Two of my best friends got married a few years ago. It was one of the loveliest weddings I’ve been to, with family and friends coming together from both sides to celebrate the couple in the beautiful Dominican Republic. I made the very smart choice (and I’m dripping with sarcasm here) to give a quick toast to the wonderful couple. At least that was the plan…I got one sentence in before I started getting weepy. The second sentence wasn’t so lucky. I started tearing up and was full on sobbing in under a minute, all the while trying to get out my toast coherently. I somehow finished my speech, sat down and cried for another 15 or 20 minutes.

I was just so happy in that moment that I was overcome with emotion and the tears flowed uncontrollably. I felt a joy I had not often felt in my life, and my life had by no means been lacking in joy. I was overwhelmed watching two of my best friends start the next chapter of their journeys, surrounded by the people who cared most about them in the world. It was a slightly embarrassing event for me, but it felt like it was beyond my control.

When I ask my friends what they think my strengths are, they often talk about my interpersonal skills or my breadth of knowledge. But if I strip away the non-essentials from such attributes, what I’m really left with is a deep passion for everything and everyone. I get along well with people because I feel a deep connection and often affection for most people I meet. The same is true of knowledge – I have this need to learn everything to the best of my ability so I can connect it all. That is my passion at work. When I feel something deeply, I feel it in a way that I don’t think others do. My excitement, whether for a new subject, a person, or an event, feels like every cell in my body is vibrating.

I’ve spent a lot of the past few years trying to figure out where the bipolar disorder ends, and I begin. It’s hard to know what is a symptom, and what is a personality trait. My disorder creates highs and lows that are out of my control, but even in my neutral state, I sometimes question which part of my brain is in control. Part of coming to terms with the disorder is learning how to better manage it. Another part, maybe even more significant, is accepting that it’s not always easy to find that line between disorder (the not me) and personality (the real me). In fact, more and more often, I find myself not wanting to find the line.

I get happier than others do. I get sadder than others do. The most mundane for others is the most exceptional for me. A passing moment for others is often a moment that brings me to my knees. Even my neutral is filled with a lot more excitement and pizzazz. The trade-off is that I’m generally more anxious than the average person, even in a neutral state, but it’s a trade-off worth making because it makes my life an endless adventure. What often in the past felt like my emotions running amok I now see as an opportunity to feel as deeply as I can and to share those feelings with others.

My passion is my superpower, and being bipolar – especially my hypomanic phases – have contributed to that. I’m sure my depressive phases have too – depression is often when I do some of my best thinking and discover new interests unintentionally. I’m not trying to compartmentalize pieces of myself into the little boxes of disorder versus personality anymore. Of course, I have to make sure I do the work to keep my disorder under control. Of course I can’t just indulge in the worst of me because that short term relief can turn into long-term pain. But I can allow it to bring out the best of me, which is my passion.

I mentioned crying at the wedding. I think I did enough crying for all of the attendees – I’m not exaggerating when I say that I probably cried more than the rest of the wedding party combined, newlyweds included. The wedding took place about halfway through our weeklong stay in the Dominican. I had already built some very good relationships with people prior to the ceremony, but the wedding was a bit of a turning point in that everyone wanted to be my friend after the toast. I think they saw how much love I had for the bride and groom, and I think they appreciated that. This is a part of my passion too. I cry at the most mundane and the most spectacular. I have learned over time that this is common among people with bipolar disorder.

I recently read a novel called “Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See” by Juliann Garey about a character who lives with bipolar disorder. There was a passage in the book where this character has a childhood memory of crying over the suffering of a fish he had caught while on a fishing trip with his father. As an often emotional child, the story really resonated with me:

When she was out of earshot, he held my arms tight so I was looking right at him—so tight it almost hurt. “I don’t know if you’re going to understand this, Greyson, but I’m going to tell you anyway. You should never be afraid to cry.”

“But boys—” I started to say.

“No, not just because it’s okay for boys to cry too. But because, Greyson, you are very lucky. Not everyone can feel things as deeply as you. Most people, their feelings are … bland, tasteless. They’ll never understand what it’s like to read a poem and feel almost like they’re flying, or to see a bleeding fish and feel grief that shatters their heart. It’s not a weakness, Grey. It’s what I love about you most.” Then he hugged me. Hard. And I’m not sure, but he might have been crying.

I don’t apologize for crying the way I used to, because others don’t understand how deeply happy or sad I feel in those moments. It is of course embarrassing to think about my emotional toast and how out of place it was in the moment (and it’s something I’ll never forget because it was caught on video), but I’m not sure what else I could’ve done in that situation. I felt something so strongly, I felt love so deeply, that I didn’t stand a chance. The tears were going to come, because the joy truly was that deep.

The tears haven’t stopped but they have led me to reflect on my life, especially since my diagnosis. It’s been a difficult two years coming to terms with my bipolar disorder. It’s been hard trying to understand how to change my behaviors and my thinking. It’s hard to know how I look at myself and figure out what’s a symptom and what’s me.

I know my passion is me at my truest. I think every aspect of my disorder contributes to that. Everything that is not my disorder also contributes to that. So instead of trying to draw a line in the sand, I’m gratefully embracing every aspect that plays a part in making me who I am. Having bipolar has made me a more passionate person. Having bipolar has allowed me to feel a depth of emotion that others just don’t. Having bipolar has allowed me to understand that I don’t need to always apologize for myself. Because if I lose the bipolar, then I lose a bit of the passion. And if I lose my passion, I lose myself.

And who would I be if not the person who cries more at the wedding than the bride and groom, because I really do feel that happy?

I wanted to add a mini epilogue to this post to clarify some things.

First of all, I want to be very clear about the way I look at my bipolar disorder – I have something that interferes with my life, and I don’t look at it as a blessing. Nor do I believe in “just living with it” without getting help. I have a GP (doctor) who is aware of my disorder and provides support, I talk to a psychiatrist who helps me stay on course with my medications, I see a therapist who teaches me to better control myself, and I have been working through multiple workbooks specifically for bipolar disorder (and will continue to do so). It is important to get all the help you can when you have a mental disorder, because living without help is what causes some of our most difficult times and puts unfair burdens on our loved ones.

In this piece, I was trying to convey that I’ve been working to change how I look at my bipolar disorder and take a glass half-full approach. My life would be better without the disorder – I’m very clear on that. However, the disorder has contributed certain positive things, and I want to be grateful for those. I am making the most of a difficult situation and accepting those things that I can’t change, because what I ultimately care about is being the “me-est” me I can be. I am a person of passion, and if bipolar disorder has in any way contributed to the deep feelings that often consume me, I’ll take it.

Image Credit: Photo by Kashawn Hernandez on Unsplash

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