Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18)
“While she might not have opted for this illness, neither does she entirely regret it; she prefers, as she writes so movingly, a life of passionate turbulence to one of tedious calm.” ― Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness.
This Thanksgiving I am grateful for many things. I’ll name five: Food to eat. A roof above my head. Family members who care for me. Faithful friends who make me laugh. And my mental illness.
Yes, I am grateful for my mental illness. I have come to prefer the “passionate turbulence” of bipolar disorder to the “tedious calm” of being “normal”. This is not to say I enjoy all aspects of my illness. Sometimes it is a pain in the ass. Sometimes it robs me of hope and challenges my faith. At my worst, I have become irritable almost to the point of being aggressive. Once I even tried to end my life because my illness convinced me that this would be better than continuing to struggle.
Still, I am thankful. Not just in spite of my illness, but because of it. Having sunk to the depths of despair, I can better feel the elation of peaks. At my best, I am keenly sensitive to the feelings of those around me. I can intuit what others can’t express. If I said I am telepathic, you would think I was crazy (which I am), but this experience hints at it.
Another aspect of my illness I am grateful for is how it points to a path for creative expression. Now, I don’t believe all crazy people are creative any more than all creative people are crazy. It is more that an unquiet mind listens for voices within, among, and around, that convey the beauty of existence in all its raw, disturbing, convicting sense. These are the voices revealed in artistic expression.
I was talking with a friend this week about psychotropic drugs. He is diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder (sort of like bipolar with psychotic features). I asked him:
Me: Have you ever gone off your meds?
Friend: I thought they were numbing my spirit.
Me: What do you think now?
Friend: I still think they numb my spirit, but I take them.
Friend: Because I don’t want to die.
Strange as it sounds, it is easier for me to be grateful for my illness than for my medication. This is in many respects absolutely unique compared to other illnesses. If I have a migraine, I am much more grateful for the pain reliever that makes the splitting headache go away. If I am a diabetic, I am much more grateful for the insulin that regulates my body than for the extremes that wreak so much havoc. Even those who have psychic pain and long for escape crave and become ecstatically addicted to such drugs as opioids.
Not so with psychotropics. Not for me. I would much rather experience the natural high and creative juices my abnormal mind generates to any chemical that would stifle it.
So why do I take them? Can I give thanks for them as well?
Yes. I give thanks for the pills that keep me from the sort of self-expression that would lead to self-destruction.
How about you?
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