way of thinking are selling those of us who deal with this condition on a daily basis a big lump of coal.

It’s a real disservice to tell someone bipolar disorder can be a good thing. Is there anything good about spending many days in bed or suicidal because your so depressed you can’t get up? Is there something good about being off medications you don’t think your bipolar gift needs and then you become manic, get arrested and end up in jail? Or better yet can you find a mental health professional who will tell you, “you just think differently than other people. You don’t have to take medications, unless of course you want to.”

Oh my the stories I hear. All because we can’t seem to come to a clear consensus that having bipolar disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s no gift either. I’ve seen one to many lives ruined because people are trying to sugar coat the realities of bipolar disorder. This is a difficult illness to live with.

And…by the way…there is lots of hope. It’s not all doom and gloom. There are effective treatments. Lots of credible information online and in books. There are healthy coping strategies that one can learn. There are ways to live a good life, while also managing a chronic illness.

But for heavens sakes please stop telling people bipolar disorder is a special gift.

The other day I was having a rather deep conversation with my mother. She said, “I’m sorry I gave you the bipolar gene. I wish I could take it away.” I replied, “That’s okay, you gave me Olympic genes too. Gotta take the good with the bad.”

I’m athletic because of hard work and good genes. I’m intelligent because that’s how I was born. I have bipolar disorder and learned how to manage it. Not because I view it as a brilliant madness, but because I know it’s a wicked illness that will take you to hell and back if you let it.

Learn to manage the illness. Find the right medications. And find your brilliance in something other than madness.

Amy Gamble

The things I wish I knew!

Those of us who live with bipolar disorder know it’s not a picnic. But compared to when I was first diagnosed things have really come a long way in terms of information. If I had access to the internet in 1999 I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt my life’s course would have been altered. There’s so much information and stories of people living well with the illness. And also stories of people who are struggling. Most of the time it falls somewhere in between. But the point is there are people out there talking about living with bipolar disorder.

I’m one of those people.

I’ve been working on a new talk for upcoming keynote speeches. I usually have a few analogies or things that have really stuck in my mind. I have often heard diabetes as a reference folks with good intentions say. For example, “Hey you have bipolar disorder. It’s no different than diabetes. Just take the pills.” I really always and I do mean always hated that comparison. First of all, there’s a blood test that measure glucose levels. Second, a person with diabetes never has their sanity checked. Mental fitness is not a question that arises. Third, health care professionals hold classes to educate people about diabetes. They actually teach people how to manage their chronic physical illness. Fourth, there’s stigma with both but we all know mental illness wins the more stigmatized illness.

If I knew everything I have since learned about bipolar disorder 20 years ago, well, life would be different.

Here’s what I wish I knew:

  • Most people who have bipolar disorder need medications for life
  • Without medications relapsing episodes come more frequent and can become worse
  • The sooner you learn to accept it the easier life is gonna be
  • It takes a frustrating battle of trial and error to find the right combinations of medications. If a doctor writes you one prescription with several refills before your moods are stable -consider finding a new doctor
  • It’s gonna be hard work learning to manage it.
  • You’re going to hate taking medications at first but you have to stick to it
  • If you don’t get bipolar disorder under control it will destroy your life. Of course I don’t have a crystal ball but I’ve seen my share of lives destroyed. I’ve never seen a positive outcome by someone who chose to ignore it

My mother always used to say, “If I knew then what I know now….”. Now I just say, “Now that I know I can teach others.”

But darn. It sure would have been nice too have this knowledge. So I’m passing it along the others and hopes that it helps one person.

I’ll leave you with this one quote:

“There is no medicine like HOPE, no incentive so great, no tonic so powerful as the expectation of tomorrow.”

~Orison Marden