On the benefits of having a mental illness (and the power of music)

Most of the time, I focus on the parts of my mental illness that are bad. The mood swings, the depressions, the vigilance I need to keep to guard against mania and hypomania. But it’s not all negative.

It feels weird to talk about the positives of having mental health problems, but I believe there are some. I think struggling with mental illness can make me more empathetic. Another positive is creativity.

The past few days, I’ve been thinking about the coping strategies that keep me from melting down. One of the biggest coping strategies for me is creativity and doing something creative.

My mood has been going up and down lately, and I’ve experienced some very low moments. I’m worried about my lack of work and I’m also worried about the state of the world. I know I can’t control what’s going on in the world, but the stuff I’ve been hearing and reading still upsets me.

Last night, when I felt very low, I laid in bed and listened to one of my favorite albums. After about thirty minutes of listening, I felt better. I’ve been listening to my favorite music more often the past few days and it’s boosted my mood.

I’m astounded sometimes by how powerful music is. I think it opens a window into the soul. When I listen to some of my favorite artists and songs, sometimes I cry, sometimes I get goosebumps, and sometimes I feel a surge of raw emotion that almost makes me feel as if I’m on a drug.

Along with the mental suffering, I’m also able to experience immense joy and feelings of love. Though I may freak out sometimes, I feel I’m in touch with my emotions – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m not a musician, but I love music. Growing up, my father was a huge Aerosmith and classic rock fan. He was a rock ‘n roll guy. I’ve probably seen Aerosmith in concert a dozen times. My dad was in the band’s fan club and I have fond memories of seeing them live and rocking out together.

My point is this: Yes, I have problems with intense and overwhelming emotions. I can be very moody, I have a bad temper, and I often fall into dark depressions at least a few times a month.

But there’s a flip side to it. Along with the mental suffering, I’m also able to experience immense joy and feelings of love. Though I may freak out sometimes, I feel I’m in touch with my emotions – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I don’t know what it’s like for other people or what their emotional experiences are like. Perhaps what I just described is common for everyone, or particular for people with bipolar. I’m not sure.

What I do know is that living with a mental illness doesn’t mean I’m broken. It just means I’m a little off-kilter and very emotional. But I would never want to change that about myself.

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