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The Ancient Greeks Thought Bipolar Disorder was a Divine Gift

Did you know that two of the first human diseases described by the classical Greek physicians are “mania” (mixture of anger, rage, and euphoria) and “melancholia” (sadness)? Jules Angst and Andreas Marneros wrote a paper that scoured ancient writings for observations about bipolar disorder. They found that review of pre-Hippocratic era manuscripts revealed descriptions of “morbid states of depression and exaltation.” In other words, super highs and super lows. Sound familiar? 

Hippocrates (460-337 BC), known as the “Father of Medicine” (doctor’s still swear the Hippocratic oath), theorized that the brain was the organ in charge of mental functions, disturbances, and disorders.  He wrote, 

“The people ought to know that the brain is the sole origin of pleasures and joys, laughter and jests, sadness and worry as well as dysphoria, and differentiate between feeling ashamed, good, bad, happy … Through the brain we become insane, enraged, we develop anxiety and fears, which can come in the night or during the day, we suffer from sleeplessness, we make mistakes and have unfounded worries, we lose the ability to recognize reality, we become apathetic and we cannot participate in social life … We suffer all those mentioned above through the brain when it is ill…” 

I can absolutely relate to all of those feelings (sometimes all at once)! 

To Socrates and Plato, mania was “a divine state.” In fact, Plato wrote that there are two kinds of mania, one that involves “a mental strain that arises from a bodily cause of origin” and the other is “divine or inspired, with Apollo as the source of the inspiration.” He went on to described several additional types of divine mania, including “erotic inspiration” sent by the god of love and “protreptic inspiration” that comes from Muses because it seems to inspire men to sing (or in my case, sketch, paint and write). While in manic episodes, I personally have experienced all of these “divinely inspired” states at one time or another. 

The philosopher Democritus asked Hippocrates, “Why are extraordinary men in philosophy, politics or the arts melancholics?”  After many discussions, Hippocrates concluded that Democritus did not suffer from melancholia – he was simply a genius. Have you ever noticed how many people with bipolar disorder are artistic and/or geniuses (often referred to as divinely inspired)? I have found that I have had extreme bouts of creativity and productivity during manic episodes.  And there are many, many famous creative “geniuses” who have also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, including actors such as Mel Gibson, Carrie Fisher, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Vivien Leigh. Singer/songwriters Patty Duke and Nina Simone were diagnosed during their successful careers. Ted Turner, an extremely prosperous businessman, and the writer/novelist Ernest Hemingway were also treated for bipolar disorder.  Some of recent history’s influential thinkers and do-ers are thought by experts to have had bipolar disorder, including Jackson Pollack (artist), Friedrich Nietzsch (philosopher), Sir Isaac Newton (mathematician/physicist/philosopher), Abraham Lincoln (politician), Virginia Woolf (writer), Florence Nightingale (nurse) and Vincent van Gogh (artist), just to name a few.

While not a genius in any sense of the word, I like to consider myself divinely inspired from time to time. I have also noticed that, while I enjoy my creativity, my body and brain cannot maintain the manic pace for an extended period of time, and these episodes never happen without a depressive episode following closely on its heels (the higher the high, the lower the low). For me, finding the balance between the highs and lows is the “sweet spot” where I get the best work done without wanting to cut my ear off in the process (as one of our predecessors did). Working with my doctor, taking my meds, exercising, eating well, and having proper sleep habits give me the ability to use the divine gift for good.    

I think the ancient Greeks were on to something – we are divinely inspired. Let’s celebrate, not that we have bipolar disorder, but just that we are part of an amazing club filled with artists, philosophers, writers and businessmen. I hope this inspires you to be the best that you can be. Not perfect, not a genius – just a divinely inspired you

Read the rest of Beka's posts for IBPF here

Comments

Thank you for your writing. It was very inspirational.

I'm fascinated that the Greeks recognized the brain as an organ from which our emotions & thoughts emerge, and that they recognized BPD & describe the symptoms of BPD so accurately.

Wow. This makes me feel a lot better about my BPD. Thanks! ♡.

thank you so much for posting this it really helped lift my spirits!

I always knew it:)

Wow. As a nurse I am so inspired to hear that Florence Nightingale may have had BPD. Thank you, this is truly inspiring and touching!

Such an awesome perspective on the greatness of Bipolar. Is it ok for me to share your article with my Bipolar Disorder support group?

Hi Sheyla, yes it is ok to share this or any of our articles with your support group. Thank you!

What a uplift! I too believe that having bipolar is a divine gift, I feel most spiritual while Even keeled after a high. Thank you!

It was gratifying to read this article because it illistrates the positive contributions, insights, and depth those who have the gift have historically had. Additionally, it appears as if the community understood it's merits and valued those struggled through it.

This is beautiful! There is always a high price to pay for a gift that can't be bought...

Thank you for this article. Bipolar Disorder is truly a divine gift.

I just recently had my first manic episode where I was certain the greek gods were speaking to me. Not only the greek gods, but also the norse, the prophets from the bible, etc... I would stare up at the stars and thought the stars are the gods and they are the ones giving me life-changing ideas that I cannot wait to research. Everything you have written is what I've been trying to tell my family. This is a gift, not an illness. I feel sorry for the ones that are too weakminded to see this perspective. I have so much more to add but I dont want to rambling all over a comment forum. let me know if you'd like further contact.

Hey I have had 2 manic episodes where I think they are drug induced to start off with but I thought I was Jesus and thought I was communicating with spirits and aliens talking to me in my head and knew all these things that I never knew before but when they brought me to the first phychward the heavy medication didn't effect my visions for a whole month maybe longer. And after that I feel like my brain my washed of my memory and I feel dumber and cloudy

Before I knew what I had, I had some utter bizzare episodes! The thing is though, out of them, I learned to paint, draw, write, learn instruments like the people I aspired to be lol it can be a curse, but at the same time a gift.

I too am bipolar and am a writer. My manias are mostly euphoric and my mind invents a lot of stories and poems. I mostly see being bipolar as a living hell--I am so often reeling with thoughts and emotions that come so fast I cannot stop to think. I haven't had a severe depression for a few years (touch wood), but the depressions are pure hell. I almost killed myself a few times. But regarding creativity, when I have been only hypomanic I saw the intimate, hidden relationship between all things and saw a glimpse into heaven. My work shows evidence of my illness--immense pain followed by soaring into the heavens. Though I feel so sad over the fact that my experience has been outside the boundaries of normal human experience and I am always having bizarre, iconclastic ideas which set me up for social rejection, I doubt I could have been or currently be writing with such a biting insight into the human condition or the glories of love and life if I hadn't had this illness.

Thank you so much for writing this. I need to give some back ground for setup to connect to this post. I have been Bi-Polar my whole life, but only diagnosed and starting medication about 3 years ago. I am 49 now. I have been really struggling for the last few years, lost a nephew to suicide that really messed me up. I stopped taking Clonazapam under my doctor's advice. I was only using it for sleep - and it was the magic pill. So since being off it for the last 8 months, I don't sleep very well. I am lucky to get 5 hours a night, but NEVER uninterrupted. I have been waking up between 3-4 am almost every day since. I rencently searched this wake up time on internet, this week actually, and found a very interesting site that stated those hours are the key hours for the spiritual veil. The site went on the explain that that is the time specifically for your spirit guide to communicate with you. Now, I spend alot of time on interent and I do believe in spirit guides, but I get skeptical since there are so many things on internet, and I have never actually had an encounter or communicated with mine, so I just put it aside. Last night I woke up at 4am (every other nite this week was 3 or 3:30) and I decided to talk to mine. I thought, "this is dumb, I am probably talking to myself inside my own head", becasue I do that, too. Don't remember exactly how I started the "conversation", but I heard "Embrace your gift?. Of course, I kept asking to make sure that I wasn't making this shit up, but the key to my story is the part about embracing my "gift". I wrote it down and put it out of my mind, but just now I decided to google "Bi-Polar gift" which led me here. After reading past the first 3 paragraphs or so, I just started crying. I felt this overwhelming sense of acceptance and purpose, something I rarely feel. Whatever really happened at 4am, not sure, but it did put the idea in my head that led me to this site. I do feel very gifted right now, although, that will probably change later today, LOL, but I feel inspried to draw, create, use my natural talents for something creative, which lately has been sporadic and only during my manic episodes. I really never push forward as I am a mom of 4 teenagers, so life gets busy. Anyway, thank you to all that let me setup this long story, but I appreciate being able to share. So thank you again.

Bi-polar type I with psychotic episodes, 44 years old. We are gifted, I just came out of a long manic episode where I did not sleep for 12 days straight, I simply did not need to sleep. I was so productive, connected to the world, I could see the connections between all things, solve problems I usually can't, felt what other were feelings and could adapt my response to them to help them and make them feel better. In that state, we're using part of our brains we can't normally access, it is euphoric. I refused to take anti-psychotic medication during my stay in the psychiatric ward (not my first rodeo) because I wanted to fully feel and better understand where the brain goes in such a state. It was exhilarating feeling my brain going from "normal" to this "instinctive beast" racing at 10 times it's normal speed. I believe many greats of have walked this earth and made it better were undiagnosed bipolar. I've been trying to harness the power of the manic brain while in a "normal" state, I'm still struggling (watch the movie Limitless; it illustrates what it's like to be manic when he takes the pill). But some of the good stuff remains; while you are manic, you connect directly with your true self and what you want in life, for me it's very simple: I want to have a positive impact, help myself become a better expression of myself and help others. And that, I can do with a 'normal' brain. I won't talk about the crashing down pahse that follow, we hear to much about that phase. Keep up the hard work fellow bipolar friends, enjoy your gift and keep your head up during the thougher times. Love you all fellow mutants ;)

Thank you so much for writing this interesting and historical filled piece. I actually read this first in 2015 and it stuck a chord in me. I definitely had mania that is caused by mental strain and anxiety. But this piece perfectly describes the devine sense of pure and wholesome mania I experienced as a 16 year old. It truly felt divine and I do really appreciate that this has been captured in writing. I hope the original poster sees this :)

I now see my bipolar in a new light, as a 'gift' rather than a 'disorder,' this post made me feel less alone. Again, I am soso glad I came across this post, it really resonated with me. I hope you realise how many people you are helping by simply sharing your knowledge, so thank you. :)

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