Gary John Bishop’s “Wise As Fu*k” – Fear

My new companion “Wise As Fu*k” and my manuscript so far.

Gary John Bishop’s “Wise as Fu*k” delivers an impactful punch of insight in a straightforward no-bullshitting style that is admirable. Bishop breaks down his books into sections or rather “fundamentals of life:” Love, Loss, Fear and Success. I will admit I perused the “Love” section but the parts on loss, fear and success really spoke to me in a way that has motivated me to attempt to make a very real change in my life. I will address the three sections of loss, fear and success in three separate blog posts. This one will be dedicated to Fear.

“If you ask anyone why they feel as if they’re stuck or trapped, why they don’t reach for greatness or break out of a crumbling life and you question a little, they all initially cough up the same boring answer to that existence of predictability and beigeness – Fear” (Bishop 113).

Bishop really hits home with this statement for I too often chalk up why I fall short of my goals to fear, and more specifically the generic fear of failure. He points out in this book that most people have built a life around their fears rather than their potential. If I am being completely honest with myself and you, my readers, I have let fear dominate my life and hold me back from pursuing things I have wanted to but never did for fear of failing.

“You don’t start a business or write that book or apply to that college or even go the gym becaue…what’s the fucking point, right? I mean, you’ll only fail again, won’t you?” (Bishop 113). Bishop hits even closer to home with these examples for I myself have been delaying my writing process for a book I want to get published. Again, I chalk it up to fear. I fear I will spend months, even years writing a manuscript only to have it rejected by every publisher I submit it to. I fear even if it does get published that it will not be well received or no one will even like it or even read it. I fear at the heart of it all that I will expose myself raw and share my painful journey only to be criticized and or ostracized. These are the thoughts running through my mind every time I debate sitting down to write my manuscript.

Fear is described as a Band-Aid to cover up everything we don’t want to face in this book, “It is an explanation that allows us to put that task off indefinitely” (Bishop 115). And as I mentioned earlier, I am using my fear of failure as a Band-Aid to cover up facing writing my memoir because as Bishop notes, “Look your problem is not a fear of failure itself, but a fear of being seen to fail” (Bishop 116). I am at the very root of it afraid to be seen failing yet again. I tried to finish my degree at University and become a professor but was derailed by a mental breakdown brought on by the onset of bipolar disorder. It took me a long time to pick myself up  mentally and at times even physically. I think my fear comes from a place of not wanting people to see me reaching for another dream – writing and publishing a book – and it slip from my grasp again. I feel as though I would be ashamed and could not handle if yet another dream of mine were to die, since in my past I did not handle that very well to keep it light.

“You can learn to live with fear without using it as an excuse. It’s not about being fearless but rather realizing that you’re okay with it…It’s not about avoiding being judged but instead realizing that all people will judge, and it is far better to be judged for who you are rather than something you’re pretending to be…” (Bishop 118). This quote from “Wise As Fu*k” really put things into perspective for me. I realize it is better to be your authentic self and put all your cards on the table than shy away from the truth because of some stupid fear that you will be judged. While writing my book (what I’ve written so far) I’ve debated leaving parts of my painful journey out for fear it will not be well received or understood. I do however believe these more intense parts of my story will help my reader understand better where I have been and where I am coming from. I also believe there is someone out there going through these same scary, intense experiences that may benefit from me sharing my own account/version of them. Do I shy away from sharing the more dark parts of myself for fear of being judged or misunderstood or do I grow a pair and put it out there for the world to make of it what they will? After all this is MY story and it deserves to be told as truthfully and as authentically as possible so that the person experiencing the same darkness can feel less alone. This book has encouraged me to at the very least consider leaving these elements of my book in and to be honest I am thinking, “Fuck it! I’m just going to do it anyways – fear be damned.”

“To fear is to be alive. Its your job to understand that and to push past it…We all feel fear. But it’s not an excuse not to take action” (Bishop 119). This is the crux – to take action despite our fear. You can feel it but do not let it overwhelm you to the point of inaction. I realize I have been letting my fear cripple me and inhibit my ability to pursue my goal of being a published author. I need to have faith in my story and that it was meant to be told which I genuinely do believe. I believe my experiences are bigger than me and need to be shared in order that someone experiencing the same pain can have a guide post to reference as a piece of hope. I got through it and so can you. I need to acknowledge my fears but do not let them overcome me. I have been trying to do this by challenging my thinking. For example, “This book may be published and maybe no one will read it.” I challenge that with “Maybe it won’t be a bestseller or even popular but if it gets in the hands of just one person who benefits from reading it then it will all be worth it.” I have decided to start actively sitting down with my manuscript so far and work on it each day for at least an hour. This could mean I write, or maybe revise, or even research but the point is to sit with it until the fear washes away and I am spurred to action.

I will end this post with one more quote from Bishop that really resonated with me, “You can either be driven by that fear or declare yourself big enough to bring it along for the ride. Fear can be the companion or the driver; that choice will be yours” (Bishop 127). This is what I like about Bishop’s writing in that the ownership is put on the individual. It is up to me to accept my fear and yet continue to move on. I am no longer going to let fear be the driver but I will accept it as my companion for though I fear writing my book, I also fear not writing it more. I worry for that person in the throes of psychosis not understanding why or how this is happening to them without a compassionate voice (mine) for which to access and lean on for inspiration – that your experience does not define you but rather how you react and process it does. I want to be a voice for those who are too scared to speak up and admit to others and the world that losing your actual fucking mind is literally terrifying and makes you feel alone  and more than anything ashamed.

Don’t let fear have the last word but accept it for what it is a driving force that can be reigned into motivation. My fear motivates me to share my story and as authentically as possible because quite frankly it’s scarier not to.

Stay Tuned for the next blog post on Gary John Bishop’s thoughts on “Success” and my interpretation of it.

All My Love,

BiPolarMania,

XOXOXOXOXOXO

You’ll Be Flying Again Soon…

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“You are not trapped, you just need to relearn a few things. We all have doubts that make us feel trapped at times. If you doubt your ability to make a life-altering decision, to take on a new chapter in your life, or to fend for yourself after years of being overly fostered, consider this: Surely if a bird with healthy wings is locked in a cage long enough she will doubt her own ability to fly. You still have your wings, but your muscles are weak. Train them and stretch them slowly. Give yourself time. You’ll be flying again soon.” (p.60 “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently”).

I included this quote in the beginning of my blog post because it inspired me to write about how I feel like I have been a bird locked in a cage for years, half a decade or more. I did not recover swiftly from my first and then second manic psychosis. If I could fly before than I could not even walk after my psychotic breaks. My brain with all its chemical imbalances, shock and trauma, and inability to accept what had happened to me, firmly locked itself in a cage and refused to fly. I once was a bird who not only flew but soared in the open skies that was life. I had it all then I lost it all (same old story I know its a cliche for a reason).

After my first psychotic break I was unable to continue school which is where I truly learned to fly. I fell into a depression deeper than I could ever have imagined possible. Hours were spent laying curled in a ball clutching my head begging the tormenting thoughts to stop, “Your life is over now, you might as well end it too.” I cried all the tears I had and then some and when my tear ducts were dry, I shook uncontrollably. I was in misery. My brain had broken down and decided it had taken enough. I could not wrap my head around the idea that my dream of being a professor was over, that I had a mental illness and was not “normal” (whatever that means but I struggled with the definition of normal for awhile), that my brain devoid of all alcohol and drugs in its system hallucinated and deluded itself. It was too much to bear because deep down I realized my life would never be the same and that I was always going to be different (I had not yet learned that’s okay).

I would be hospitalized two more times after this for depression and another manic psychosis. I felt like an alien, like “less than.” My brain started to self-destruct and simple things like reading I could not do. I literally tried reading a paragraph in a book during this time period and could not remember even the first sentence after reading it, let alone processing it. I went from being an A student in a competitive program based on reading and analyzing texts to not even being able to read. Y’all I cannot even describe how heart wrenching this was. The thing I had been doing since I was a child and that came so easy to me became unfathomable. I began to panic and wonder if I could ever revert to myself, if I would ever be able to fly again.

Years went by on Welfare and then disability. I did not attend school and I could not hold on to employment and rarely sought it out for my mood was detrimentally low. My wings were not used for years and I definitely was and am still doubting my ability to fly. That being said, the past two years or so I have begun to flex my wings, trying to train them to move again. It has been a slow process and this blog has helped a lot. I can now read books (several at a time) and write coherently about them. I may be doing this on my own and not in a formal academic setting like before but it is still a major triumph in my books. This year, as of 2020, I have faced my fear of being unable to learn in a formal setting anymore following my psychoses and have registered for one course at the local college and am auditing one. It might not seem like much but it takes everything in me to do this because I have convinced myself from being in the cage so long that I can never get out. I have also just started (one shift down) volunteering at the local food bank and am exposing myself to the community which I have shied away from since becoming psychotic (I feel I am too different). I am also now deciding to set and attempt goals. Before I decided I could not possibly succeed at anything and so why try and why set myself up for failure by focusing my energy on a goal.

The point is I may have been locked in the cage for a long time doubting my ability to fly but I now see the possibility of it. I am still weary but I believe there is more potential within me. This WILL not be IT. I have more to give. I will fly again. But for now I will stretch my wings until  they are ready and you know what, that’s okay!

You Don’t Always Get What You Want But Perhaps What You Need

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“Not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of good luck, because it forces you to reevaluate things, opening new doors to opportunities and information you would have otherwise overlooked” (58) is a quote from the book I mentioned reading in an earlier blog post titled “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently” by Marc and Angel Chernoff. This quote really got me thinking about my life and how it took a complete detour from my original route.

As mentioned before I was a star student at a prominent University and felt I had nowhere but up to go (“up” being an eventual Undergraduate degree, Masters, and then PhD).  I was defiant in my belief I was born to become a University Professor, specifically in the field of Art History, when all my ideas of who I was and who I was becoming came to a grinding holt with my first manic psychosis and diagnosis of Bipolar Type One. I had studied bipolar in brief as part of  my psychology minor (an element of my undergraduate degree) and as part of a neuroscience course – which I aced, despite the professor continuously warning us that this course was no “cake walk.” The point is I had a foundation of understanding when it came time to being diagnosed with this lifelong affliction but had no clue the ramifications it would have on my life journey and the deep feeling of loss I would feel as I mourned my pre-diagnosis self.

It’s one thing to study bipolar but it is an entirely other thing to live it. Prior to my mental break and diagnosis, I had completed three years of my Undergraduate as a double major in English and Art History with a minor in Psychology. People often joked how did I stay sane with a course load that thick and now having lost my mind. I find this question ironic. I remember reading about cycles of mania and depression in those with Bipolar Type 1 in my neuroscience textbook and thought how eerily familiar that concept seemed and wondered nervously whether I could possibly have it. I would ultimately push this idea to the back of my mind.

The summer upon entering my fourth and final year of University, I had a psychotic break with reality in late August. I experienced visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, as well as paranoia. I would be treated quickly and relatively effectively within a week to two weeks with anti psychotics and the mood stabilizer Lithium. I requested I be released in time for the first day of school and the hospital happily obliged with the promise I would return for a follow-up. The problem was when I left I was still struggling with some residual paranoia and found my brain couldn’t keep up at the pace it was at before while on Lithium. The best way I can describe it is my brain felt like it had melted. I understand they were slowing me down but they may have dosed me too high and I swung into slug brain mode. Also hindsight being 20-20, I now know years later I do not respond well to Lithium in general.

It was disheartening to find I could not remember facts or hold on to them in my brain for very long – being a history major who excelled at this normally I felt devastated. I was also entering the hardest year of my Undergraduate and worried I would not be able to maintain the grades needed to enter a Masters program of my choice at the rate my brain was working. My brain was regressing at a time when it needed to be at its peak. I panicked and ultimately decided to leave school in hopes of returning some day when I was ready. The problem with this decision which led to my deepest depression ever was that I highly identified with being not only a student but a successful, overachieving one.

I had to let that go. It took my years of being at my lowest and reading a lot of self-help books and quotes about failure to eventually do this – truly and utterly let go. As the quote in the beginning of this blog post suggests I was put into a position to reevaluate my life and my choices. A door firmly closed on my face but it opened another one – a deeper and better understanding of me as I am as a person. I was so busy with school and getting the best grades, and having the best leadership roles on my resume, that I never stopped to consider WHO I was becoming. And quite frankly I was becoming arrogant, selfish, naive, and closed off to the world around me. I lived in the universe of Academia but anything outside it I deemed as unimportant or irrelevant. I was working towards real and ambitious goals but I wasn’t doing the work on myself. For example, I lost many romantic relationships because I refused to make more time for the other person if it conflicted with my study schedule and p.s. my study schedule was overkill but hey it got me on the honor roll!

I was introduced to and became addicted to drugs as a way to escape the fact I never ever truly loved myself while at University. It is through recovery from psychosis that I am now sober and am attuned with myself. I may be more depressed than when I was in University, but I still love myself ten times more because I’ve had the time through recovering (which I still am and might always be) to reflect on my choices and how to make newer better ones but also to let go and stop holding on to the not so great ones I made in the past. The past is the past folks! Let it lie there, turn your back and don’t look back. Forwards is the only direction you need to be going. I also have grown to accept myself for the positive aspects and the negative ones. I take each day as a challenge to grow and  for self-discovery. I used to shy away from trying to get to know myself better now I buy and fill out workbooks dedicated to doing just that!

I may not have gotten what I wanted, a fancy degree and career I could be proud of, but I got so much more from my psychotic detour – I found myself. I realized I am an insightful person with an opinion that matters. I now give love when I get it. If you are one of my friends I don’t judge you regardless of your journey and choices. I stand by people when they are at their lowest and try to lift them up. I found out I am the LEAST judgmental person after having experienced several psychotic breaks and struggles with my mental health. I understand each person’s struggle is unique and though I may not understand it, I can relate. I value writing and sharing stories – stories of hardship are my favourite for we’ve all been there. I also am aware that I am less motivated on medication, less prone to “put myself out there” and that on my worse days I forget all my good traits and decide I’m not even worth getting out of bed for. But the most important thing I’ve learned is I have a voice and that voice will be heard. I have experiences now, with bipolar, that are worth talking about so others can feel less alone.

Though I may not have gotten that degree, I got something I needed – something to write about and since a child I have been looking for content that inspired me to write something worthwhile, something that meant something to me. I now have the confidence and self-esteem to say my story is worth telling and it’s worth telling because it might just mean something to someone else too.

12 Ways to Get a Second Chance in Life

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“The only difference between an opportunity and an obstacle is attitude” is a quote I enjoy from the book  “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently” by Marc and Angel Chernoff. In this book they break down “12 Ways to Get a Second Chance in Life” and I am going to go through some of them and how it inspired me to try again. I feel as though I am on my thousandth chance because I keep trying then giving up on my life, obviously not literally but figuratively. I set goals and decide to work on them then slowly lose gusto and give up somewhere along the journey. This year, however, as I mentioned in earlier blog posts I want to live my life with more intent and focus.

  1. Let go of the past – This one is a lot easier said than done for often times we feel our past defines us. We reflect on what we deem “failures” in our past and it leads to us shying away from trying new things in fear of this failure occurring again. The Chernoffs make a good point for why we should let our past go in that every difficult moment in our lives is accompanied by an opportunity for personal growth and creativity. Even failure is an opportunity, an opportunity to try a new way or get up and try even harder. I have decided to let go of the past five years or so following my psychosis that I have remain idle with fear and not really working on what I want from life. I think I was afraid to admit what I wanted and truly work towards it in case it never came to fruition. This year I want to be more productive with my life and I am going to try and take steps each day to make this a reality – oh hey! look at me writing a blog post instead of watching tv or sulking in my bedroom.
  2. Identify the Lesson – Everything is a life lesson. Even and especially when you don’t get your way. For example, me not achieving my dream of finishing my degree and going psychotic off and on for a few years has taught me the importance of my mental health. It has also taught me to share my experiences with others such as on this blog because I know firsthand what it feels like to be lost and searching for answers or understanding. I think I needed to lose my dream to create a new one and that is to share my experiences with bipolar disorder through a published book. I am working on writing this book finally this year and am making it a serious life goal.
  3. Lose the negative attitude – This one is a great one because it led to me believing I could make my goal possible and kick started me into researching my past journals for my book I intend to write. The Chernoffs write the following and it really struck home with me: ”The mind must believe it can do something before it is capable of actually doing it.” Whatever goal you have cannot come into being unless you believe you can achieve it. You are not going to take a bunch of small steps to a bigger goal and continually take those steps if you feel discouraged and believe it will never actually happen. For example, if you want to lose weight but get discouraged every time the scale reads a larger number than you assumed, you’re more likely to give up on your goal of going to the gym often thinking it’s pointless. But with the right attitude those numbers can be interpreted another way such as gaining muscle that week led to the increase on the scale.
  4. Accept accountability for your current situation  – YOU and only YOU are in charge of your life and it is up to you to change it if you do not like it. Take responsibility for your actions and decide each day to work towards the changes you want to see in your life. For example, I noticed I never have any savings so I decided to track my money and see what I am wasting it on. I am now more aware of my situation and can make plans to change my spending habits that are superfluous. Will it be easy after most of my life blowing through money to now track it and manage it better? Hell No! But I am at least now making the effort to change it and I do not blame anyone else for this problem but myself because ultimately I know I got myself into this financial jam through poor life choices.
  5. Figure out what you really want – If you do not do this you will fall trap to never starting anything let alone finishing. I have done some self reflection recently on what I want to work on and have come up with some areas in my life I would like to start taking steps towards changing. One is obviously my book I want to write so I have decided to set an hour each day minimum aside to research, mind map, or even write out chapters. I also want to start volunteering again to feel as though I am contributing to my community in some sense and have a meeting Monday with the volunteer coordinator at the Food Bank. I also have decided to take my doctor’s recommendation of being physically active in the gym a minimum of three times a week which I now track on my calendar. Take some time and think about what you really want whether it be a new house, car, career, etc. And make a plan to work towards it.

I am writing this blog to let my readers know that Yes, You can start again. There’s no hard and fast rule of how to live your life or how many chances you get at one. Unhappy with how things are going? Hold yourself more accountable because ultimately it is you and only you that decides your happiness. If you are unhappy, take some time to reflect on why? and don’t blame others because it’s not their fault. If someone really is impacting your life negatively then it was your choice to invite them in and it can be your choice to let them back out. Once you have identified the problem areas in your life whether it be, career, finances, or your love life, ask yourself what is your ideal version of these? Then make a plan to take steps towards changing them. Seriously go old school, get a pen and paper out and start strategizing ways you can improve your life. Then work on it. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get exactly what you hoped for but hey, on your road there you may find an even better detour. The point is life is never over til it’s over. Right now if you choose, you can have a second chance.

New Year, New Me?

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New Years Resolutions…Nay or Yay? You decide. But honestly I am curious if people actually set new years resolutions and if so do you find yourself being successful? Leave a comment if you have an opinion or experience on new years resolutions. I think new year’s resolutions are a great idea…to a degree. I think it is a great idea to come up with some goals and share them with your loved ones so you are held more accountable but making up goals for the sake of making up goals is counterproductive. I personally am not setting New Year’s resolutions this year, however, I AM setting realistic and timely goals.

I want to lose weight, however, being fit is more important than the number on the scale so I have set a reasonable and doctor suggested goal of working out three times a week at the local gym I joined. I hold myself accountable by tracking the days I go on a calendar and ensuring I go three times the current week I am tracking. This motivates me because with each day I mark with a check mark for having gone to the gym  I feel as though I have accomplished something. Consistency is key so I try not to overwhelm myself with strenuous work outs each time I go and focus more on actually going in general. That being said, I do currently keep a fitness journal where I track each exercise and how many minutes or reps I do of each one. It challenges me to maintain that workout the next time or even strive to improve it. If I am having a hard week for motivation, I allow myself one freebie workout where I go free form and just explore the gym and try new machines without the added pressure of tracking it and just write in my journal that I went to the gym that day. The important thing is going and getting yourself in the space and I find the rest falls into place.

The second goal I have is to manage my money better and start growing savings. My entire life I have never been able to save or manage my money properly. I tend to blow it as soon as I get it and I wish I was exaggerating. My first step in this process –  I have already begun  – is to track my money and understand better what I am spending my money on. Of course tracking my money did not stop me blowing my entire budget for January in two weeks, again wish I was kidding but I am not. However, I am making strategies for February and the following months to make my money stretch and have decided as of March I will be attempting to put away $200 a month into savings. Why March? Because February I have a trip to Toronto planned and am being realistic as to what I can do with my money as someone who is new to this whole “watching her money” thing.

My third goal is to volunteer somewhere this year and somewhere different than my previous place I volunteered at which was the Cat Adoption Center. I have already reached out to the local Food Bank and have arranged a meeting with the coordinator Monday to discuss me spending my time there as a volunteer. I want to build my resume but more importantly I want to contribute to something bigger than me so I can feel like I am offering something to the community instead of being a waste of space. Sometimes being on disability can make you feel worthless when you have too much time on your hands and battle with depressing thoughts often. I need a distraction and a reason to get up in the morning and I hope this will provide that.

My fourth goal is to quit smoking for real this year. I say it every year and never do it. I am going to use NRT products and go to counseling until I break this habit for good. I fall trap to all or nothing thinking though which I know I need to work on. I often think “what’s the point of quitting if say 8 months down the road I smoke a cigarette and then this cycle of quitting starts all over and those 8 months were for naught.” I realize I am making excuses and the worse one is “YOLO!” I want to live a longer and healthier life and the fact is I need to start taking steps today to make that a reality, including and especially quitting smoking.

My final goal I am going to discuss here is one my readers have heard before. I am going to set time aside each day to mind map, write and research for the book I want to write on my life with bipolar disorder. I think I am finally motivated enough and inspired enough to set aside at minimum an hour a day to work on this project. My biggest set back was thinking I would never be able to. The mind cannot create what it believes it cannot. Your mind needs to believe something is possible in order for it to be achieved. I finally got out of this mind trap and now believe in my ability to do this – it may have taken a self help book and a TED Talk to do it, but regardless of how I changed this thought process around, it is changed.

New Year, New Me? I have good intentions but I understand that may not be enough so I wrote this blog post about my goals this year in order to hold myself more accountable and reflect on why I am setting them. The fact is I am in a deep rut and have been for a few years now. I am finally willing to pick up the pieces of me off the floor and try at life again. I have not truly been living to the best of my ability and I know that. I am just finally calling myself out on it.

New Years Resolutions – Nay or Yay? – Let me Know!

 

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.

 

You’re not that Great (but neither is anyone else)

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As you all know I am a self-help book junkie so when I happened to be in my local library picking up an autobiography, I could not help but be distracted by the self-help section. I was distracted by a small light pink book that might as well have been screaming its title at me: “You’re not that Great (but neither is anyone else)” by Elan Gale. I thought now that’s a book that understands me and in general life. Gale is anti-positivity and pro-owning your shit. He promptly states in the beginning of the book that positivity is bullshit and holds you back from being  a better version of yourself. He states that people are more concerned about feeling good about themselves (being positive) then owning their emotions, most negative,  that could catapult you into being a better you.

Gale speaks bluntly and tells it as it is, “Even now you’re probably feeling a little uncomfortable because you’re used to reading self-help books that tell you how wonderful and charming and great you already are and are so complimentary that they might as well just be licking your genitals as they take your money like a prostitute” (Gale 13). Gale has a point because the self-help book industry has a lot of bullshit books that just tell you to be positive and never get to the actual how to improve your life bit. The industry is saturated with feel good reads that beat around the bush when it comes to negative emotions like resentment, jealousy, pride, etc. Gale in his book instead says that these negative emotions can act as motivators to motivate you to become a better version of yourself.

An example of this is when Gale references Michael Jordan and his feelings of not being good enough when he did not make the high school basketball team.  “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and and see that list in the locker room without my name on it,” Jordan explained…instead of feeling good about himself, Jordan felt embarrassed and ashamed, and he USED those FEELINGS to push himself further” (Gale 133). If he had not pushed himself because of his feelings of worthlessness he may never have made it to the NBA.

I can attest to harnessing these negative feelings and using them to push me further. Most of my life I was told I was not good enough to be a journalist so I studied constantly throughout high school to get the grade point average needed to apply and ultimately get into one of Canada’s most competitive Journalism programs at Carleton University. I would eventually change my major however from Journalism to Art History and English with a minor in Psychology but I was still pushing forward to be a Arts Journalist. I became one for the school newspaper and reported frequently on events at art galleries and artist run centers. I was so good students quoted my articles in fourth year papers and I actually manged to get paid for some of my journalistic efforts as a student.

As my followers know I would be later forced to abandon my journalistic cap in order to focus on my mental health with the onset of bipolar disorder happening in my fourth and final year of school. The point is I succeeded at becoming a journalist in my own right and all those people, especially my family, were proved wrong. I’d be lying if I said it was positivity that led to this but rather a deep fire in me to prove every asshole that told me I couldn’t do it wrong.

Gale also states frequently in his book that you are not that great: “The key to getting bigger and growing up is to admit you are small. The less you know, the more you can wonder, and the more you can stop being a narcissistic shithead and start living an interesting life” (Gale 97). He claims that you can become the smartest person in the room by admitting that you don’t know anything. He says there is never a time
when you don’t have more to learn. There is always room for growth and people who think they are the greatest are arrogant assholes who do not truly want to better themselves and rather accept what they are as all they are. Acknowledging that you are not that great in the grand scheme of things is the first step to a better life. From this point on you can start to look for things to better yourself because you REALIZE you could BE and DO better.

It’s My Birthday! And I’ll Cry If I Want To

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A Birthday is by far the most reflective-inducing day. It is a time to celebrate, yes! But for most people it is a time to reflect on what they have accomplished so far and for most it becomes a trap of reflecting on what they lack. Thoughts like “I should have had a degree by now” or “I should already be in a career by now” or even “I should be married by now” inevitably creep up and sometimes you feel like banging your head against the wall instead of cutting your cake and appreciating what you DO HAVE.

Rachel Hollis outlines this trap in her book “Girl, Wash Your Face” as one of the lies we tell ourselves: “I Should Be Further Along by Now.” She even mentions sitting with a group of women, having a glass of wine, when the topic of age and whether or not they like to celebrate their birthday came up. The general consensus was “definitely not.” The reason was because birthdays serve as a reminder of everything they hadn’t achieved. The passing of another year marked a point in their life where yet another thing they planned on having achieved by that age still hadn’t happened.

Hollis explains that everything in life happens exactly when it’s supposed to: “You look at your life and the eight things you thought you’d have accomplished by thirty-five (in my case twenty-seven) and feel depressed. But maybe it’s just that you don’t have enough life experience yet…or maybe the goal wasn’t ever meant to be yours. Maybe you are destined for something so much cooler, which won’t come until five years down the road” (Hollis 106).

I thought I would have a degree, be in a career as a professor and be married by now, by twenty-seven. I know these seem like lofty goals but if you had seen the trajectory I set myself on at the age of 13 you would have known it was possible and believed me when I said it would happen. However, my mental illness which I didn’t even know I had derailed literally all those plans. Suddenly I was spending my twenties in and out of a hospital bed rather than finishing my undergrad and going on to my masters then eventual PhD. I could chose to reflect on this loss as I have every year up until this birthday but something finally clicked in my brain this year (maybe it was reading a plethora of self-help books) and this year I chose differently.

This year, rather than reflecting on what I DON’T HAVE, I have decided to think fondly on all the things I do have such as a new found empathy for all humans as a result of my crippling mental illness. I also may not have a husband but I have a loving boyfriend who has taught me so much about love it astounds me. I am the healthiest I have been in a long time since I am now sober and cigarette free. But more importantly I am thankful for my sanity another year, something I used to take for granted until I lost it to manic psychosis.

I have figured out that life doesn’t always follow the path you set out on but rather branches off into avenues unknown. I am excited to travel these new and different paths because what I may see on them may not be what I expected but is exactly what I need or was meant to see. I may not have been meant to become a professor but maybe I’ll become something much more worthwhile and time will tell. I have always wanted to be a writer but thought it was not worth investing my time in because I had nothing truly I wanted to share with the world. Now, after having experiences with bipolar disorder, I finally have something I want to write. I want to write a book that outlines my life struggling with this disorder so people with mental illness may connect with the words and know they are truly not alone in this. I’ve been there and I’ve fallen and chosen not to get up but ultimately I did chose to get back up and you can too!

A birthday should not be a day to reflect on what you have not accomplished so far but a day to reflect on everything you did! You survived, you made it this far and that is an accomplishment in itself. My family did not think I would see this birthday and that I was going to die in the hospital but I am here and I am glad. I am proud of the woman I have become – empathetic, strong, resilient, loving, forgiving, you name it! I refuse to negate this by becoming caught up in a shit storm of “if only’s” or “what ifs” in my mind. The fact is I am here and I am able to celebrate another birthday and you know what that is enough for me right now. I also see this birthday as a challenge to live my life as authentically as possible moving forward and to constantly work on bettering myself. I may not have all the things I wanted but heck I have all the ones that I need.

Reminder: you could die at literally almost any moment

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This reminder: you could die at literally almost any moment slapped me in the face this morning while I was reading Elan Gale’s “You’re not that Great (but neither is anyone else).” It is a truly ubiquitous reminder for it’s in the back of all of our minds but we simply choose not to acknowledge it. However,  maybe if we acknowledged it a bit more we’d be striving to be the best version of ourselves instead of settling for mediocrity. Why do we always say we are going to do something but put it off for “tomorrow?” I have decided I am officially done with that bullshit.

It’s easy to lie around and accept what is but it takes true awareness and motivation to want to actively change it. If you do not like who you are or where you are simply change it. And I know you’re thinking “well how do I do that, Brittany?” That’s not up to me to answer for you but for you to do the research. For example, I’ve decided I want to lose weight (keeping it simple here) but I keep saying I’ll exercise and then don’t. I have a monthly gym membership (my bank statement each month reminds me) and I barely use it. But I’ve decided enough is enough! I have set a really healthy and realistic goal of exercising 30 min a day whether that be walking, biking, running, etc, as of today. I have also decided to increase my water intake and reduce my consumption of calories (perhaps cutting out that midnight snack). It is up to me to follow through though and realize that today is all I have and hey, this is morbid, but I may not even have today (I could get annihilated by a city bus).

Another thing I want to work on is my finances cause guess what I am done settling with the mediocrity of walking everywhere. Fuck Yes, you betcha I want a fucking car! This means I need to research how to budget my money cause like every other millennial I was never taught these basic skills. But I am committed to change and I am willing to put in the work. You want something more out of life? Cool. Then start actively working towards that goal and stop allowing yourself to settle for less. You got big dreams? Fuck Yes, shoot for the stars! You may fail but you may just fail into something better. Maybe you won’t get that Audi you dreamed of but maybe through your hard work and determination you might just be able to finance a Chevy Cruise (another more reasonable car I enjoy driving). Stop saying that this is it and work for what could be. Put in the fucking work. Let me repeat myself, put in the fucking work.

And you are probably going to struggle but that’s the beauty of life figuring out the stuff you’re made of. You might just discover you’re stronger than you think. I have this reoccurring thought “I’m not smart enough to go to school” or “My brain has deteriorated since being hospitalized as a result of bipolar disorder” and you know what I ve decided rather than sit on my ass (like I’ve been doing the past three years), I am going to try and challenge this thought by actually going back to school part time. I might fail, who knows? But at least I will have tried and that’s worth something in my books. If you constantly sit on your ass instead of working towards your dreams/goals then you guessed it you’re gonna have to live with regret. And have you felt that shit before? Because let me tell you it isn’t pleasant.

So thank you Elan Gale for reminding me that I may die tomorrow because as of right now I am going to use the best of today. Because fuck it, I know I am worth it.

The Power of “The Power Of Now”

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“The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle is the ultimate self-help book in which you are encouraged to bring your mind to consciousness, the present moment and to let go of the illusions of past and future. After all, you only really ever get this moment. I am glad I read this book and am already practicing honing in on the present but I will be completely honest the thought never crossed my mind to pick up this book until I had seen it on a list of the twenty-five best self-help books. I am glad I did though and can honestly say “The Power of Now” has the power to change your life and the way you view it.

Tolle explains that there are two levels to your pain that you are harboring: the pain you create now and the pain from the past. He believes you can eliminate this pain and suffering by accepting what is:

“The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgement. On the emotional level it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment…The mind always seeks to deny the Now and to escape from it…The more you are able to honor and accept the Now, the more you are free of pain, of suffering” (Tolle 33) Tolle outlines the cause of emotional pain and suffering as a resistance to the present moment.

People will continue to suffer this emotional burden of pain if they continue to cover up the present moment with the past. People tend to “ignore or deny that precious moment or reduce it to a means of getting to some future moment, which only exists in the mind, never in actuality” (Tolle 34). The main cause of emotional pain is the fixation on the past or future which do not exist. How many times have we wallowed about what has been instead of focusing on what  is? I know, I for one, have gotten caught up in my past and my failings such as the loss of a job or relationship and do not accept it for what it is and let go. I hold on to that pain because it’s what I know. It’s a comfortable pain since I can expect it and depend on it but rather I could be focusing on the Now, the potential of this moment. I could be doing something positive for my life circumstance in the present such as researching schools and reapplying to programs in the area, instead of getting caught up on my past of being forced to drop out from University years ago.

The past is an illusion, it’s already come to pass and so it no longer exists. The future is also an illusion that simply exists in the mind and never actually coming to fruition. I could become anxious about the future and how maybe I will fail again at school so easily, overcome by dark fantasies. The fact of the matter is that has not happened and save me the “yet” because it very well may never. The only thing that matters is the present because it is in the present that you can take action. There is no sense being anxious about a situation you have literally created in your head, now that’s just insanity.

The following statements from Tolle are a bit of a mind-fuck but it illustrates my point and he says it better than I could ever get it across myself: “Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now. What you think of the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind of a former Now. When you think about the future, you do it now” (Tolle 50).

Tolle also discusses doing things in the Now without looking for a future reward and simply enjoying the moment. He claims that when you do this your attention will be more focused on the task at hand and therefore you will carry it out more effectively: “As soon as you honour the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve , and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out of present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care and love – even the most simple action” (Tolle 68). When you do something for the sake of doing it, you no longer add the pretense or pressure of a future outcome from it. Simply doing becomes more enjoyable and brings an inner peace not found before. When you focus and hone in on the present moment, you are living your life to its fullest potential and doing so with grace.

Tolle states that: “When the compulsive striving away from the Now ceases, the joy of Being flows into everything you do. The moment your attention turns to the Now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace. You no longer depend on the future for fulfillment and satisfaction. Therefore, you are not attached to the results. Neither failure nor success has the power to change your inner state of Being” (Tolle 68). By accessing the Now, you access peace, peace from emotional suffering. You become more in tune with yourself and less run by your incessant thoughts. Failure no longer has power over you because you accept what is and move past that. You become whole.

The book itself is posed in a question and answer format with questions from Tolle’s seminars, meditation classes, and private counseling sessions. The answers are provided obviously by Tolle. The question that struck me the most while reading this book was the following: “In that state of wholeness, would we still be able or willing to pursue external goals?” This question raises a good point because if we were truly content and “whole” why change the moment by striving for something more?

Tolle’s answer is profound: “Of course, but you will not have illusory expectations that anything or anybody in the future will save you or make you happy. As far as your life situation is concerned, there may be things to be attained or acquired. That’s
the world of form, of gain and loss. Yet on a deeper level you are already complete, and when you realize that, there is a playful, joyous, energy behind what you do. Being free of psychological time, you no longer pursue your goals with grim determination driven by fear, anger, discontent, or the need to become someone. Nor will you remain
inactive through fear of failure, which to the ego is loss of self. When your deeper sense of self is derived from Being , when you are free of “becoming” as a psychological need, neither your happiness nor your sense of self depends on the outcome ” (Tolle 69).

When you are ever present in the present moment you do not hold on to past resentments towards people and things that happened in your life that led you to this moment and current life situation. You will also not idealize the future as some place where you have what you want or think you need for you will be in the moment, accepting that moment for what it is. You are already complete (let that sink in), you are meant to be where you are, in this moment. When you realize this you will feel the joy Tolle is describing or “happiness” as it were.

Tolle also raises a good point that people seem to be in a perpetual state of waiting, waiting to start living their life: “Waiting is a state of mind. Basically it means that you want the future; you don’t want the present. You don’t want what you’ve got , and you
want what you haven’t got. For example many people are waiting for prosperity. It cannot come in the future. When you honor, acknowledge and fully
accept your present reality – where you are, who you are, what you are doing right now – when you fully accept what you have got, you are grateful for what you have got, grateful for what is, grateful for being” (Tolle 86).

You are grateful for Being when you do not look to the future for things that can be attained to make your life seem better. Accept what you have already got and you will be infinitely happier. It’s not a new concept since people have been spouting this perspective for years, decades even – to be grateful for what you have and to not focus on what you do not. I find writing a Gratitude Journal each day helps with this and it doesn’t need to be lengthy. Write down three things you are grateful for today. I’ll start: I am grateful for my ears so I can hear the lovely Russell Brand narrating his book “Recovery” on the audiotape I have, I am grateful for the taste of coffee and appreciate it immensely, and finally  I am grateful for the relationships I have currently in my life that have showed me so much love. When you take the time to write three things out, you realize wow, there really are things in my life in which to be grateful  even if they are the simple things like the taste of coffee. Another thing is to remember that there is someone out there envying your life. And yes you heard me right! There is someone, somewhere, envying your life no  matter how much you think it’s mundane or problem-riddled. At least your love one is not going off to a war you’re unsure they will ever return from, At least you live in a country with basic freedoms and rights. Think about that when you’re busy regretting your past or looking to the future for some ideal life that is but an illusion.

So the question becomes, How do we ground ourselves in the present moment? How do we bring our consciousness to the Now? Tolle offers some advice and strategies for such a thing: “To become conscious of Being, you need to reclaim consciousness of the mind…A very effective way of doing this is simply to take the focus of your attention away from thinking and direct it into the body” (Tolle 110). He further elaborates a way in which you can focus on your body as a gateway to the Now: “Direct your attention into the body. Feel it from within. Is it alive? Is there life in your hands, arms, legs and feet – in your abdomen, your chest?…Keep focusing on the feeling of your inner body for a few moments. Do not start to think about it. Feel it. The more attention you give it , the clearer and stronger this feeling will become. It will feel as if every cell is becoming
more alive” (Tolle 112).

If you connect to your body in this manner and reflect on it, you are brought into the Now. The stream of unconsciousness, or rather your incessant thinking will quiet. Your attention will be on the current moment and what your body is feeling such as the sharp intake of air and exhale of recycled air. This connection to your body is a channel to the present moment. Tolle says that while doing this: “thoughts and emotions, fears and desires, may still be there to some extent, but they won’t take you over” (Tolle 117).

The mind is conditioned by the past and can become stuck in it, denying the Now. The mind dislikes and ignores the present moment because it is caught in a trap of the familiar, the past. Even if the past was full of pain or it brings pain to think about, the mind will continue to focus and re-create it because it is familiar. The mind would rather deal with the known (the pain) than something unknown because that is scary due to the lack of control one has over something unknown. That unknown, however, and embrace of the present moment could be and no arguably is, the gateway to freedom from pain. It is insanity to keep trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results. So embrace Now, be grateful for Now and who you are in this present moment. Let go of the past and future for they do not truly exist in  this moment. They are but fathoms of your conditioned mind. Embrace the Now, because it is truly all you get. Tomorrow may never come and that is a reality some find hard to admit.

I am ending this blog post with the last few lines of “The Power of Now” and which sum up perfectly the point I am trying to get across: “When you surrender to what is and so become fully present, the past ceases to have any power. You do not need it anymore. Presence is the key. The Now is the key.” (Tolle 229).