Tradeoffs I Have Made in Bipolar Recovery

Author: Violette Kay

It has been two years since my last major episode, and although I will always push back against the notions that mania/depression/suffering in general magically makes people creative and that taking medication (or any other steps towards stability) kills that creative spark, I will concede that I have not been creating as much since I got my bipolar disorder under control. However, it is not because I “lost” my creativity. Rather, I have been seduced by the simple joys and comforts of a “normal” life.

Being an artist was chaotic and exciting and dramatic, and also painful and exhausting. A labor of love, or so I told myself, but really I did it because I wasn’t able to do anything else. Back when I was cycling through hypomania, depression and mixed episodes all the time, I couldn’t get through university, or hold a job, or do much of anything really. But I could make art. Not particularly good art, mind you, but art nonetheless. “Artist” was the only job volatile and wildly inconsistent enough to accommodate my mental illness, the only job as volatile and wildly inconsistent as me. I needed to create, it was my entire being, my life force. Now, I simply don’t need it anymore. I can do other things – and I want to. I haven’t lost my creativity; I still have it, but now I have other things too.

Since my brain stopped being too busy attacking itself all the time, I have also had the chance to do a lot of self-reflection, which has brought along a fair share of not-so-fun realizations. “Hmm… hardly anyone I have worked on a creative project with is my friend anymore… What could possibly be the common denominator?” I finally see the part I played in various fallings-out and oh boy does the truth hurt. But while a part of me misses the sweet, sweet bliss of ignorance, I know I am better off knowing. What I choose to do with that knowledge remains to-be-determined, but it probably involves a whole bunch of apologies and – fingers crossed – maybe a tiny sliver of forgiveness.

I know a lot of people are afraid to get better because they don’t really know who they are without their suffering. I certainly was. I remember feeling like my illness took up so much space in my life, so much of my personality, to the point where I worried that if one were to remove the illness there would be nothing left. I am happy to report that I was wrong. I am not my suffering, I never have been, and I am more myself without it. Throughout this long stretch of stability, I finally got to discover who I really am, and I unironically love myself so much. I used to think I was a negative person… turns out I was just in pain. Discovering my innate optimism and large capacity for joy has been the most incredible journey, and even if I had been different, perhaps less easy to love, I think it would have been worth it. I think it’s worth shedding that heavy layer of suffering no matter who you find underneath.

I am scared to go back into the world, post-pandemic. I worry that I have changed to the point of being unrecognizable and that what people liked about me, whatever that was, is gone. I worry that I’ve become boring, that I’ve grown too comfortable in the small pond I live in. I know most of my drive and ambition has been replaced with acceptance and I see how not everyone might see that as a good thing. But I firmly believe that I have changed for the better, and I dare to hypothesize that my suffering is not the part of me that anyone liked best. I hope that my friends, colleagues, acquaintances old and new will be open to getting to know this new me, the real me. And maybe they’ll even like her, like I do.

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