Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bi-Polar Bears

A number of years ago, a friend of mine pointed out this quote to me and said that it was, to her, a description of bi-polar disorder:
But for the burning of their souls and the sighing of their hearts, they would be drowned in the midst of their tears, and but for the flood of their tears they would be burnt up by the fire of their hearts and the heat of their souls. Methinks, they are like the angels which Thou hast created of snow and of fire.

We had been talking about mental disorders and how they can affect our service to the Faith.

Before I continue, I should mention that I seem to have a degree of bi-polarism (is that a word?) within me. But then again, I think any mental disorder is contained within each of us. It only becomes a "disorder" if it dis-orders our life. And although I have never been diagnosed with it by a profesional, it has greatly helped me live my life to recognize that tendancy within me.

How, you ask? Once again, dear Reader, I am gratified by your ability to pick up on such questions.

A number of years ago, when I went overseas, a friend requested that I keep an "emotional diary", to track my daily moods. After a few months, a very strong, and clear, pattern began to emerge. I had chosen to assign a completely objective number to each day, ranging from 10, very happy, to -10, very sad. When I graphed them out, they formed a perfect sine wave.

Shortly after discovering this about myself, I also noticed that if I drank alcohol (it was before I was Baha'i), or caffeine, my sine wave became more extreme. This may have been fun when I recorded my moods as a 12 or 15, but if I gave in to that temptation, then the lows were far worse. I think I bottomed out one day when I put down -100. Not a good thing.

It was shortly after this observation that I became a Baha'i. That took care of the alcohol, but I still have to be sure to not drink coffee when I'm in a manic high or a depressed low.

Aside from those two simple dietary changes, this observation of my moods has had another effect on my life: I can plan more effectively in advance. I can pretty much predict when my mood extremes will hit, and be ready for them.

This has been, quite probably, one of the greatest assets in my life. I would not change it for anything.

When I am going to be in my low, I try to make sure that I pray even more than usual, stay at home when I can and study the Writings. Quite often I try and study the history of the Faith, as this makes my lows seem trivial in comparison. While I may not be able to read with as much swift comprehension as when I am in a high, I can still get quite a bit out of it. I also use that time to research paticular themes within the Writings and see what gems I can uncover.

When I am in my high, or know that I will be, I try and schedule public talks. It is at those times that I can give my all, and exude enthusiasm on stage, so to speak.

I am also willing to bet that you, dear Reader, can see which part of my cycle I am in, now that I have confided in you. It is often very amusing to me to look at all the draft articles I have started when I am in my high phase. A few of them are actually fairly useful, but most of them just ramble. If they survive the draft folder for a few cycles, and I still feel I can do something with them, they I will try and finish them, but mostly they get ditched after a few weeks. Sometimes I keep them around just for amusement sake.

When I am speaking with people who suffer from bi-polar tendancies, they often ask me how I cope. My answer is that I don't. I do not see it as a struggle, but rather as a tool. I use this tendancy to the best effect that I can.

The other aspect of it is that I do not give in to the tendancy to dwell on the odd things that come into my mind when I'm in a low. It is sort of the extreme version of "When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love." If bizarre and unpleasant thoughts begin to creep in, I just think of something pleasant, instead.

"But how", I am often asked, "do you do that?"

It is like getting up in the morning. When the alarm goes off, you just get out of bed. You don't think about it, or question it: you just do it. There may be other ways, but I haven't found them yet.

The flip side of this is that I also do not give in to the tendencies to try and do incredible things when I am in my high. Most of what I would want to try and accomplish is unreasonable and can only lead to a great depression when I fail, which would also coincide with the start of my low.

But in the end, this is just another example of how I live my life. While I try and take each day as it comes, I also look for trends that stand out that will help me in my life.

The quote that I used at the beginning, the one about the angels of snow and fire, also seems to describe a manner of dealing with bi-polar. When our souls are burdened with our tears, and when we feel the world is going to crumble around us, then we boost ourselves back up with the fire of our love of God. And when we are going to be consumed with our burning of our love of God, and we want to jump for joy and shout out our enthusiasm to the world, we can temper that with the flood of our tears. The flood is like the low and the fire is like the high, and they can balance each other out, to the beneft of both ourselves and those around us.

It is a call to moderation. 'Abdu'l-Baha calls moderation "a natural way of life".  Baha'u'llah reminds us that "Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence." He also tells us that everything in the world is "subject to this same principle of moderation."

So why not our emotional state?

Besides, the image of these angels of snow and fire is quite beautiful. Wouldn't you like to be an angel like that?


  1. I really adore your blog. I had never read that verse before and it is both breathtakingly beautiful and helpful in understanding life and the purpose of emotion. Thank you for this post and I look forward to working through your archive. They way you can work through Writings and how they apply to life with concrete examples is quite helpful and I shall meditate on how I too can do this throughout this fast.

  2. Thanks for these very interesting insights, and for the vivid description offered in the quote. Your comments about trying to moderate your emotional state remind me of this:

    Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more.
    (Baha'u'llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)

  3. Hi,
    I just stumbled across your blog. I googled Baha'i and Bipolar several years ago and found nothing. I was struggling to "keep the faith" so to speak when my life was so tumultuous. No matter how many long healing prayers, I got ill, very ill, again and again. The last decade has been very very tough, but with the clarity of a proper diagnosis, and not just a growing suspicion, and the start of proper treatment, there's hope? I don't think I can survive another decade like the last one. So I just wanted to say thanks for your blog and for your honesty. It is helping people like me who feel marooned on the choppy seas of bipolar.

  4. I have never heard of this prayer before, but am grateful to have stumbled across it through your blog. Reading the full prayer, I feel like there may be some meaning to the madness and the suffering of bipolar. Its a real paradigm shifter.

    On another note, you said "I do not see it as a struggle, but rather as a tool. I use this tendancy to the best effect that I can", I think you may need to apply a caveat. This may be more difficult for those who do not display a sine wave-like pattern to their bipolar. Those whose episodes are extreme and erratic, crippling, difficult to mask and so extremely disruptive to their studies, and work and relationships. I have cumulatively lost years of my life to this illness, it is not simply a tendency. Although I like your ideas of how to work with it, for some people professional treatment is still required.

  5. Dear Anonymous,

    You are very correct about that caveat. I did not mean to imply that it is not a struggle for others, only that it is not one for me.

    What helped me the most was to recognize the barest hint of a sine wave pattern, and then to eliminate those things in my life (like coffee, sugar, alcohol before I was a Baha'i, and so forth) that interfered with that sine wave pattern. Once I did that, the sine wave became far more pronounced.

    In the event that it is more drastic, I would highly encourage seeking professional medical attention. There is so much out there that is available for people with all sorts of mental illnesses, and we would be very silly not to use them.

    Thanks for pointing this out.

    1. My daughter just posted me your blog. Its very heartening to read about other Bahai's who also have Bi-polar. I would like to share this poem with whoever may like to read it.

      Two Polar Bears.

      One bear can become slower
      lose confidence
      become unfluffy, and just plod around.

      The other bear can be very energetic
      darting to and fro oozing creativity, very motivated and cuddly.

      The space between my two bears is the best place to be
      without too much of this and too much of that.

      Its good to have some of the 'this'
      the cuddly bear.

      I have known my bears through experience
      acceptance, knowledge and medication.

      My polar bears are happy and contented most of the time
      though they need regular care and attention.

      They live side by side, they are a part of me but they don't define me.

      They are Bi-polar, my two bears and I am me.

      Jess Habibi