True Freedom: Becoming Free From Bipolar Disorder and Other Mental Illness

"I want freedom for the full expression of my personality." - Mahatma Gandhi
Everybody wants to be free. Freedom is touted as the most basic of human rights. The commonly understood definitions of freedom are "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint"1 or "the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity."2 Yet, by the very definitions, none of us are truly free. We mistakenly limit freedom to a very narrow range of experience.

A child's view of freedom is to be free from the direction of parents, teachers, and other people of authority. Even when we become adults, we often cling to the same narrow definition: freedom from coercion of others. But there is a much greater freedom that most of us have never even considered: freedom to choose how to react to every stimulus.

Clear Insight Into Bipolar and Other Mental Conditions

"The old paradigm is for us to avoid emotional pain at all costs while remaining ignorant of the lessons that are available to us." - The Depression Advantage1 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.

Feelings vs Reactions

One of the first steps toward getting Bipolar In Order is to learn the difference between what we feel or experience and how we react. In our first workshop and in our support group meetings we have an exercise that helps. I want to share it with you here and see how it works without as much guidance or background.

One of the main stumbling blocks to getting Bipolar In Order is the belief that we have no choice in how we react. When presented with the fact that we do, I always hear "what about the times when it is too intense?" or "what about when I go to bed happy and wake up depressed?" "Surely we have no control then?" While it is currently true for most people, with training and practice we can learn to have the choice in an ever increasing range. Eventually we can get to the point where nothing is too intense.

The Currency of Gratitude – A Different Kind of Wealth

Gratitude is one of the most powerful energies in the Universe. This energy can be experienced as a state of spiritual fullness. I’ve often heard gratitude described as having a full heart, a feeling of being satiated, or of having enough.

A daily practice of giving thanks and appreciation keeps our focus on the blessings in our lives. Thankful thoughts bio-chemically bathe our bodies in a soothing potion, a potion so powerful it can raise our consciousness to see beyond our perception of lack. Riding the current of gratitude is the number one best antidote for dissatisfaction and it doesn’t hurt your pocketbook either!

Dr. Michael McCollough, of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Dr. Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis, say their initial research indicates that gratitude plays a significant role in a person's sense of well-being, including financial well-being.

“Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps” And Other Myths

The diagnosis of mental illness is the most dangerous time for many of us. Overwhelmed by fear, confusion and the numbing effect of over-medication, we are vulnerable to any messages that can have long-term consequences. It was during my first months after diagnosis that I fell victim to the myths of mental illness.

As I was trying to make sense of what was happening to me, I was given a list of the most offensive comments anyone could say to the mentally ill. I'm sure you've heard of at least some of them. Examples include: “snap out of it,” “you can do anything you want to if you just set your mind to it,” “get a grip,” and the worst one of all, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

While the Advocates are well intentioned, the result is quite the opposite.

Am I Still Depressed If I Don’t Act Like It?

It happened several years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. My depression was too much for me and I tried to end it by taking my own life. The physical sensations, mental activity, emotions, and spiritual desolation were the deepest I had ever experienced. I thought it was the deepest anyone could go and the only way out was suicide.

I was wrong. I have since been much deeper in every way - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I am currently in the deepest depression of my life. It has been going on for five months now, yet I don't feel overwhelmed at all. The level of depression that once almost killed me now seems like a walk in the park. So does this one. Since it doesn't overwhelm me or control my reactions to it, I wonder: Am I even depressed at all?

I Love My Bipolar Hallucinations

This video is a segment of a one-hour DVD based on the book Bipolar In Order: Looking At Depression, Mania, Hallucination, And Delusion From The Other Side.

\"I Love My Bipolar Hallucinations\" on YouTube

Although most people who experience delusions and hallucinations react to them in negative ways, it seems that the definition may be creating a false linkage. It could be that hallucinations and delusions are the only symptoms, and everything else is a reaction to these states. Is it true that the only possible reactions to hallucinations and delusional thoughts are adverse ones? My experience says the answer is no. It seems wrong to link the symptoms and reactions together as if there are no other possible reactions. By calling it a disorder, hallucinations and delusions are commonly seen entirely in a negative light.

Depression Made Me Do It

I got some interesting feedback on my recent post about A New Perspective, so I tried posting the same video and article on LinkedIn to see what they think. It was very interesting how that community responds completely differently (and a great future topic to post about), but one particular comment struck a cord with me that I have not been able to let go of. It has me thinking a lot about what depression feels like and how we define it.

I find the comment to be a pretty accurate reflection of what I have heard quite often -- "No matter how well I handle an episode, depression causes me to have difficulty concentrating, darkens my perspective, makes me isolate from others, and creates problems with my perception of time ... not to mention that the worldview from my sofa is decidedly limited." While I think it is a great example of the standard point of view, what sticks out for me is "depression causes me." I wrote a chapter in Bipolar In Order called "The Definitions Are Not Definitive" and think that the quote perfectly makes my point: the definitions are so unclear as to be confusing.

Movies To See While Depressed

I facilitate a support group for people with mental conditions along with those who love and support them. Several of us have years of experience of functioning while depressed. The other day we were exploring what it feels like to be deeply depressed instead of making it go away. We were describing depression much like my "Art Of Seeing Depression" article when the topic of watching movies while depressed came up. It brought up interesting ideas that I hope you will share your insights about.

We started calling out favorite movies to watch while depressed, like The Hours or What Dreams May Come, and started joking about why would we want to watch comedies during depression. Somebody said that if others heard us they would be shocked. When asked why, the conversation turned to what we thought most people would think.