Since August of this year, I have been exploring the insides of my mind in greater detail. If you read this blog regularly, you are pretty likely aware of the fluctuations in my mood, and the rationality of my behaviour.
If you get the chance, find and watch The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive hosted by Stephen Fry. In his open, intelligent and witty way, Fry tackles the topic of Bipolar Disorders (oh yes, there are more than one), including his own. If you can find it (you will have to try all of the usual channels to get it in North America), watch it.
So, why am I openly discussing the fact that I am Bipolar in a public forum? Why would I confess to the world, to people who may in the future meet me, or even consider hiring me?
It’s simple. Many months ago, I wrote that if you were going to hire me based on what I had done in the past, or what school I went to, I most likely wouldn’t want to work for your company anyway. The same applies to this illness, this condition I suffer from. If you or your company won’t hire me because I suffer from an illness that is beyond my control, that I will have for the rest of my life, why would I work for your firm?
I have had Bipolar for a long time. I can track the behaviours that identify the condition back into my childhood, through my teens, through until today. Normally, the cycling that I go through is benign, punctuated by periods of utter and complete hyperfocus. Most of the time, hyperfocus is a benefit for me — it is what got me through re-building the GrabPERF interface last year, and helped power me to absorb and write as much on Web performance as I have.
The manic side does have its pitfalls. My mania usually results in buying and spending sprees that have often endangered my financial stability. An example of this is my acquisition or stationery supplies, pen, notebooks and books.
Two weeks ago, I cleaned out my desk and aggregated all of the writing instruments I have purchased over the last 12 months. When I was done, I had filled a 1-gallon Zip-Lock baggie with pens, pencils, highlighters and Sharpies.
In my lifetime, I could never use them all.
I fanatically acquire notebooks. Rhodia, Moleskine, Rite-in-the-Rain, anything. How many of them have I written in? Well, lets just say that my kids will be using my blank notebook collection for many years after I have departed this world.
The spending sprees, the intense desire for the acquisition of things, is my most noticeable manifestation of manic behaviour. In most instances, the manic process starts to wind down after a while. In a few instances, it continues upward. It continues upward until my rational mind dissipates, and I start ranting and raving, making irrational and potentially destructive choices in my life. Choices that have (or could have) affected the course of my life.
I suffer from a small subset of the condition, Bipolar I. What differentiates this group from the standard “manic-depressive” or Bipolar diagnosis is that is more MANIC-depressive, with a sustained emphasis on the manic episodes. Depressive episodes occur, don’t get me wrong; but it is the intense and unstoppable mania that has shaped me more than the depression.
However, this condition is not “curable” in the standard way. It also doesn’t manifest any physical symptoms. So in most cases, people just say that I need to get a grip and get on with my life. I am grateful that I have an understanding and (in some cases) forgiving wife who is intent on helping me control and regulate my behaviour. I am also extremely lucky that my current manager understands this part of me, and gives me the freedom I need to ebb and flow with the condition.
To wrap this up (I hate long postings), I leave you with this thought. In his programme, Fry asks his interview subjects the following question (and I paraphrase it here):
If there was a button you could push, a button that cured you of this condition, and gave you a normal mind, would you press it?
Only one of the interview subjects said yes. Everyone else said that despite the pain and suffering that accompanies the condition, there is no way that they would be willing to give back the state of mind that allowed them to achieve what they had achieved.
We are not in our right mind. And I am proud of that.
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