No More Wisdom, Teeth That Is…

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It took me twenty-seven years to part with my four wisdom teeth. Now that’s one of the longest relationships I’ve had in my life so you can see why I was reluctant to let them go. I was really only reluctant because I had too many irrational fears. Anxiety and negative thinking generated and blew up these fears to the point they seemed overwhelming and all encompassing.

Long story short – All four teeth were pulled at the local hospital by a very talented oral surgeon who sincerely deserves accolades for the job done on my teeth. I have yet to feel any pain, only slight discomfort in one side of my mouth (and I mean ever so slightly). He prescribed ibuprofen (600 mg) and T3s but I have not had to rely on them whatsoever besides an ibuprofen to help the swelling.

The general smooth sailing of this operation seems glorious compared to the vision of my recovery I had cooked up in my head prior to surgery. Let’s address irrational fear number 1: That I would not be put under anesthesia for my wisdom teeth extraction and if I was, that I would wake up in the middle of surgery to crunching tooth noises and scenes of blood and gore. The first part of this fear was addressed by the surgeon himself at our consultation meeting when he informed me that I would be put asleep for the surgery and that he would freeze my mouth during surgery so that I would have limited pain when I woke up.

However, the second part of this irrational fear stuck with me until the hour before surgery where I kept it pretty together (accepting that what happens was going to happen) and then broke down balling hysterically. The guy in charge of taking me or rather wheeling me to my surgery noticed me crying and asked me what was wrong, “Are you just nervous or afraid? Because it’s okay to be nervous but there is no reason to be afraid.” He went on to explain that my surgeon has done this for many decades and that the nurses and staff have also done this procedure like a hundred times. It comes easy to them, he explained. He also detailed to me the nature of my anesthesia and how it was impossible that I would wake up during surgery since the anesthesiologist only has one job and that is to monitor me being asleep and keep me that way.

He was most comforting, this man, and I am very thankful for my encounter with him prior to surgery. He wheeled me to the OR while telling me “You must be one of those girls who watches Grey’s Anatomy.” I exclaimed that’s my favourite show! (I’ve re-watched the entire series at least eight times)  And then he went on, “Well you don’t see no McDreamy wheeling you to the OR just McOldGuy (referring to himself) and no McSteamy lurking in the hallway. These hallways are clear and calm. There’s no rushing in and out of OR rooms in frenzies and crazy drama.” I laughed quite loudly in response to this news and asked genuinely, “So a bomb isn’t gonna go off in the hospital and blow up this hallway?” (referring to a significant episode in earlier Grey’s). He chuckled “No! Surgery is actually pretty boring compared to that show and you’ll do great!” He wheeled me in front of the door and there I waited for my surgical team to get started.

I proceeded to work myself up again and then a surgical nurse came out to get me and assured me my teeth were of the easier surgeries she has ever seen and that they will not be difficult to remove. The gas mask was put on me and alarmingly I was able to count fully backwards from ten but then added a comment that I was getting drowsy and then blackness. I woke up in what seemed moments later with a nurse calling my name saying I did great and to which I responded “Are all my teeth still there? Like they didn’t knock out extra ones?” He laughed and assured me that they only extracted the four wisdom teeth. This was yet another irrational fear of mine that once they took one out, it would be like a domino effect and I’d be left with virtually no smile. This luckily was not the case and I woke up with only slight discomfort, no pain.

My mouth was frozen the entire day following surgery and night so I felt no pain and would continue to feel no pain a week later which brings us to today. I don’t know why I was so scared to have my wisdom teeth removed knowing that majority of people get it done all the time and they have all survived (I like those odds). I think it comes down to my anxiety of the unknown, of something I have yet to experience and in my negative brain immediately predict it to be a negative one. My surgery and recovery went flawless and I could not have asked for a better oral surgeon. It’s good I had them removed since they would only cause problems later down the road and my dentist was surprised I wasn’t already feeling some pain off and on because of the state they were in. It took a lot of courage for someone with as many dooms day thoughts as me to even cross the threshold to the surgical floor but I am glad I did it. It means I am improving my oral health and therefore my overall health.

I feel silly for avoiding the dentist and avoiding this surgery because so far I have had nothing but positive experiences I have decided to start trying to tackle my problems head on instead of avoiding them and hoping they go away. I may not always get the positive outcome I have so far but it’s worth the risk to keep things more on track. It seems I have lost my wisdom teeth but have gained some residual wisdom. And that I am thankful for.

The Link Between Disorder and Genius

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“The subject of genius and mental illness has been discussed and debated on a scientific level for decades. Our cultural awareness of the link between mental disorder and genius is as old as philosophy. Plato wrote of what he called “divine madness,” and Aristotle recognized that creative people tended toward melancholia. It is no coincidence that such a high percentage of American Nobel and Pulitzer Prize – winning writers are also alcoholics” (Saltz, 9).

It was these lines in M.D. Gail Saltz’ book The Power of Different that led me to read this psychiatrist and bestselling author’s take on mental illness as a driving force for creativity. Saltz relies on scientific research, stories from historical geniuses and from everyday individuals who have not only made the most of their conditions but have also flourished because of them.

Being a blogger on mental health, specifically bipolar disorder, the idea of disorder being linked to genius extremely interested me. Saltz found in multiple studies, bipolar disorder has been scientifically, clinically proven to correlate with creativity and the artistic temperament (Saltz 136). Being both an artist and a person suffering with bipolar disorder this peaked my interest even more.

Clinical psychologist and writer Kay Redfield Jamison writes in her book Touched with Fire that Saltz references,  “Many of the changes in mood, thinking and perception that characterize the mildly manic states – restlessness, ebullience, expansiveness, irritability, grandiosity, quickened and more finely tuned senses, intensity of emotional experiences, diversity of thought, and rapidity of associational processes – are highly characteristic of creative thought as well” (Saltz 145). Bipolar is a disorder that has links to creativity which can be traced back to writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Anne Saxton who unfortunately took their lives as a result of their cycling moods.

The most creative individuals however are not the “most well” or the “most ill” but rather are often “mildly ill.” Saltz references the research of Robert Bilder and Kendra Knudsen at the University of California, Los Angeles who observe this phenomena: “These are the individuals who can be diagnosed with all sorts of brain differences – like depression or bipolar disorder – who are simultaneously well treated and flexible enough to move back and forth between convergent and divergent thinking” (Saltz 206).

Examples of this kind of flexibility can be found in a forty-year longitudinal study conducted by Swedish researchers and published in the “Journal of Psychiatric Research:” “These researchers found that being an author “was specifically associated with increased likelihood of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. Clearly the authors who suffered from these brain differences were functioning at a level high enough to enable them to produce publishable work. Moreover, these same researchers found much higher representation in scientific and artistic fields among those whose first-degree relatives had diagnosed mental illness” (Saltz 206).

In the words of Bilder and Knudsen, the creative brain needs to balance at “the edge of chaos: “the kind of creativity that produces novels, musical scores,entrepreneurial ideas, and scientific theories requires the ability to flip back and forth between organized and messy thinking” (Saltz 206).

Often times people with bipolar disorder who enjoy the creative frenzy that accompanies mania or hypomania neglect to take their medication in order to ride the high out a little longer, so to speak. The flurry of ideas that come during these manic episodes can seem intoxicating and I can speak from experience of a rush of ideas that came over me that all seemed pressing and yet I was too disorganized in thought to be able to hold any one idea down.

Nassir Ghaemi, Who treats many bright students in their teens and twenties, says, ” is that people with bipolar disorder can benefit from taking a broad view of their own creativity. When patients resist medication, the real issue they’re having is that they think about creativity is just one thing, as this kind of flash of inspiration that happens when you’re manic. And that is part of creativity, but there’s another kind of  creativity.”(Saltz 150). 

Ghaemi cites the work of psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques, who wrote about what he called “sculpted creativity”. “This is not a flash of inspiration, but it’s insights that overtime you put together, like a Sculptor. And it’s not something that happens all of a sudden. This durable sort of creativity depends on maintaining equilibrium over the long haul –  that is, not burning out like a light bulb or losing time to severe manic and depressive episodes” (Saltz 150).

Ghaemi tells his patients the following: “instead of having a lot of creativity really briefly and then being depressed and fallow for a long time, you’re better off having less creativity more regularly, more consistently. it actually adds up more that way.”  (Saltz 150).  

In multiple studies, bipolar disorder has been scientifically, clinically proven to correlate with creativity and the artistic temperament (Saltz 136). I can speak from experience as a visual artist and writer with bipolar disorder that the shift between moods elevates my work in ways if I was quote on quote normal would not be as interesting. When I am hypomanic (not manic because that is too much of an extreme) I have creative ideas and am more able to execute them such as writing this blog on the link between creativity and bipolar disorder. When I swing into more of a depression, I am more prone to edit my work and create visual art because I ruminate more and am able to take on longer projects such as a big painting or technically precise artwork that takes several bouts of time.

However, I have been medicated for years and now notice a more sculpted creativity Nassir Ghaemi speaks of in that I have more creativity that is productive instead of bursts of disorganized manic ideas that I would have a harder time following through on. I am also prone to experience mania as psychosis and so my ideas turn psychotic in nature and no longer productive at all, like thinking I can buy eight mustangs with money I do not have.

I do notice an artistic temperament to bipolar disorder, in that us bipolar people tend to be more melancholic in nature and so reflect on the world in a more drawn out manner and have the gifts of mania/hypomania to illuminate ideas/ ways in which we can translate these thoughts to the general public, typically through writing and art. However, there is a pendulum effect to being productive with creativity in that you must ,as discussed above, be slightly insane but sane enough, or rather medicated enough, to be able to translate that insanity into something coherent. Me raving mad in the psych ward about the millions of dollars I have and trying to order things I cannot afford are not well executed ideas or a productive use of my illness. However, writing about it later while medicated provides others with bipolar disorder a sense of hope, that they can create normalcy out of insanity and even discuss it openly without shame or stigma. I couldn’t string more than two sentences coherently together while manic let alone write a full blog post. It is through medication that creativity can truly foster and grow. It is through balance that the bipolar mind can be as creative as it was meant to be.

The link between disorder and genius is evident through research and influential creators who are linked to this disorder. Virginia Woolf may have committed suicide but she is still arguably one of the best English writers of her time and for that matter even all time. Bipolar disorder has its pitfalls like in the case of Woolf a higher risk for suicide but it also creates a powerhouse of potential, the potential to create something meaningful from the chaos of the mind.

 

Bipolar Disorder – My Super Power

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Me as Wonder Woman. I’d argue its a constant mindset. 

When discussing bipolar disorder we tend to focus on the negative such as the crippling lows and delusional highs. However, this negates the beauty and positives one can find to living and struggling with bipolar disorder. I like to say that being bipolar is like having a super power in that it provides you with empathy, respect and love for others. It makes you appreciate life more and the small things that you once took for granted. Below you will find six things my disorder has taught/given me and how it has affected my life:

Super Power #1: Empathy

I find I identify with people more so than ever after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I particularly identify with the struggles of others. Before, the image of a man on the street talking to himself aggressively would have led me to conclude “wow, he’s insane!” But now I feel empathy for this man and realize he may have a mental illness such as schizophrenia and is battling with the voices or rather demons in his mind. I am less prone to say a person is crazy having gone completely psychotic myself and am more aware of words and how I use them to describe people.

I feel for others who struggle with depression, mania, poor life circumstances, etc, because I have a fuller understanding of how hard life can be. I spent over a year being Agoraphobic and unable to leave my house following a manic psychosis and now have a better understanding of this affliction and how debilitating it can be whereas before I thought it was some made up illness. I genuinely love and respect other people more now that I can appreciate that everyone struggles at some point in their life. I am less blind to this struggle having gone through years of various episodes ranging from extremely high to extremely low.

Super Power #2: Awareness/  Knowledge

They say that knowledge is power and it really is! I can’t believe how grossly educated I was about mental illness and it’s prevalence. According to Statistics Canada: over two million Canadians aged 15 and older have a mental-health related disability. This represents 7% of Canada’s adult and youth population. In 2017, 8.6% of Canadians aged 12 and older (roughly 2.6 million people) reported that they had a mood disorder.

I used to think mental illness was more of an outlier and that I would never experience it in my lifetime. Again, I was grossly misinformed. I have bipolar type 1 and have experienced multiple episodes of depression, hypomania, and mania and even manic psychosis. I was always a very thoughtful and anxious child who had bouts of depression followed by increased levels of activity which have finally been put into context through my diagnosis. 

Having this disorder has taught me to seek out more information about bipolar and attempt to educate my readers as well on the various aspects of it. I am less prone to judgement as a result of this knowledge and always provide a listening ear to anyone and I mean anyone who is struggling in their life and wants to talk (whether they have a mood disorder or not).

Super Power #3: Appreciation for Life and the little things 

Having lost my sanity not once, but twice, I tend to appreciate that shit! Having been bed ridden for months on end makes you appreciate when you are healthy so much more. I now have a new lease on life thanks to my bipolar. I appreciate my family more having been by my side during these tumultuous times. The small things like smelling a flower, writing this blog post or even sitting and simply breathing feel more alive to me now having gone through periods of debilitating illness. I find joy in the little things in a way I never did before. Before my illness, I was moving a mile a minute studying while working full time and never stopping to appreciate any of it and always in a despairing mood. When you get sick something shifts inside your mind space and you promise yourself that if you were to get better, you’d appreciate normal so much more and that is now what I do. I appreciate my sanity more than anything, to be medicated and not experience hallucinations or delusions is a godsend, anything on top of that is just gravy to me.

Super Power#4: Creativity and the Ability to Channel it

Bipolar tends to come with a sense of creativity (which I will discuss in my next blog the link between artistic temperament and manic-depressive illness). When you are hypomanic you get a burst of ideas such as creative projects to undertake and if you are lucky and medicated you can hone these ideas into something great. I have had a manic idea to write about my memoirs but now having been medicated for years I am finally in a position to write them being now sound in mind. However, the experience of insanity brought on by my bipolar disorder gave me the inspiration for this idea and the content to write it. Mental illness can be talked about in creative ways and if you are brave enough to share, you can always find a creative outlet such as writing, painting, etc.

Super Power#5: Judgement is not in my vocabulary (anymore) 

I used to be a snob. I am not kidding. I was the prissiest little priss there ever was. I judged everyone from what they wore to how they talked to where they were from…well, you get the idea. Judgement was my middle name. However, having now gone through a life changing affliction I am less prone to jump on the judgement train. How can someone who has gone psychotic twice get on any semblance of a high horse? I’ll tell you…they can’t. I got literally knocked off mine and catapulted into understanding and acceptance of others. I now try to see beyond first glance and if someone is rude to me, I don’t assume they’re a bitch but realize I have no clue what their day has been like or how their life has played out up until that moment in time. I don’t assume homeless people are lazy bums but rather people who have gone through some sort of hardship that has led them to said point. The point is judgement is not in my vocabulary…anymore!

Super Power#6: Patience

If anything bipolar has taught me how to be patient more than anything else. I spent years (almost five) trying to find the right medication to balance my moods. Some swung me into manic psychosis to the point where I was raving about being a celebrity millionaire going around in a onesie giving out designer perfume bottles like they were sticks of gum. In actuality I was a University drop out on welfare. Some medications on the other hand slumped me into depressions so deep I literally would not leave my bed for three months. I became Agoraphobic as mentioned before and had to have counselling just to be able to walk to the end of my street. I finally found the right medication after years of trial and error but it took patience and a willingness to try. It took me five years to become completely sane and not overwhelmed by the fluctuating cycles of bipolar. If that’s not patience tell me what is.

This lesson in patience has carried over into all aspects of my life. I am more patient with people and understand that they are not perfect nor will they always do what I expect or want them to do. I also have more patience for simple things like hospital waiting rooms and accept that everything will come when it is meant to come.

In summary Bipolar Disorder may have taken a lot of things away from me but it has given me so much more. It has given me a new attitude and perspective on life that allows me to cope better with the things life throws at you. It has given me superpowers!