Research Explores the Positives of Bipolar Disorder

Well look at that! Some people in the medical field have finally caught on and began researching what I’ve heard dozens of folks with bipolar disorder saying since the moment I started learning about it.

It appears that some researchers (in Lancaster, England) have interviewed 10 people (between the ages of 24 and 57) diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the study reported that these people had all identified things that they considered “positive” attributes or abilities derived from having bipolar disorder.

Shocked? I’m not.

“Participants described a wide range of experiences and internal states that they believed they felt to a far greater intensity than those without the condition. These included increased perceptual sensitivity, creativity, focus and clarity of thought.”

The article goes on to explain that some people have also derived positive experiences from the depression they experienced, including greater empathy for the suffering of others.

This quote, by Dr. Fiona Lobban (who led the study) was the most conclusive and well spoken portion of the article:

“It is really important that we learn more about the positives of bipolar as focusing only on negative aspects paints a very biased picture that perpetuates the view of bipolar as a wholly negative experience. If we fail to explore the positives of bipolar we also fail to understand the ambivalence of some people towards treatment.”

Personally, there is no question in my mind that there are positive aspect that are often associated with bipolar disorder. Now, having said that, I genuinely don’t know (and don’t think anyone does) if those aspects are caused by the disorder, already within us but enhanced by the disorder, or things we experience coincidentally. It seems like this study was really just to explore the fact that positive aspects do exist in regard to bipolar disorder, but did not conclude much more.

There is a long list of positive things I’ve heard associated with bipolar disorder, and though the frustration associated with “episodic living” can very easily blot out our perception of those positives from time to time, I would encourage you (if bipolar) to consider if you feel you’ve gained anything positive from living with this disorder. A few common themes I’ve heard are:

Resiliency
Creativity
Greater Focus
Greater Productivity
Empathy
Greater Spirituality
Greater Sensory Experiences
Strategic Prowess

Would eradication of bipolar disorder mean the eradication of these things in our lives? I feel like that is something people are contending with every day when they are confronted with the idea of taking pharmaceuticals. Personally, I don’t think it is that simple. If bipolar disorder was magically removed from my life tomorrow, I can’t imagine it making me any less empathetic. Or creative. But what do I know? I’m just a chick sitting at a computer.

For most of us it is seen as both a gift and a curse, however corny that may sound.   Some days a little more gift, others a little more curse.

You can read the full article here…

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14 responses to “Research Explores the Positives of Bipolar Disorder

  1. You might be interested in these books:

    A first rate madness: Uncovering the link between leadership and mental illness (http://www.amazon.com/First-Rate-Madness-Uncovering-Between-Leadership/dp/1594202958)

    Touched by Fire by Kay Redfield Jamieson (http://www.amazon.com/Touched-Fire-Manic-Depressive-Artistic-Temperament/dp/068483183X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1336151138&sr=1-1)

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Thanks for the recommendations D, I am actually in the middle portion of A First Rate Madness right now and had two copies of Touched By Fire thrown at me when I joined a local support group (which I’ve since passed on to others).

      Certain kinds of books are difficult for me to get through and have trouble holding my attention… I have a sneaking suspicion this is user error (my brain) as opposed to the authors, because a lot of other folks have seemed to really enjoy both of these books! Honestly I’ve read a few things now that I could easily write about on the blog, but I have held off on writing about anything that hasn’t really resonated with me personally.

      Again, thanks though!

  2. I wish I could say I have positive symptoms from my bipolar. My memory is shot! I barely have focus. It’s sad, really. At least I’m not suicidal-depressed now.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      As I may have mentioned in the post, I think so much of this information is subjective. Each person is going to perceive their experiences in their own way, and there isn’t any sort of scientific proof that bipolar disorder has “positive” symptoms at all (just that people with the disorder believe they exist). So who knows, really.

      After all, a “disorder” can be anything that disrupts our lives negatively -so if it is having a positive effect, is that part of the “disorder”?

      What I can say is that I have felt like what you are describing a lot of the time… but that space (for me) fluctuates with whatever my mood is doing at the time. When I’m hypomanic and wildly optimistic? I’d probably tell you something different. So again, who knows. That is one of the things I find so fascinating about bipolar disorder in particular.

  3. I have a few positive, mostly creative. I can write pretty well, I used to play the piano and flute, but gave it up when I was younger. I imagine the BP was hitting me then, just no one recognized BP in kids. I believe it makes me a better mother. I can’t slip because the minute I do, CPS comes knocking on my door. And I’m not suicidal depressed anymore, so I agree, that’s a huge plus!

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Aha, I like that idea… that you are more conscientious about your role as a mother because if you make a mistake, you are likely to have negative consequences. It might sound a little odd, saying I like that idea, but it isn’t the risk or consequences I like. I really like the fact that it probably means you are a mother who is more present in the lives of her children, and you take parenting seriously. There are a lot of people (in my opinion) who would benefit by having that attitude with their children, so I think that is a great thing you pointed out. Good one!

  4. struggling with bipolar

    I can say that I’m more empathetic and more resilient than other people. I don’t know if it’s necessarily because of my bipolar disorder though. I was diagnosed at 22, but I had experienced symptoms before then and I don’t ever really recall NOT being bipolar.

    I can also say that I don’t have many of those other positives. My memory is shot. It is even worse in the midst of an episode of depression or mania. I also find it more difficult to concentrate when either manic or depressed. I was once more creative than I am now, but I find that bipolar makes me crafty more than creative. I like putting together scrapbooks and collages and things when I am symptomatic. I also think I may be a bit more imaginative than most because I can see the books I read in color in my head. I don’t think most people can do that.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      From what I understand, the part of our brain that is involved in memory and “higher thinking” (language and all that) is dampened when the part of our brain that is emotional is heightened (or at least, that’s what the book I just read said). It also said people who have dealt with any sort of trauma may have more problems with concentration and memory overall, so if that is something you’ve experienced that may be having an effect as well.

      It’s really funny though, because nobody actually knows how the brain functions as a whole, so there are so many theories and studies that any real understanding would take several lifetimes of learning, at least, I’m sure.

      I’m an extremely crafty person too though, and I like being able to solve a visual problem (like which pictures should land where while scrapbooking) to help get me out of my head. I’m glad you mentioned imaginative, because that is something else I’ve heard a lot from people. I would say that can involve anything from vivid dreams to imagery while reading or what I call “lite hallucinations” (the brain looking at random shapes and seeing them as something structured like a face or symbol).

      Good points!

  5. struggling with bipolar

    I guess you could call the imagery lite hallucinations. I never looked at it that way. I have not really had an episode where I experienced psychosis except perhaps once. That could have simply been a result of being overtired though. I can see things vividly that are described to me and I can also make things out of shapes I see.

    You are right. No one knows how the brain works as a whole and it would take a ton of research to scratch the surface. They do some of this work already. I was supposed to take part in an fMRI study to see how our brains process information during periods of depression. I did not follow through with the study for a few different reasons. I found the research fascinating though.

  6. I think the extremes and challenges of the condition stimulate greater character development than is required of many people.

    I think I get more creativity, resiliency, and perseverance out of the disorder. Greater productivity is limited to hypomanic episodes so I wouldn’t claim that as a general benefit. Since my brain is a little haywire, I tend to make connections that others wouldn’t so I have a different perspective than the people around me, and that is generally valued in my line of work

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Great point, I definitely agree with you on that first line!

      I have found that I have a similar situation when it comes to having a different perspective from those around me, and though it isn’t valued everywhere I’ve found it to be a valuable asset as well!

  7. I would also say I experience positives like strategic prowess, perception, creative problem solving, and greater sensory experiences, which also comes in handy often. At least when I’m not at an extreme.

    I’ve always had the theory that each individual is unique with how we respond to things based on so many factors that it is hard to pin down generalizations with almost anything. The general “cause=symptom” thinking in western medicine leaves out a lot of correlative and holistic connections.

    Thanks for sharing the article. That doctor has a nice point about understanding ambivalence.

  8. Thank you for this post. I loved being manic and miss it a lot. When I was manic I was far more productive, engaged and successful. I miss that. I think often of going off lithium to try to regain my “manic” self, but I know that the inevitable crashes are devastating. That being said, the feeling is great.

  9. Pingback: Mania Addiction | bi[polar] curious

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