Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Bipolar Artist

The terms "bipolar" and "artist" are a real dichotomy. I have been both for the better part of 40 years with a large dash of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The series of episodes during my lifetime have provided me a wonderful career, creativity that knew no bounds, orderliness beyond reason, and a heaping spoonful of black incidents.

For those who don't know and I mean really know what bipolar and OCD is I will explain as best I can. Bipolar is a brain disorder where OCD is a personality disorder. Having both is like running at 100 miles per hour and being neat at the same time!

For over 30 years I was primarily in a manic state; whereas I held positions of authority, always committed to more than any human could complete in a day, week or month, and ALWAYS thought there was something wrong with anyone who couldn't "run" at my pace. During those years I also experienced the deep dark depressions that go with the disease. There was not a day that I didn't contemplate suicide, always as my "out" if things didn't go my way. Obviously I never committed the ultimate sin but it was always there as an alternative.

During my manic years I experienced creativity in all aspects of my life; both in my jobs and any craft I was attempting at the time. I self taught myself to paint in oil on canvas; learned to mosaic, again self taught; learned to sew on a sewing machine with no instructions ~ well you get the picture. The manic part of bipolar (or the lesser hypomania) is what we miss once we are in control of our disease. Our accelerator, when under control is running at a smooth pace, i.e., no racing thoughts; but with that loss of speed there is a loss of creativity as well. Wikipedia has a wonderful article on the disease.

However, there is a downside to mania. I spent money like water running through my fingers; I once bought a house, ten's of thousands' more than we could afford; without my husband even seeing it! I've bought several cars without consulting my husband, and on and on. The odd thing about inappropriate mania is that it is never enough. The hoards of boxes that would arrive at my door from purchases would go unopened for weeks ~ because I knew what was in them, and it was to act of buying not owning that fed my high.

The depression "era's" would stem from out of control thoughts and behavior. When I say out of control, I mean out of MY control. What others dismiss to me was a concept I couldn't fathom. Thinking, thinking, thinking is what my depressions were like.

How and when is a person diagnosed bipolar? It helps to know that it is very difficult to diagnose because so many symptoms overlap and some people, like myself, don't go to the doctor with a laundry list of "how I feel today, yesterday or 10 years ago!" So what happens when you are diagnosed bipolar? Diagnosis usually follows some sort of crisis incident ~ and that term is relative. In my case, following my past for over 40 years told my doctors that I had been bipolar for at least that amount of time. Typically bipolar is diagnosed at a much younger age.

For this writing the impetus that lead to my diagnosis is irrelevant. Suffice to say that as a result of the incident almost two years have brought me to a place where I can sit still for more than 15 seconds and rarely have racing thoughts. However there is a price to pay for this kind of peace. Medication that works but has side effects; and psychotherapy on a very regular basis that can be a real deal breaker when planning your week.

Because of the medication cocktail I take on a daily basis, I no longer have the creative juices. The things I used to see and dream of creating have vanished like the mist at dawn. There is no such thing as finding the "right" medication on the first try either. Over the last two years my doctors have changed or modified my medications at least a dozen times. Every change or modification I refer to as my "chemical honeymoon" period. And change isn't always good.

Another side effect of bipolar medications is weight gain ~ and the number one reason people like me go off their meds. I too have experienced this. However, for the last six months I have been on a smart diet and have already taken off 20 of the 30 pounds I had gained. I refuse to be a fat crazy person!

Lack of creativity, missing the high, weight gain and a plethora of other side effects are the primary reasons people stop taking their medication at least once. I have days when I think about it ~ then I just swallow my cocktail and get on with my day!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Darn ... why don't I proof read better:) Trying this again.

    My jaw dropped when I read about your house and car purchases. Your post has been an education for me. Are you working on a book about your life?

    Congratulations on your weight loss.

    I can understand why a person would be tempted to skip the medication. Kudos to you for sticking it out!

  3. I need to write a book because I really have done some crazy things over the years..but no, probably not going to happen.

  4. I was engaged to a boy in my twenties whose brother had Bipolar disorder. It is very hard for people to understand. We spent countless hours at cars dealers after he leased Lincoln Continentals for all his workers ( he was in construction), put down payments on homes/condos,emptied half the house on a whim into the street etc. It is a very hard life to lead. I give you credit to take steps to manage your thoughts. XO

  5. Thanks for such a personal post. My boyfriend was diagnosed with bipolar a few years back, and before he was medicated, he wreaked havoc on our stressful. It's like you say, though, he's mellow now but seems to have lost some of his passion for life.

  6. Oh I get it! I've given thousands of dollars loans that were never repaid. Spent 10's of thousands on "stuff" I didn't need and really didn't want, and spent my entire adult life working 16 hour days! Yup, it's stressful for everyone ~ including the family who DO still speak to me.

  7. Thanks for sharing something so personal. I believe my husband is bipolar, I've read so much on it and everything I read, including your account of what you've been through, seems to be pointing to bipolar disorder. He won't go to the doctor though still trying to get him to go.


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