Last week I went to a luncheon and listened to actor Richard Dreyfus talk about his bipolar disorder. Actually, he didn’t so much talk about his mania as gush about it. He went on and on about how how “grand and glorious” his life had been.. He knew he as a “manic depressive” because he was “thrilled with life too much.”
“It was a malady of the mind that I turned to my advantage,” Dreyfus said, adding that he was “in love with my romantic inner life.”
The more he talked, the more freaked out I became. At the end of an hour I turned to the psychiatrist sitting next to me, raised my eyebrows and said, “Wow. I don’t know about him.” She leaned into me and quietly said, “Sounds like he’s still working on it.”
I have bipolar II, also known as hypomania. Some people call it bipolar lite. We have bouts of mania and depression but they are not as extreme as those with bipolar I. We are right on the edge of basically scaring the crap out of people. When I was manic, I could walk into a room and without saying a word, people would lean back, like they had just been hit by a sudden gust of wind. That’s how strong my energy was.
Like Dreyfus, I loved and still love my mania. It feels so good. So incredibly good. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be so strong – to have so much energy and creativity and laser-focus that nothing else matters. And therein lies the problem: Nothing else matters. Family, spouses, children – their importance in our lives fades as our brilliance grows brighter and we become more accomplished, win more awards, make more money, run more miles and push far beyond our fellows.
We are off the charts. Freakin’ brilliant. Like wild-eyed racehorses, pawing at the ground and chomping on our bits as we wait for the starting gate to open. Come on. Open that gate, motherf*#$+*r, I dare you.
That is mania. It is bad. Yes, it probably gave …
For those of us with depression, opposites do not attract.
We are not drawn to happy, upbeat, positive people and they are not drawn to us. In fact, we repel those who dare crack a smile at us. Occasionally a happy person tries to help us but inevitably we push them away. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to hang around someone with depression. I don’t even want to hang around myself when I’m depressed.
In fact, happy, upbeat people are really annoying when you have depression. “Can’t you see how much pain I am in? Don’t you realize that I have no interest in you? Would you please just get your happy ass out of here?”
But years of therapy, sobriety and watching Forrest Gump a few dozen times has taught me that just as “stupid is as stupid does” - “happy is as happy does.” In other words, happiness is not going to come knock me upside the head. I have to do the work. I have to seek it out and that means seeking out people who have the kind of happiness I want.
Last week my employer held an “Innovation Retreat” to help us become more creative. They taught us how to do something called “Design Thinking.” It started with us ripping up our business cards and throwing them up in the air. Then we were allowed to shoot styrofoam finger rockets at the boss.
They divided us into teams and gave us an assignment – a problem to solve – and told us the steps we should use to come up with ideas and channel our creativity. We used poster boards, pipe cleaners, magic markers and smiley face stickers to create our project. At one point, I got a couple of steps ahead of the “design thinking” process and was told to go back.
We watched some videos and learned about IDEO, the design firm and Stanford’s d Center -the epicenters of design thinking. I have no doubt that for many businesses and people, design thinking is a great way to solve problems. However, it totally torqued my creative process.