Sometimes having Bipolar really sucks. It can feel unfair. To try and keep myself sane and positive I try to reflect on some of the strengths that come with the condition. One that immediately jumps to mind for, for example, is my creativity. But when I think a bit more on it something that really stands out to me is my ability to tolerate diverse emotions.
I remember once in my Psychology Assessment class we we were playing around with the NEO; a test that measures the Big 5 personality traits (Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism). One of the things that really stood out on my personality profile was my Openness to experience score. I was through the roof. This means that I appreciate art, creativity, philosophical and abstract discussion. I am inventive, independent and enjoy exploring unusual ideas and places. I prefer variety in my life and seek out adventure and challenges.
Of particular interest is the facet scores of Openness to experience scale. Each personality trait on the NEO is made up of six facets. Each facet for Openness to experience has eight questions on the NEO measure dedicated to it. The facet that I feel most strongly explores how my Bipolar influences my personality is the facet openness to emotion. My openness to emotion score fell into the top of the very high range. Basically, if this were an exam I got an A+ on openness to emotion. Openness to emotion is concerned with how people interpret their emotions. Do they enjoy feeling emotion deeply? Do they feel shame when they experience strong emotion or do they embrace it?
I think having Bipolar has given me no choice to but to be open to diverse emotions. I have to tolerate extremes in emotion and I can either resist them or I can ride the waves. This means giving my emotions meaning or realising that sometimes they have no meaning. This means understanding sometimes that strong emotions can coexist. For instance, in mixed episodes where I might be full of energy and excited whilst also feeling depressed and desolate. I have had to accept this as part of my reality.
Accepting strong, sometimes conflicting, emotions as part of my reality helps me a lot in daily life. Often in ways you would not expect. For instance, when Kevin Spacey’s questionable (to put it lightly) sexual antics were revealed my partner felt a lot of cognitive dissonance. He was a huge fan of Spacey’s and felt he could no longer be a fan of his because of what he did, but deep down still loved his work. This created a lot of conflict for my partner. Whereas for me, the idea that I can love someone as an artist and hate them as a person doesn’t cause me any dissonance at all. I am okay with those emotions co-existing in the same body. My tolerance for strong and diverse emotions is higher than that of others. And I feel that that is a reflection of my high degree of openness to emotion that wouldn’t really be a trait of mine without my exposure to Bipolar disorder.
Bipolar kicks my butt on the regular. But there are some areas of life where it has come in handy. My Bipolar has given me the ability to be open to experiencing the world and complex emotion in a way that others may not be comfortable doing. And on my darkest of days, I remind myself to be thankful for that.