There are many famous people who have lived with bipolar disorder. Here are a few of those listed in The Natural Medicine Guide to Bipolar Disorder, by Stephanie Marohn:
William Blake, Winston Churchhill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, George Frederic Handel, Ernest Hemingway, Margot Kidder, Henry James, Gustav Mahler, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Schuman, Anne Sexton, Vincent van Goh, Tennesee Williams, Virginia Wolf. To see a more comprehensive list of famous bipolar people please click here.
A number of studies have shown a higher percentage of people with bipolar disorder among writers, painters, and musicians as compared to the normal population. When considering the manic phase of bipolar disorder one can see similarities with creative energies which can flow during long stretches of writing or painting, for example, by talented and inspired people. There may be diminished need for sleep, a sense of enhanced sensitivity and insight, and a super abundance of self confidence. For an excellent discussion and review of research on bipolar people and creative genius please click here.
What I have found to be true in my own life's experience in living with this disease is that the manic phase tends to be rather extreme and unreliable. There may be some genuine inspiration or creative genius breaking through in the intensity of these peak experiences, but more often than not there is much false inspiration or grandiosity that comes along with that high energy and excitement! Discernment of what is truly valuable and what is merely fantasy can be a very difficult (and sometimes painful) process. I have found that it is much better to allow some time to pass—giving the mind a chance to settle and find greater clarity— before acting on ideas or making assumptions while in the midst of the high phase. Is the inspiration or creative surge of energy 'good or bad'? Real or unreal? It doesn't have to be an all or none process. Most likely there are mixed components in the high energy or peak phase of bipolar. Patient introspection and self evaluation, for example, in keeping a daily journal, can be very helpful in sorting out what's what! What is worth holding onto (or pursuing in case of a life dream or a specific creative work in mind) and what is better off being thrown in the trash. Another good idea is to discuss your goals and anspirations with other people you can trust. People who know you and are supportive and caring. They may be able to help sort out the creative and destructive energies inherent in the high energy experience of bipolar. It may well be that letting go of the attachment to the high feeling of mania and settling for a calmer and more stable existence is what is truly needed. This is what I have found in many years of living on a 'roller coaster' of highs and lows related to what I thought was inspiration. Some of it was truly authentic and insightful yet quite a lot of my inner world of imagination was exaggerated self importance or ego inflation.
I can remember years ago when I would sit up late at night feeling fired up with high octane energy which I thought was inspiration while reading the Bible. Of course there are many great stories of prophets, healers, teachers and leaders which can inspire us to reach for the stars! Yet for a bipolar person especially caution is needed to avoid an overactive imagination which may lead to disillusionment and much suffering. If there is too much excitement, chances are its just not right. Often my sleep interrupted nights would lead to weariness during the workday and later confusion as to what was genuine and what was illusory. In retrospect I think I was wrestling with forces of my own subconscious. Intuition accompanied with a calm joy and growing confidence in God is far more worthy of our trust than brief periods of excitement and fantasy. A vision may come in a flash, but years of training and a peeling off the layers of ego desires may be necessary before a gradual physical manifestation happens. For a closer look at my personal story, please click here to read the Adobe Acrobat PDF file which describes my early years of struggling with bipolar and a number of peak experiences and the deep inner healing which has taken place.
I mentioned previously that journal writing can be very helpful in finding the truth in one's insight and inspiration over time... here is an interesting quote I found recently while reviewing some of my old notes (from June 1996). During this time I was self-employed and facing a lot of uncertainty in my life. My son was 2 years old.
Who am I? Why so many peak experiences? How do I integrate these into my everyday life?
There is a sustaining grace, a lightness of being upholding me, comforting me, on my journey to God knows where! In our deepest Self, we are light, love, grace, goodness and that's all we are.
A large part of my personal healing has been the ongoing gradual integration of my dream of being a spiritual teacher or guide (especially in the area of East-West spirituality and wellness) with the reality of making a living and supporting my family. Although I have not as yet realized my personal goal of being self employed as a writer, teacher and trainer there has been the joyful opportunity over the past 8 years to teach many classes and workshops, to do a number of public TV and radio presentations, and to share information with others around the world about holistic treatment for bipolar disorder via this website! In recent years especially I have developed a greater appreciation for the gift of a peaceful and loving family life. I thank God for these opportunities for service, personal growth and healing. I am very grateful for all the help I have recieved which has allowed me to live medication free since 1990.
I'd like to add a quote here from an excellent book titled How to Be Happy All the Time by Paramhansa Yogananda.
To fulfill one's duties in life may not be easy, and it may not always be immediately enjoyable. Attaining divine joy is a long-term proposition. [For those who may be impatient or frustrated in pursuing their dreams....]
You are unhappy because you do not visualize strongly enough the great things which you definitely want, nor do you employ your willpower, your creative ability, and your patience to materialize them. Happiness comes with your ability to manifest first your smallest desires, and later your biggest dreams [italics are mine].
You must be careful not to harbor impractical ambitions in your life and, consequently... chase a rainbow trail. Make mental blueprints of little things, and keep on making them materialize until you can make your big dreams also come true.
This is a very important idea. Our deepest thoughts and desires, our personal goals will manifest in time if we apply ourselves in a balanced way to the attainment of those goals. This is often described as 'the law of attraction'. Simply stated, what you think about today, you become tomorrow. The problem with bipolar people, myself included, is that our thoughts are inconsistent. We are up one day, fulll of energy and enthusiasm for life, perhaps with beautifully creative and positive ideals, but then later everything dissipates. We lose our focus and our belief. We give way to doubt—thinking I'm no good, I'll never amount to anything :-( . We manifest nothing this way. The common temptation is to lose hope or even become mired in depression. Often times help is needed from a professional counselor, a physician, or at least a good friend and advisor to get out of these 'troughs'. The correct way to proceed is to patiently keep on with our goals and aspirations, not giving up, overcoming the obstacles one by one (however long this may take) until we begin to see results in Gods time, and in God's way. Once in a dream, I received the following encouraging message:
Life is a gift of love. You've got to give it all you've got!
If you would like to read more about the 'law of attraction' please click here.
An important consideration is the priority of one's inner transformation as compared to finding sucess in the outer world (or reaching one's dreams and goals in this life). It seems that lasting peace of mind comes about only with the attunement of our will with the will of God. Does it really matter so much if we succeed in the outer world if we are living in the consciousness of love and joy whatever our circumstances might be? This may be in fact a more profound way of letting our light shine in this world than being a best selling author or a successful artist. Jesus teaches us to 'set our hearts on God's kingdom first and everything else will be given to us'. This is something I have given a lot of thought and prayer to in my own life. I have come to the conclusion that all I can do is to keep on giving my best in every creative endeavor—and leave the results to God. I often ask myself, can I be happy with my life just as it is? Ideally living moment to moment peacefully and going with the flow of things much like doing tai chi.
If you would like to see updated and expanded information about Jay which includes more recent developments (as of 2012) click on A New Chapter. He offers a followup look at bipolar disorder and the value of the loving presence of his wife over the past 26 years.
Here is a related passage from White Eagle.
This is the secret: to live, to know, and to be, in the consciousness of the infinite love and light, and to live for spirit and not for matter. Matter is secondary; spirit is first and foremost in humanity, and to live rightly is to develop the consciousness of the Christ within yourself.
—The Source of All Our Strength, The White Eagle Publishing Trust
For the bipolar person, it is likely that hypomania (a more moderate high phase than full blown mania) has more creative value in the long run than mania itself. With hypomania there is definitely a creative flow of ideas with a pleasant boost of enhanced self confidence but this state of mind includes a much better grasp on reality than does mania. It is very important to know when to calm down and see things clearly. As mentioned above, keeping a journal can be very helpful in seeing the patterns of energy rise and fall and how they influence our daily life. There are numerous choices available in getting help for moderate cases of bipolar disorder. Taking medications as needed is one obvious choice, but this tends to diminish or even squash the creative energy. There are more holistic options to choose from which may allow for a more flexible range of hypomania and creativity. Please consider the Treatment page for greater details on suggestions (a few of which) I will attempt to summarize below.
Please note I am not suggesting people who have bipolar disorder do not need to take their medications.A medical doctor or health professional should be consulted before making any changes in their current form of treatment. It is possible that over time, with good health habits and the regular use of holistic treatments and consultation from your health care provider, the need for medications can be reduced or even eliminated.
Meditation as a regular practice, particular mindfulness meditation, can be of immense help in regulating mania and its impulsive tendencies and flights of fantasy. An excellent source of instruction for this type of meditation can be found from books and tapes available from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. Another highly respected teacher of mindfulness is Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. Mindfulness refers to living in the present moment, cultivating calmness and clarity, for example, while paying close attention to one's breathing. This can be done for a little as 10 minutes per day with some benefits experienced in self regulation of the mind and nervous system. I have found this to be true in my own life on many occasions of mania or hypomanic trends in my energy . Meditation helps to 'put on the brakes' of the racing thoughts and to move back towards the center of health in mind and body. Longer periods of meditation are needed when the energy is more intense, for example, during periods of insomna. Meditation can be practiced with the use of medications as prescribed, or with natural supplements such as Omega-3 essential fatty acid found in fish oil, amino acids such as GABA, and other herbal remedies to assist in getting to sleep.
For an introduction on 'How to Meditate' and the various types of meditation we may use to alleviate manic symptoms please see Meditation.
Prayer offers us another means to regulate the high end (or to help alleviate depression, where it is more likely one feels the need to pray!). I will often use prayer at the end of my meditation period to express thankfulness for the good I can recognize in my life and to ask for help with the challenging circumstances I may be facing. Sincere, heartfelt prayer is a powerful aide in healing. There are a number of studies which confirm the health benefits of prayer. On this topic I recommend the book Timeless Healing, The Power and Biology of Belief by Herbert Benson, MD. For a closer look at spiritual healing and its vital role in overcoming bipolar symptoms, please see Spiritual Healing.
Being bipolar is not a fixed trait of the personality. What I mean by this is that change is possible. Healing is possible. I'd like to add a quote here from Deepak Chopra's book, How to Know God, that I think may be helpful for people who struggle with bipolar disorder and think of it as a lifelong illness with little hope for change other than perhaps in the effectiveness of their medications.
Stop defining yourself. Don't accept any [self limiting] thought that begins "I am this or that." You are not this or that. You are beyond definition, and therefore any attempt to say "I am X" is wrong. You are in passage. You are in the process of redefining yourself every day. Aid that process, and you cannot help but leap forward on the path.
I am not suggesting here to deny that one has a problem with bipolar, but rather not to define oneself that way for life. There are degrees of being bipolar, and there are many choices (small steps) for getting well. One thing that I have found helpful at various times in my life is using affirmations. Here is one I found from the Silent Unity web site (please see Web Links middle of page).
I have instant access to God's healing power within. I am whole and well in mind, body, and spirit.
Affirmations work with our subconscious mind, like bulbs planted awaiting to flower when the time is right. I will often repeat them many times throughout the day! They can help us immediately in clearing our minds from negative or destructive influences and becoming receptive to God's grace in the here and now, and in the long run in creating the positive conditions we are seeking.
It may be very helpful to remember that when a person is in the grips of mania, prayer can be misleading at times. I have admittedly experienced this myself on more than one occasion. What I mean is, if the emotional aspect is running high, true discernment of the will of God for a persons life (or specific situation) can be quite difficult. It is easy to be mislead by the intensity of our desire or visions of self-glory. So, consequently meditation and prayer do work well together. A calm mind is much more receptive to Truth as it may be expressed though our intuition (or through other people such as loved ones). Above all, distrust impulsivity and impatience. Giving in to impulsivity is probably one of the biggest weaknesses of people who struggle with mania. Impulsive buying sprees, inappropriate sexual behaviors, anger outbursts, etc. can often lead to feelings of guilt and depression after the high has worn off! It has taken me years of ‘trial and error’ to learn patience and to be mindful of the present moment and its opportunity for growth. Certainly you will find this in many books on spirituality as well.
The still, small voice which persists over months and years is a much more reliable guide than is the big vision or enlightenment experience on the hilltop! This is not to say the big vision or enlightenment experience is necessarily total illusion… just that it is less reliable or more prone to impurities of ego and its wants, desires and fantasies! If our desire is to truly be helpful to others, to create something beautiful, to add more love and joy to the world, to share from one's life experience then the opportunity will be given to us to do those things our hearts desire. Patience is a key ingredient. Little by little we make progress towards our creative endeavors. Even though at times I feel I could stay up all night working on this web site, I know I have to work tomorrow morning and the price I will have to pay for lack of sleep is just not worth it!
I think there are powerful creative energies in bipolar people just waiting to be expressed! These may be thwarted by obstacles such as our financial circumstances or our work schedules and time needed for family relationships. Perhaps this process is one of refinement, so that the creative energies when they do find their manifestation are more mature and complete than they would have been initially if there were no obstacles.
I believe that prayer, meditation and spiritual healing can help us to find true inspiration even with the difficulties of living with bipolar disorder. I have found that one of the best sign posts that can point us in the right direction is in our innermost heart. Do our actions, our thoughts and dreams promote love and harmony? Do we feel consistently good about what we are doing? Is there a calm joy that accompanies our actions? Is there a sustaining energy behind all that we do, helping us to stay on the path and not give in to discouragement? Even if we feel we have 'lost' that energy, can we somehow regain it? Can we let go of demanding to have our own way and be willing to listen to our inner voice and our conscience with courage and humility? Can we listen to honest feedback from others we know and love? Are we willing to keep on keeping on even when there are obstacles or the way seems uncertain? If we can answer yes to these questions most of the time (hopefully!) then we are on the right track. Creativity is about attunement to that unlimited power deep within our innermost being. The greater the attunement, the more we are able to achieve as channels of that inner light. Joy and peace will lighten our hearts when we are aligned with the spirit of God within us.
It is essential to realize that the overwhelming nature of experience—even the sensation of ecstasy of divine rapture—for a bipolar person or anyone else for that matter does not in any way guarantee 100% pure inspiration from God! Yes, there may be a powerful blessing accompanied by a flood of tears of gratitude. Most likely there will also be a purification process to follow, quite possibly a long one. Reintegration from the intense highs into the tick tock reality of the everyday world requires a willingness to surrender to the requirements of the present moment to keep functioning in a healthy and balanced way. It is helpful to trust that there is a refreshing grace that comes to the lonesome weary traveler, and that God does not leave us without a refreshing breeze and tranquil waters to revive our spirits if we are open to receive. Equally important, with enough love, understanding and insightful encouragement from a mentor, a trusted friend, a truly caring family member or professional counselor we may be capable of negotiating the deeper waters of the unconscious and find our way to a healthy integration without the use of suppresive medications. This will probably take some time, months or even years to process fully.
Twenty years ago or more I had repeated experiences with this type of 'ecstasy'. There were many times when I was struggling with just this type of breakthrough experience which really had me 'fired up'! I believed that perhaps I had been 'chosen' for a particularly important mission such as a spiritual leader or prophet during the challenging and chaotic years of the 21st century. Most often I thought of the ideal (in my mind) of a new integration of Christian and Zen spirituality which would blend in a creative way the teachings of Jesus and Buddha. Meditation would play an important role in this transformation of consciousness. I was confused about how to proceed. One simple piece of advice came from my 'inner voice' which I related to a STOP sign (while driving in my car). I thought of the red portion of the sign as representing desire, the fire aspect of my inner experience. I so much wanted to move forward as quickly as possible. My study of Zen prompted me to STOP projecting into the future and just be fully present to the moment as it is. Let go of my desires, my inner vision long enough to be fully present. Cool down and be responsive to the moment. Don't rush anything. If it is truly an inspiration from God then the way will be shown to me as to how to proceed. This simple reminder of the STOP sign helped to keep me sane. I often reminded myself of its importance in keeping me grounded in the here and now. I also reflected on the essence of tai chi and how the energy should flow without forcing it—much like a river. Not trying to make something happen by my own doing, but rather 'non-doing'. This refers to allowing the Universe to act or create through you without the ego getting in the way and really mucking things up!
As it turned out it was many years later (1999) that I began teaching meditation classes. Although it was nothing like I had imagined back in the 1980's, the experience has been and continues to be very rewarding. It has been one of the most enjoyable activities of my life! The principal ideas of East-West integration and evolution of consciousness that I was so powerfully drawn to are proving to be of lasting value. If you would like to read more on this topic please see East-West.
For an excellent psycho-spiritual treatment of mental and emotional crisis which can emerge for a bipolar person undergoing what may be a profound spiritual transformation, please see:
Spiritual Emergency, When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis edited by Stanislav Grof, M.D. and Chritina Grof. Click here for an excerpt, and blog, about this remarkable book!
Natural remedies can give us much support in our quest to live creative lives without giving in the the extremes commonly associated with bipolar. As for my own life, I have been very fortunate. I have been free from medications since 1990. In recent years I have been helped a great deal by natural remedies such as Omega-3 fatty acid (I take fish oil gelcaps, 500 to 1000 mg daily) along with other daily vitamins and supplements. I think it is best to consult a physician if you can, such as an osteopathic doctor to help with your individual biological makeup. Click here to find a holistic practitioner from the American Holistic Medical Association .
Many people have found help with individualized nutrient therapy for bipolar disorder offered at the Health Research Institute and Pfeiffer Treatment Center, a non-profit organization based in Illinois (near Chicago). They also have services in Minnesota, Maryland, Arizona and California. Founded in 1989, the Pfeiffer Treatment Center has treated more than 20,000 people (not just for bipolar but also for autism, ADD, depression, schizophrenia and other conditions). Click here for their website.
Please do not stop taking medications but rather consult with a qualified medical professional when considering natural remedies. This is not an either/or proposition. For the majority of people natural remedies may help alleviate symptoms of bipolar disorder, but medication is still needed. It is possible that over time, with good health habits and the regular use of holistic treatments and consultation from your health care provider, the need for medications can be reduced or even eliminated. For more information about my personal experience living with bipolar disorder both with medication and using holistic methods to promote health and stability please see About Jay.
My life continues to evolve. There are still challenges and sometimes new problems to be overcome...but I'm enjoying my life a whole lot more than in previous years of intense struggle with this disease. And I am thankful for the opportunities for creative self expression that have come my way. Holistic solutions can be found to enable us to live healthy and meaningful lives! One of the keys, I think, to trusting inspiration is to let go of your personal timetable as to when you think things should be happening. It is far better to surrender to God's will as it becomes manifest in the reality of the present moment than to insist on getting your way, your vision of how things should be. This is true for people in general, but particularly for people who have bipolar disorder. We tend to be impulsive and very determined during the high energy phases (and then run out of gas days later). Here is where I have found mindfulness meditation to be quite helpful, and also prayer. Asking for guidance, doing the best that I can, wanting to join in the cosmic dance, to play my role in assisting the evolution of conscious awareness of the primacy of Being rather than doing (allowing ourselves to Be who we really are in the midst of doing whatever needs to be done). Is it possible to live a balanced and joyful life as we navigate the storm tossed waters of change in our world? I think so.