The medical definition of “insight” reads, “understanding or awareness of one’s mental or emotional condition; especially: recognition that one is mentally ill”2 By that definition I have no insight because I don’t recognize my condition as an illness.
Allow me to suggest that insight is the ability to recognize my condition and all of the aspects associated with it. It means not only recognizing the cause of the condition, but the whole experience. We all have some degree of insight or we would not be able to function. The degree of insight that we have determines the degree that we have our condition “in order.” Insight is the foundation of Bipolar In Order.
If we learn to examine our condition, instead of just the causes of it, we can begin to gain clear awareness into what it is and how it affects our lives. With that insight comes understanding and the wisdom to choose how we react to our circumstances. Virginia Woolf said, “You can’t find peace by avoiding life.”3 We must examine our lives if we are to gain the insight that leads to peace.
Wisdom comes from examining all of the aspects of our condition: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. We also need to examine how our condition affects our relationships and career/financial life. The more deeply we look into all of these aspects, the more subtle our perceptions become.
In The Depression Advantage4 I wrote about my own examination of depression. Not only did I look closely at my own experiences, but also at the lives of Saints who transcended depression by acknowledging and learning from it. By doing so they changed the perspective in their own lives and the lives of everyone around them.
An example of how this applies to schizophrenia is the movie A Beautiful Mind, the story of John Nash.5 John had a very strong ability to hallucinate and have delusions. In the beginning of the movie his hallucinations helped him to see solutions to mathematical problems. This ability earned him the Nobel Prize.
Unfortunately, John could not tell his hallucinations and delusions from “normal” reality due to his lack of awareness regarding his mental condition. His lack of insight into his condition almost killed him and those he loved. As he became more aware, he developed the ability to recognize the difference between “normal” experiences and his hallucinations and was able to live with them to some extent. Although limited in his abilities, John gained the ability to function and return to work.
Toward the end of the movie, John was leaving his classroom along with some students when a stranger came up to see him. He turned to one of his students and asked if that person was real. His student asked, “Why, do you still see people?” John replied, “Yes, but I choose to ignore them.”6 He clearly had developed enough insight to recognize the difference at least some of the time.
It is very clear to me from watching the movie and from seeing interviews of the real John Nash that he no longer possesses the ability to earn another Nobel Prize. But, what if he had been taught to not only recognize his hallucinations and delusions, but to see value in them? How many more Nobel Prizes might he have won if he had harnessed those abilities to his advantage instead of just gaining enough insight to ignore them?
We all have seen how some insight has led to a greater ability to both control and avoid states like depression. Nonetheless, many still believe the deeper states are too much for them to understand. They gain enough awareness to recognize that the deeper states are coming and take steps to avoid them, but end up living in fear, hoping that they can avoid the states forever. Deep down inside they know that someday it might come back and they will have no skills to be able to face the condition.
Those of us who seek insight into the condition itself, rather than merely how to avoid it, find that we understand it so deeply that the condition loses its power over us. This awareness doesn’t happen overnight, but the more we experience our condition with an approach toward gaining insight, the greater our ability to endure it without losing control. We find that we can function at deeper and deeper levels. With greater insight, we begin to recognize that deeper states are only a matter of degree. As our understanding grows, we find that much deeper states begin to fall within our ability to function just fine. We eventually get to the point that we can even see advantages in it.
This understanding reduces the risk of suicide because we are no longer out of control. It also leads to freedom, stability, and the other results outlined in this section.
Similar insights are available regarding every condition in our lives if we just look for them. Such insights are the difference between a diminished life and one of greatness. Once we accept that we have the capability of understanding even the deepest states, we are well on the way to becoming free to choose our reactions based on the wisdom that we have developed. If we do not develop the wisdom to choose our reactions, we will inevitably revert to the old patterns of avoidance and fear.
The above is an excerpt from the book Bipolar In Order.
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Last reviewed: 20 May 2010