I have been meditating for over 50 years. I started when, at five years old, I became fascinated with watching my breath go in and out. I intuitively knew that this and other meditative practices would bring me to a state of ecstasy. It didn’t take long before pursuing that state became the most important thing in my life.
Although I got incredibly close through my efforts in meditation, it wasn’t until I looked for ecstasy in depression that I truly found it. Once I found ecstasy in depression I found it everywhere. My hope is that sharing my experience might help others to find the same insights that I have.
As I watched my breath go in and out I found some dramatic changes in my state of consciousness. I would detach from my body and find myself floating above and looking down at myself sitting there. It was a very pleasurable state, but also very profound in how I viewed the world. I believed that part of me was untouched by the physical world; the part that I now call my soul.
It wasn’t long before my soul separations started encroaching on my waking states. I would often find myself turning the corner and suddenly being in a long tunnel with a light at the end of it. During those experiences time would stand still or at least slow down dramatically. I interpreted these experiences as seeing God.
Stigma, medication, treatment options, recovery, patient rights and physiological basis are some of the most discussed topics regarding bipolar. There are, of course, many other interesting aspects to debate, but it is hard to find any discussions about bipolar that do not include one or more of these central topics.
While it has been very healthy to debate all of them, there is an underlying assumption that must be addressed too.
The paradigm that all of the above topics are based on is that we are incapable of remaining in control when mania and depression reach a certain intensity.
We are therefor not responsible for our behaviors when manic or depressed because it is not possible in those states to choose better ones. This creates the goal of removing bipolar from our lives (at least at higher intensities) and the debate is about how it is best done. Much of the debate about medication, for example, is about alternative methods to achieve the same goal of reducing intensities of mania and depression.
But, what if we could be highly functional while manic or depressed? This idea has so many repercussions that people are afraid to even think about it. Consider what is at stake: If we cannot choose how to respond to the different states because it is impossible for anyone to, in-ability becomes central to the arguments in each of the above topics.
If anyone can choose, the impossibility argument is removed and the discussion becomes either how to function in mania and depression or why some cannot.
My recent article called “Why I Am Against Bipolar Meds” turned out to be less controversial than I expected. Some people refused to read past the title and that is unfortunate because the vast majority of those who commented said that it was a very fair assessment of both sides of the debate. There were several misconceptions, though, that need to be cleared up.
I mentioned the three stages of Bipolar Dis-Order and the three stages of Bipolar IN Order assuming most of the readers are familiar with the terms and my work. Unfortunately, that was not the case for many readers. In trying to keep the article to under 1000 words, I did not go into detail regarding the stages and what I mean by Bipolar IN Order.
This caused confusion for several Psychiatrists who assumed that Self-Mastery means remission. At the other end of the scale were several people with Bipolar Dis-Order who declared that they were in Self-Mastery when their statements seemed to contradict their self-assessment. It seems greater detail of the Bipolar IN Order concept is warranted.
The primary objective for someone with Bipolar Dis-Order is to lower the intensity of mania and depression and move away from Crisis toward Recovery. Bipolar IN Order is about becoming more functional in an expanding range of intensity and moving from Recovery toward Self-Mastery.
Many people say you should not discuss politics or religion with your friends because you might not be friends much longer. If your friends are Bipolar or associated with it in any way you might want to add meds to the list. The extremes both for and against meds give new meaning to the word Bipolar. The poles often seem further apart than the most intense debates in politics or religion.
I have been speaking with groups about Bipolar for almost ten years now and have tried my best to stay out of the debate. But many in the audience won’t let me. At the end of my talks I am frequently accosted by members of one camp or both. It is pretty clear that neither side even heard what I said and the only thing they listened for is whether I took their side in the only thing that matters to them. I didn’t validate their extreme point of view and they are furious with me.
In his song The Boxer, Paul Simon said, “Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” In my case they often hear things that were not even said. In their minds I gave a talk siding with the enemy.
I have always pretty much ignored the med controversy because it is not central to my message. Until now. I heard something recently that made me want to take a stand.
My daughter Kate is in her fourth year of medical school and is well on her way to becoming a very caring doctor. Her greatest gift is the ability to connect with people, which thankfully is being recognized in the hospital settings as an asset.
She creates strong bonds with her patients and their families by communicating how much she cares about them. Among so many other admirable traits it is the one that makes me the most proud of her. It has been her greatest gift for as long as I can remember.
The ability to form strong emotional bonds is not without tremendous risks though. It hurts her deeply when a patient that she is involved with dies. It is a testament to her awareness, understanding and strength that she can perform even on days when she sees the worst aspects of the medical profession; in spite of their best efforts, they cannot save everyone. Kate has grappled with that many times and come out the better for it.
As her father I like to think that I have something to do with Kate’s insights. We discuss the topic often. As someone who deeply understands depression and has learned to function fully while in the most intense states, I know my insights have helped Kate to develop the skills in her own life. I believe such skills are the key to her success and will help her to stand out amongst her peers.
A recent study about how doctors are affected by grief was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and was described in an article in the NY Times. I read both reviews with great interest and was very excited that it confirmed what Kate and I had been discussing. I have worried that the grief that Kate experiences might overwhelm someone without the insights and support that she has. This is exactly what the study was about.
I have long been a fan of The Hulk, but I had not noticed the incredible wisdom of Dr. David Banner until The Avengers movie made it clear.
In his wisdom about managing rage he grasps the secret to managing depression and mania too. In one brief statement he captured the greatest flaw in the current paradigm about treating bipolar.
Unfortunately, most people missed it because they thought it was just one of the many great jokes in the movie.
I have seen this debate many times over the last ten years and assume it has been going on much longer. I was always afraid to wade into it, but there seems to be a resurgence lately.
It is usually presented in the opposite way – I Am Not Bipolar, I Have Bipolar – which includes the argument that calling someone bipolar is like calling someone cancer.
A recent comment from our http://www.bipolaradvantage.com website prompted a great reply from one of our volunteers. I think he really put it in the Bipolar Advantage perspective.
Exploring the potential of the human mind has been a central fascination for most of my 55 years. I have spent as much as eight hours a day in meditation and lived in a monastic environment for over eight years. One thing I am very sure of is that we are capable of far more than most of us even imagine. This is especially true regarding those of us who are bipolar.
I have spent the last 10 years exploring what we are capable of during the extremes of mania and depression. In the process, I’ve met hundreds of people who’s insights have validated my own experiences.
With the help of experts in various complementary fields, including medicine, psychiatry, sociology, spirituality (what theorists like to call Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual), accelerated learning, and bipolar-specific meditation techniques, I have developed the most advanced system of training available to date for mastering functionality in all intensities of both mania and depression.
My previous article covered the controversy about why people think it is not possible to be hypomanic without losing control. It’s a good backdrop for this article.
There are four steps that lead to hypomanic success:
- Determine the starting point.
- Assemble the tools necessary for the task and become proficient at using them.
- Create a realistic plan.
- Do the work.
Most assessment tools for bipolar disorder are only for making a diagnosis. Rarely does one assess where someone is in terms of their ability to actually handle elevated states. If we are going to succeed at being hypomanic without losing control, we need to assess a number of factors, including intensity, awareness, understanding, functionality, comfort, and what value the person sees in the experience. These criteria need to be gauged at different levels of intensity until you find the one where they are all optimized.
I have discussed bipolar with thousands of people over the last 10 years and would guesstimate that being hypomanic without losing control is the Holy Grail for 75% or 80% of them. Most say their goal is “permanent hypomania and to never be depressed again.” If you ask their parents, though, they will say “I don’t mind him being a little depressed, but could you make the mania and deep depression go away forever?”
There is good reason for the discrepancy between parents and bipolars. Bipolar people may like being manic, but their behaviors are so often out-of-control that they become a problem for those around them. Bipolars and non-bipolars alike are justifiably afraid of mania because of past history with manic episodes.
It is commonly believed that it is impossible to even be hypomanic without rapidly escalating to an out-of-control state. The belief is so prevalent that the standard of care for mania according to the National Institute of Mental Health is to make it go away entirely.
On the other hand, there are many people who advocate that bipolar is a dangerous gift. Some take it too far and say we should allow all states no matter the consequences. While I fully agree with the dangerous gift idea, we must learn to take responsibility for our states and keep them from getting to places that we cannot control.