I have the gift of Bipolar Disorder; so it is believed did Leonardo DaVinci and Van Gogh, my mentors as artists and writers. For more than most of my life time, 20 years to be exact, I didn’t know I had the illness, and just thought I was different from other people. I was crazy, wild, and had periods of severe depression, where I went into my studio and hid in bed for days on end. Most people did not know I was sick. They just saw me as erratic and difficult to get along with.
Often I felt life was not worth living. Like William Styron, who in his memoir of depression DARKNESS VISIBLE quotes Camus saying, “Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental problem of Philosophy,” I was constantly asking myself that question. Twice I found myself answering that life wasn’t worth it and attempted suicide. Once in college I ingested 150 aspirin tablets and a bottle of scotch, but survived. I spent a month or more on the mental ward of a large hospital. I didn’t learn much except if you want to get out of the hospital, learn to play sane. Once when much older and it appeared that my life had completely failed. (My life as an artist had gone nowhere. My career as an architect was a dismal failure. My writing was blocked.) I attempted to jump off a bridge. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put other people’s lives at risk in order to end my own.
I was placed in the hospital again and this time diagnosed as Bipolar One. The beginning of a big change happened for me. I finally got off drugs. For years I had self-medicated with cocaine and marijuana. I finally got the help I needed with my extreme mood swings. And it wasn’t the 12 steps, which hadn’t worked for me in the two times I placed myself in drug treatment programs where the prescription was to give it up to God. Well, God alone could not do it for me. I needed medication and I got it. Immediately, I didn’t want crack or pot anymore. Gradually my severe mood swings lessened and I began to feel like a whole person rather than two different people: one a likeable and gentle person and other a disagreable and violent person. The former was male, but the latter was female. I lived for many years a split life.
As legal medical drugs calmed me down, however I could see that all that happened to me was not bad. My mania gave me an energy and the courage to try new things. My depression gave me an understanding of the low points life can reach. I have had a wide range of experiences, which are a gift to only the few, and if we can keep ourselves from self-destruction we have much to offer the world in terms of insight and compassion. I know now that I can answer the question “is life worth living?” in the affirmative.