The Benefits of Bipolar Disorder.

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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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anonymous 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.

anonymous 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 😉

anonymous 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.

anonymous Aug 19, 2015 12:30pm

Individuals with bipolar disorder who have experienced mania or hypomania (the state paving the way to mania) portray periods of emotional intensity,creativity,energy, and profitability as engaging angles to being bipolar.These "advantages" to bipolar symptoms can be strong to the point that bipolar patients might really quit taking their medications in light of the fact that they miss this side to the disease.While a little number of bipolar patients stay in the state of hypomania (a pre-hyper stage) without progressing to the more hazardous heights of mania,the larger part of individuals with bipolar disorder are not all that lucky.
—Amy Pearson.

anonymous Apr 9, 2015 10:19am

I for one view my BP as a gift. I have lived with it for years before my diagnoses and I would not trade it for anything. I was born with it and will die with it. The more you fight it, the harder one makes it. So I have accepted it and embraced it. I agree with Jenny's comment. My diagnoses answered many questions for me and put me at peace. We are all different and none of us are the same with our disorder.

anonymous Feb 25, 2015 10:54pm

Thank you so much for the explanation.
I wish all of us understand this fact and stop crediting mental illness to creativity, intelligence, etc.

anonymous Feb 25, 2015 11:31am

I agree in a way that it is us and not the disorder that makes us amazing. But this article really made me sad, I was overcome by the negative perspective and kind of wish I had never read it. I wish you had underlined that it is your own experience of bipolar disorder you are talking about, since no one with the disorder can claim to speak for all of us. Every person is different and so is the disorder for Every person. I have become a better and stronger, kinder and wiser person because of it and I would never wish it away. I think this article could be harmful especially to newly diagnosed and people having difficulty accepting their diagnose.

anonymous Feb 16, 2015 11:13am

I love your article and am so grateful to find an understanding community. I am so very, very tired of my illness being used against me. I keep fighting the fight. Some days I win, most days I lose. Today, I was close to giving up. Thank you.

anonymous Feb 14, 2015 3:30pm

Excellent article Gabe, as usual. Well said. This inspires those living with a mental illness to feel proud of themselves, for living through and making a life (whatever that looks like) regardless. I'm so glad to see this piece & can't wait to see more from you! ~ Cat

anonymous Feb 13, 2015 12:57pm

The only benefit I can see is that after having the illness for more than twenty years prior to diagnosis, I now possess a unique set of coping tools. I'm very adaptive and from what I've learnt from other bipolar sufferers is that this is a common trait.
Otherwise it is a disease that destroys lives and relationships if not treated.

anonymous Feb 11, 2015 1:03am

I’m not sure I agree… It may be words. I will take your article to heart; I felt like giving BPD the credit for “something” in my life was giving credit to that “something”, not taking away from me. Just shining a different light on Life itself – like obviously bipolar (or anything else) can’t take ANYTHING away from me, therefore because I may feel or appear to have had these ‘parts’ taken away from me (a previous comment mentioned ‘contact w/ her father’ – ouch, that hurt!)… Anyhow, THEREFORE I MUST be MUCH BIGGER (And LIFE must be…) MUCH BIGGER than I had given EITHER of them Credit for.

I actually subscribe to the “BPD’s is an evolutionary characteristic that had/has its use in a different society”; since so much of our post-industrial shellacked small-box world is depressed, anxious, has BPD, is alcoholic, drug-addicted, etc., the problem is not me.

anonymous Feb 10, 2015 5:45pm

I was wondering after reading the title of your article, what in the hell could be a benefit of being bipolar? I sure haven't stumbled onto it yet. I found new perspective after reading it. I never ever considered I could be a little proud of the strength it takes to live with Bipolar. It's not a choice. And there have been days that there was a choice I attempted to make. Only a person suffering from bipolar disorder could think what you have written. I lost everyone and everything. Marriage, relationships with my daughters, any relationship with my father, my job, my friends….the list goes on and on. There is so much stigma associated with all mental,illness. Sometimes, I even feel the shame myself. Isn't that stupid? We are all trying to fight the stigma, yet I feel it myself? That makes no sense. Little in my world does. Thank you for writing the article.

anonymous Feb 10, 2015 11:40am

I completely agree with this article. As someone who has type 1 bipolar I have had to jump over hurdles and leap through flames to get to where I am today. I have definitely developed into a much better person after being diagnosed but that's my own doing and not from the "gift" of being bipolar. Sure it changes the way you see the world but for some it's not for the better.

Liz Phillips Oct 10, 2016 11:17pm

While I understand what you're saying, I would have to disagree that there are no benefits to this illness. I always see the gift in any illness, weather it be a sore finger, or a relapse of a manic episode.... however it manifests gives me clues to where I need to focus my self work on next. So without the symptoms of the illness being present, I wouldn't know where my body, mind or spirit is out of alignment. I understand that me healing my illness is a testament to my own strength as a person (9 months medication free, no symptoms).... but I wouldn't have been able to do that healing if I had never been blessed with the sickness in the first place. I thank my bipolar everyday for showing me the path to wellness

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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.