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You Do Not Have to Sacrifice Your Creativity When Being Treated for Bipolar Disorder

Being properly treated for Bipolar Disorder does not mean you lose your creativity completely. You simply find different, healthier avenues to hone in on it and express it.

We have seen public figures, such as Kanye West and Gabbie Hanna, not being properly treated for potential mental health struggles. They may even not want to be treated as they truly believe they are their best selves in the depths of their illnesses. I cannot speak for them, but I can speak to my own experiences. I can relate to some of their struggles. When I was manic, I was not making sense and I was putting myself into potentially dangerous situations. I have so much empathy for those who struggle like I did because I know exactly what it’s like. Many onlookers watch public figures in manic episodes for entertainment — it’s sickening. Someone publicly experiencing a manic episode or a breakdown is never the time to pull out the popcorn and egg the person on — it is the time to rally around the person, offer support and point them in the direction of help. It is never a choice to struggle with mental illness. A great deal of the thoughts and actions we make when ill, we would not think or act upon when well. We are not ourselves when we struggle. My heart goes out to those who experience mania because I know how little control I had. And I know now none of it was my fault.

We see some people choose not to get help — for whatever their reasons, but we also may see people not get help for Bipolar specifically because people fear they will lose their creativity. And for many, creativity is their identity and all they know. Mania can introduce thought patterns that are “outside the box” and unique — but they can also introduce delusions, paranoia and obsession. 

I have been treated for Bipolar Disorder since 2019. I take medications for it and am in therapy, particularly focusing on DBT and CBT. When I began my healing journey, finally being diagnosed with the right diagnosis, I noticed my creativity was a bit caged at first. I didn’t have the desire to write as much and I had to challenge myself with writing poetry. I am a creative person who naturally thinks poetically and in metaphors (which is also known as a symptom of ADHD). I notice that I have to work my brain harder to write freely. Once I get going though, I can still write freely. I also want to emphasize that I am so thankful I do not draw creativity in manic states anymore. It’s honestly a bit embarrassing for me to re-read a writing that came directly from mania, as I simply was not my true, best self. Maybe I was incredibly passionate, but I suffered the true consequences once I came crashing down from my high — into a dark, depressive episode. I don’t think there is anything beautiful about being unwell like that; it’s scary for the sufferer and it can be unnerving and upsetting for outsiders trying to help.

While mania may have been my “most free” state of mind, a lot of dangerous notions came with it. Mania often led me to paranoia, in which I was terrified to trust those closest to me and I believed people were out to get me. Also, I would like to critique the assumed “greater creativity” in regard to mania, as I’m not sure if it is as coveted or “beautiful” as some make it out to be. I have realized that I can access similar creative ideas when well than versus being ill, but the primary difference is that I am not in a hyper, out-of-touch state when well. I also can better discern what thoughts are genuinely my own and what belongs to the mania. For instance, I may have this creative thought to make a specific allusion in a poem in both states of mind, but in my manic state of mind, I may fixate on the detail and become obsessed with it — which can lead me to paranoia or emotions galore. In mania, I may feel overly attached to this new-found way of wording something, so it’s a good feeling I experience, but it’s also dangerous as it transforms into obsession and/or paranoia. So, why would I willingly (now) take myself off medications to potentially more quickly access the same creativity, while also sacrificing my mental health and creating more havoc for myself? As I said before, it may take me more brainstorming and writing to unearth my more creative thoughts and ideas, but I can still get there in a healthy mindset — without destroying my health.

We may experience these creative bursts when manic episodes occur as dopamine is being released excessively in our brains — rendering us a euphoric state where we may feel on top of the world and invincible. I enjoyed the beginnings of mania as I felt I could think freely and openly and create so much without slowing down or sleeping, but I do not want to risk my wellness for it ever again because I know that it leads me to great distress. I also had no idea I was in mania prior as I hadn’t been diagnosed with Bipolar yet. I have always been open to getting help, so I do wish I knew sooner so I could start feeling better sooner. But I am glad it is now known.

It may feel confusing, or even impossible to get help as we may fear we are going to trade in our creativity to be “boring” and “dull”. I have experienced quite the opposite. I experience the highs and lows of life, but I do not experience the highs and lows of mania anymore. I still reap the rewards of being my creative self, but without jeopardizing my health.

Research has been found that each manic episode a person has can potentially decrease gray matter in the brain, which could influence our intelligence over time. The area of the brain associated with language, particularly addressing language-association tasks, can be destroyed more and more after each manic episode. When we ask ourselves is it worth it to sacrifice our wellness for potential “easily accessible creativity” or “more passion”, we must be mindful of the overall effects of not properly treating the mental illness.

There are also side effects to medication to be aware of. Many people treated for Bipolar Disorder take lithium and you must drink adequate water every day and have your lithium levels checked every few months through blood work to ensure the levels are not getting too high. There is a lot to consider when seeking help, but I’m not sure the other side (refusing help) is truly fulfilling or worth it.

All at the same time, I am so thankful I have received the proper help and I am grateful I have felt genuinely better without too many side effects and without losing the essence of who I am. I’m so grateful for my psychiatrist who pieced together my story and uncovered this missing piece. My loved ones have been patient with me and willing to make changes to support my well being and future and I’m very grateful for that.

I suggest to those who may worry they would lose their free range of creativity in writing by accepting help is to have brainstorming sessions, access to a thesaurus and patience with yourself. Sometimes it takes me jotting a string of random words, looking up synonyms of simpler words to challenge myself or sitting in solitude for a bit before coming to creative writing I am most proud of. It’d be nice and all if I could be as quick as I was when manic, but I’m much happier being a bit slower to my words now that I’m better. “Being quick” also meant little sleep and non-stop creating, which is not healthy. Be patient with your healing brain and your creative heart. You are still capable of being creative. As my art professor shared with us today, Jim Kwik, author of Limitless, shared in his book that it’s not about having creativity; it’s about doing creativity. Creativity is not only a possession or attribute; it can be a mindset and we can all access it. Be patient and be persistent. Like creativity, do healing, too, and choose to help yourself. You deserve to feel better and you are worth the time and work it takes to heal.

I am still a creative thinker. I still write compelling poetry and articles about mental health. I am still working hard as a student and healthcare worker. I am still incredibly passionate. I still feel deeply. I am still very empathetic. I still care a lot.
I have not lost who I am by accepting help. In fact, I feel more sure of who I am now that I am well.