February 10, 2015

The Benefits of Bipolar Disorder.


I am often asked, both in person and online, about the benefits of bipolar disorder.

This isn’t an ignorant question. The media is filled with examples of mental illness making people better detectives, artists or creating other “super powers.” The people who ask this question are varied, as well. Family and friends, the inquiring public and even people living with bipolar disorder all want to know the upside of this illness.

And it’s a very easy question to answer:

There aren’t any.

The Benefits of Cancer

My grandfather spent several years dying of cancer when I was a teenager. It was a long process and it took its toll on my family. It was the first time I saw my father cry and it was the first time I watched a person go from strong and healthy to practically nothing, and finally succumbing to disease.

My grandfather fought cancer daily and, even though it finally took him, there were some bright spots during those years. Cancer made him humble, it gave him time to slow down and talk with his family. Over the years, he got weaker and weaker and we would all come rushing to be with him when we thought the end was near. This would not only allow us to visit with him, but with each other.

Ultimately, cancer took my grandfather from us.

If I credited cancer for the bonds we formed and the togetherness of family, people would be appalled. They would give cancer zero credit in this scenario.

They would credit the love we share, the strength of my family, and they would see that cancer got in the way of our relationships, rather than helping us.

Bipolar Doesn’t Have an Upside; People Do

Bipolar disorder is a terrible burden.

I have suffered greatly because of it and will probably continue to do so.

I have a fantastic life. I love my wife, friends, and career, but this is in spite of bipolar disorder, not because of it. The good things in my life are not benefits of bipolar disorder, but of my hard work, my triumph over circumstance and my dedication to recovery and wellness.

Nothing good comes from bipolar disorder, only negatives. The way a person fights the disorder, the success of treatment or the togetherness of family isn’t because of bipolar disorder, but because of the person fighting it. The silver lining is spun entirely from the amazing people living with the disease.

Bipolar disorder takes a lot from a person. Let’s not give it credit for all the good things that happen to us. We earned our success, our wellness and fought through the darkness and now bipolar wants credit for that? All of the amazing things that define us as people are exactly what bipolar disorder is trying to take away.

A good thing coming from a bad situation is not a benefit. I have never been one to stand by and say the benefit of a child dying is that the parents will have more free time and disposable income. While that statement may be true, let’s not put a positive spin on something so tragic.

Bipolar disorder is the same way. The disorder does not cause happiness, it prevents it.

People with any mental illness need to take credit for success because they earned it. That perseverance is a testament to who we are as people. Our illnesses didn’t gift us anything.

We are the sum of our experiences and, while bipolar disorder certainly plays a role in defining who we are, the credit for living well goes to us. Allowing bipolar disorder to share in that success ignores all that this illness takes away.

When we spin that suffering into something amazing, it’s because we are amazing. We triumphed in the face of despair.


Relephant Reads:

To the Edge and Back (Living with Bipolar Disorder).

Mental Illness Q&A: Medication Doesn’t Work for Bipolar Disorder.

Author: Gabe Howard

Editor: Emma Ruffin

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

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Savage Liaison Nov 27, 2015 1:18am

I felt the need this evening to shed some sort of light on a subject that I have dealt with for many, many years, a manic-depressive’s perspective, if I may, a beacon of understanding. I know intimately what these shadows contain, but I also have experienced the warmth. I stand here today in the sun, glorious, full of grace, triumph, and pride. BPD is a formidable adversary, full of deceit, subterfuge, and writ with challenges. It can be defeated, it can be bested. In every war, there will be casualties, every battle cannot be won. This journey is a long, weary path. That being said, every experience granted us by this disorder is bountiful and flowing with lessons, with tools and experience. The upward mountain treks and drudgery of the deep valleys teaches us, exceptionally well, that life is full of change, and for the lot of us, that existence is very upfront and caustic. When we learn to accept, empower, and embrace these elevations of this illness, we grow, we strengthen. We know when to stand, we know when to shelter. We utilize a series of well defined mechanisms to cope, to evolve, and to advance. We loose people, good people, we lay waste to tangible relationships, we destroy thresholds and burn bridges. We adapt, we change, we fight. These are our lives, these are our challenges in our Walk, this is our Hajj. Stand tall, take reprieve when required, but rise against again. Only us, dear inflicted, can understand these intense, interpersonal conflicts, and it is only we who can challenge the oppression of ourselves. Only when we reduce our expectations, can we lift the entitlement of ease, only when we indulge in the post-morning sun, can we embrace the strength it took. There will be another day, struggles aside, we have made it this far. Be proud, every one of us, for we are survivors.

Zika Nov 25, 2015 9:48pm

Yes there are benefits, I have been diagnosed with bipolar by psychiatrist. I had serious swings in mood from extreme happiness to suicidle thoughts. What happened to me was something that i couldn’t explain so i quit mood pills from psychiatrist that were making the situation only worse. I have practiced meditation, switching from negative thoughts to positive. Now i am a network engineer and a spiritual/motivational teacher, all my friends love me my family also and i can say that i am very happy, the last extreme mood swing was 1 year ago and since then when i quit the pills i live a happy life. It’s all in the mind! If you have a bipolar just find the barrier that it is in yourself that it is making that mood, i know its hard. Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are, it soley relies on what you think ~ Buddha…. I LOVE MY BIPOLAR DISRODER! I LOVE LIFE! I LOVE YOU 😉

Josh Sep 22, 2015 3:14am

I'm just sharing my experience with Bipolar II to let those who experience this know that there are others feeling the same way.

Everyday I live life like it's a dream and I feel like I was born into the wrong body. Nothing people says, or do, will really change how I feel. The days pass by and at the end of the day I ask myself, "Did I do anything today?" because all the feelings just vanish and I don't feel any emotions or remember anything. No emotions when I watch TV, read, talk to people, etc. I end up becoming depressed, because I'm depressed. I know how I should be responding to things that happen, to what people say, but I just don't feel anything. At the end, I end up just faking everything to seem normal.

Where are those energetic, hopping bunnies that should be within me? There wasn't really any huge event that changed me. I've always been like this for as long as I could remember. Like a lifeless, grey bunny hopping around in a world full of color. Everyone around me feels happiness, empathy, excitement, etc, but I can't. It's difficult to think of words to express those feelings because I don't feel them.

The best thing to do now is to share this experience with your family, cousins, friends and peers. There needs to be more coverage on Bipolar and one day a treatment will be found. I've started to share this only recently because I was scared in the past, but life is just speeding past me. I almost don't care anymore.

By the way, DR. BEN CARSON FOR 2016 PRESIDENT! The candidate with the most experience in healthcare.

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Gabe Howard

Gabe Howard is a motivational speaker, award-winning advocate, mental illness blogger and writer, as well a person living with severe bipolar and anxiety disorders. In the past ten years, he has made it his mission to put a face on mental illness that isn’t stereotypical. Society often sees people living with mental illness at their worst and he works to add a more balanced view to the conversation. Gabe is frequently irreverent, often too loud, and always unpredictable, but anyone who knows him will tell you that life would be so boring without him. You can connect with Gabe on TwitterFacebook and his website.