Shannon Cuthrell on World Bipolar Day

ShannonAs March 30th welcomes World Bipolar Day, my mind rewinds to my scrambling highs and lows as a victim of this deeply complex disorder. This is a time for patients and families to unionize and embrace the exact thing that shreds apart families, steals lives and intoxicates the mind. A common misconception is that humans must declare war on mental illness, but why not embrace it as a necessary evil? Celebrate World Bipolar Day by clutching the mental illness with your hands and drive it like one would control the wheel of a fire red Ferrari. Because that’s what mental illness is. It’s an intricate and complicated vehicle with the power to cruise calmly or terminate a life.

As a writer, bipolar disorder had the capacity to transform my writing in countless ways. In the rapid intensity of mania, creative thoughts brewed inside of me, but I didn’t have the focus to put them on paper. You can see the jumbled fractions of my brain visually through these self-portraits I drew from the heights of impenetrable mania.

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When the euphoria of mania subsided, the darkness began to take hold. Dark thoughts and a sour taste of reality came crashing down on me, brushing my entire being. It was then that I wrote:

I thought coming home would lift up some of the darkness that latched onto me over the course of the last six months, but it hasn’t. I’m surrounded by people who love me and I’ve never felt more alone. No amount of psychotherapy and medication is going to fix me. I’m just going to have to get over the fact that I’m going to be numb to things that make people smile, as much as I pretend that I’m not. I’m becoming increasingly aware that I’m always going to struggle with mental health challenges. Concepts like marriage and future children — things I’ve looked forward to all my life — suddenly now seem so foreign and impossible. I feel so incredibly helpless and that makes me more terrified than anything.

At this point in my life, I had given up. I had accepted that I would feel senseless to most emotions that people thrive after. I was wrong. Without this disorder, I wouldn’t have the strength in my writing. The imaginative ideas that came to me during mania, coupled with the recovery from depression gave me this untouchable sense of focus that gave my writing more significance and center than it ever would have if I had remained mentally stable. It is only when you’ve experienced the darkest of the dark of every emotion that you can finally enjoy life in a more clear way than everyone else.

Don’t misread me. This illness is nasty. It should not be glamorized nor stigmatized. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But as a nation, I think the most mature thing to do on World Bipolar Day would be to embrace the illness, because it is in fact inevitable. Instead of ignoring it or despising it, we must channel it.

Shannon Cuthrell

Shannon Cuthrell is an English and Journalism major from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. In addition to being a dedicated student, she also devotes a significant amount of time to writing poetry, observing the great Appalachian mountains and consuming copious amounts of coffee.