Are People with Bipolar Disorder More Intelligent?

I recently wrote about the myth that you can be “too smart” to have bipolar disorder. I wrote about the prejudicial and false thought that if we were “smart enough” we wouldn’t have bipolar. This, of course, isn’t remotely true.

A couple of people requested more about bipolar disorder and intelligence.

But I’m sorry to say, the truth is, people with bipolar disorder are actually cognitively impaired compared to the average individual.

What is Intelligence?

One of the troubles with asking, “who is intelligent?” is that you need a definition for intelligence. Scientists want something specific, repeatable and reliable. The intelligent quotient (IQ) is not generally considered one of those things. So scientists measure “cognitive deficits.” In other words, they take a very specific component of brain function and measure it. Examples include vocabulary, memory, spatial reasoning and cognitive speed. “Intelligence” itself is a moving target and open to interpretation.

42-16761486Cognitive Deficits in Bipolar Disorder

As bipolar disorder is a brain illness, it shouldn’t really come as a big surprise it affects more than just the parts of the brain involved in mood. Scientists have measured all sorts of cognitive dysfunction in bipolar disorder. Here is some of what they have found, both positive and negative:

  • Cognitive dysfunction in verbal memory; dysfunction severity was linked to duration and severity of illness (Depressed, manic/hypomanic and bipolar is remission measured.)
  • Bipolars on antipsychotic drugs showed lower IQ, memory and working memory scores. Duration of illness created greater memory impairment but did not affect IQ or working memory. Family history of affective disorders correlated to higher IQ. (Measured in bipolar I patients.)
  • Visuospatial reasoning impairment seen in before manifestation of bipolar. Higher score in arithmetic reasoning was associated with a more than 12-fold greater risk in developing bipolar disorder.
  • Large dysfunction noted in: working memory, executive control, fluency and verbal memory. Medium dysfunction noted in: concept shifting, executive control, mental speed, visual memory, and sustained attention. Small dysfunction noted in visuoperception. First degree relatives also had dysfunction in executive function and verbal memory in particular. (Meta-analysis of bipolar disorder in remission.)
  • Dysfunction found in a few areas but most prominent in card sorting test, verbal memory, processing speed, sustained attention, executive function/working memory and verbal learning. (Odd increase in vocabulary function.) (Measured in bipolar disorder in remission.)
  • Poor and excellent school performance both associated with increased risk of bipolar disorder. Achieving an A grade associated with increased risk for bipolar disorder, particularly in humanities and to a lesser extent in science subjects. The association between high scores and risk for bipolar disorder seems to be confined to males. A grades in Swedish (language) and music have particularly strong associations with risk for bipolar disorder.

And that doesn’t count all the neurobiological dysfunction found in neuroimaging studies. There’s quite a bit of that too. Did you know people with bipolar disorder don’t properly process facial expressions?

(For those of you curious, the story on creativity is different, but that will have to wait for another post.)


So Then, We’re Not Smart?

It depends on your definition. But look, we’re not more intelligent, we’re not less intelligent, we’re just different. Some parts of us, like memory and visual-spatial cognition, seem to be pretty universally impaired but that’s hardly the end of the world.

And psychotropic medication, particularly antipsychotics, gets in there and messes things up further for some people. Not particularly pleasant, but not overly surprising.

Life is not Even-Steven

People want to believe those with bipolar disorder are smarter because then it seems like we got a pretty present with the not-so-pretty present of bipolar disorder. I get it. It’s romanticized. It’s “fair.” It’s convenient.

It just doesn’t happen to be true.

But you want to know the most intelligent thing of all? Dealing with reality. We weren’t given extra IQ points with the crazy. It’s OK. I don’t need that falsehood to feel better about myself.

IQ isn’t happiness. I’ll work with what I actually have to get what I want. That’s smart.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitteror at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

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49 Responses to Are People with Bipolar Disorder More Intelligent?

  1. Anniem says:

    Hi Natasha: By the time I was 8 years old I figured out I was “different” than other people. However, school was always easy. Tell me or show me once, and I got it. The spelling and definitions of words came as naturally as breathing. When it came to getting and learning a new job, not a problem. I had excellent organizational skills. It wasn’t until I went on meds that I couldn’t remember anything, couldn’t follow crochet patterns anymore, couldn’t remember how to get to places I’d been to time after time, became more and more clumsy and accident prone while cooking, and, most importantly, couldn’t read or creatively write anymore. Now that I am med free, I am me again. It is my opinion that it’s the meds that chip away at our intelligence and our very sense of self, not the progression of the illness. I have had therapist after psychiatrist comment about my excellent insight re: self, illness, and family dynamics. To be honest, the only thing I found myself agreeing with in this piece is that I have absolutely no ability to remember faces!

  2. Kelly Goetzmann says:

    I found this interesting and extremely relevent to myself. Both my short-term and long-term memory are swiss cheese. I’ve attributed it to a year of ECT treatments 6-7 years ago and multiple drug cocktails for years. I’m sure it all has contributed to my change in brain function, but I never realized the nature of Bipolar outside of “mental” instability. My mind has reverted to a time where writing on my hand is the ONLY way I remember things. To my credit, being such a flake has dropped 2 pant sizes off me. We recently moved into a home with 2 flights of stairs and I forget what I’m doing so on the days I manage to get off the couch, I end up going up and down the stairs a million times a day : ) I appreciate you making the link as part of the answer of my daily question “What the hell is wrong with me?”

  3. Since I grew up believing that I was retarded due to being somewhat dyslexic, I refuse to have anybody take away from me the fact that I learned that I could pass the test to get into Mensa, much to my surprise. I opted not to join because I did not want to come off as an intellectual snob. I don’t care for snobbery of any kind.
    I would argue that intelligence (IQ) and cognitive impairment are two different things. There are extremely intelligent people whose learning disabilities make it difficult for them to express their intellectual gifts to the world.
    I am not saying I am particularly gifted in any area because my thoughts do tend to be scattered and my attention span is terrible. I have OCD as well as bipolar disorder. I have often been accused of being a “space cadet.” I have to write everything down, otherwise I’ll forget to do it.
    Nonetheless, I’m not letting anyone tell me I’m not intelligent. I spent too many years hating myself and believing myself to be stupid to allow that to happen.

  4. Ash says:

    Through all of my schooling I’ve been a mostly A student. I excelled in almost everything. In college, I’ve done particularly well in the humanities and in the more creativity-based courses. I find that even though I’m often forgetting things that I need to do, my memory for academic knowledge has not only been great, but has improved since going on medication. However, my visuospatial reasoning is absolutely terrible, though that’s been the whole of my life. I have a harder time sensing the space around me than most people I know.

    Even though I have bipolar disorder, it doesn’t change what I’ve already accomplished. It doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly an idiot.

  5. Rachel says:

    I have very good verbal skills, but spatial is another matter entirely. That’s in spite of multiple drug cocktails.
    You’ve heard of chemical castrations? It seems to me that people are too quick to give chemical lobotomies to everyone who thinks the least bit differently.

  6. Hi Anniem,

    I’m glad you’ve found success. And you’re right, medications can cause mental clouding, particularly when overused.

    But, with all due respect, medication doesn’t make people less intelligent. Certainly there are prices to pay with medication but one thing I know for sure is that all the IQ points in the world doesn’t help if you can’t get off the couch.

    And while I didn’t focus on anything with the above research, there is lots of research on med-free brains as well (and one link above) that shows cognitive dysfunction in mental illness.

    But those are statistical facts and not individual ones.

    Obviously you’ve found something that works for you, which is great.

    - Natasha

  7. Hi Kelly,

    I’m sorry you’re having such memory problems. You might want to talk to your doctor about the severity.

    It’s little understood the effects mood disorders have outside of mood as we rely on self-reporting and studying this is pretty tough. But we’re learning more and more. And hopefully that information gives you some peace.

    (I should also mention there are many therapies to work to improve memory. Again, your doctor should be able to give you more information if he doesn’t feel it’s related to the meds.)

    - Natasha

  8. Hi Faycin,

    No one, least of all me, is saying you’re not intelligent. Scientific findings represent statistical likelihood and not individual circumstances. Many mentally ill people are brilliant. Many are not.

    As I said, intelligence is a complicated concept and open to interpretation. While no one cognitive dysfunction may represent intelligence or lack thereof, it is the only real way we have to measure intelligence, particularly when the dysfunction is measured en mass.

    But that doesn’t matter. You may be incredibly bright or not, but there is no reason to hate yourself either way.

    - Natasha

  9. Hi Ash,

    I’m a pretty bright gal myself and being bipolar doesn’t make me an idiot either.

    That’s not really the point.

    People specifically asked me about bipolar and intelligence many saying that people with bipolar are more intelligent. I’m just answering that question with research data. Each individual is unique and bipolar disorder neither makes a person intelligent or not.

    - Natasha

  10. Jake says:

    I know the cognitive impairments well, it is something that always seems to dog me. I have a hard time distinguishing tone and facial expression. Verbally I see to be okay but school was hell for me and I dropped out in Junior High.
    With that said. I educate myself as best I can and read everything I can wrap my hands around.
    Cognitive deficits do not indicate stupid they just point out challenges. I am confident to go toe to toe mentally with anyone. Thats what is all about. Self-confidence and a “don’t give a shit” attitude.

    cheers Natasha

  11. Lisa says:

    “But look, we’re not more intelligent, we’re not less intelligent, we’re just different.” I don’t think that’s calling anyone an idiot. I didn’t take any offense to this article. I find the science behind it interesting. I know, for me, that as my illness has gotten worse, my cognitive skills have definitely taken a beating. Yes, there have been some meds that have made me feel like an idiot. But it’s when those meds are completely out of my system and I still have issues with memory, word recall, etc, that I know it’s the illness and not just the meds. I don’t feel I’ve been on any one med long enough to cause that much damage, and I noticed the impairments long before I started any meds. I don’t feel that it makes me any less intelligent, though. I know it’s there; I just have a harder time accessing it now.

  12. Hi Jake,

    “Cognitive deficits do not indicate stupid they just point out challenges. I am confident to go toe to toe mentally with anyone.”

    Indeed. As I said, “intelligent” is a hard, if not impossible, word to define. And being deficient in some areas does just mean a challenge. We try to use other areas to compensate for the ones that are deficient. Like most people, I suppose. Our deficiencies just seem to be more pronounced.

    - Natasha

  13. Hi Lisa,

    Well, I don’t normally call people idiots.

    I’m glad you didn’t take offence, none was intended. It’s just the facts. Not an insult.

    The cognitive deficits are interesting to me too because I never put a lot of thought into it. What I do “well” and what I don’t. I suppose dealing with the most troublesome aspects of the disease keeps me too busy to look at those other areas.

    And yes, there does seem to be proof that it’s the brain and not just the meds.

    - Natasha

  14. Natalie says:

    Natasha – I’d argue that anyone who can endure the intense storms we endure and find their way through the thicket is pretty damn intelligent. Above average? Umm, yeah, I think there’s a good chance that we are above average. We’re certainly not below average, as your article implies – at least not when you measure us without mitigating factors like meds, ECT, temporary frontal lobe damage that can occur in mania and psychosis, etc.

    Interestingly, cognitive decline is one of the number one side effects across the board for long-term use of psychotropic meds. Anyone who tells you any differently is simply ignoring decades of research. There is a reason why, on average, medicated mentally ill folks die 25 years earlier than their peers.

    And even if you’ve been on a med and then off, don’t think the cognitive impairment you may experience has nothing to do with the med. There are plenty of studies showing that permanent neurological damage can take place in just a few months.

    Don’t believe the dominant discourse just because it’s dominant – at the very least, we should all make ourselves incredibly informed consumers. Especially concerning courses of treatment wherein our neurological functioning is at stake.

  15. andi says:


    does nimh know that this notoriously regurgitated psychological question has finally been answered?
    what about cambridge?
    the mayo clinic?
    johns fucking hopkins?

    am i implying that you’re wrong? no.
    am i inferring that you are arrogant to propagate that you have the answer? absolutely.

    once i see a ‘phd’ subsequent to an ‘md’ followed by your name, i will actually read what you have written in its entirety.

    until we can chemically/neurologically test this popular hypothesis will we know. but NO ONE does.

  16. Kathleen says:

    People who are bipolar, in my opinion, like anyone who must suffer from being labelled as different, are strong-very very strong. They must learn to live with so-called normal people, learn their rules, and then still be true to themselves.

    Now that takes courage.

  17. Sarah says:

    Hi Kathleen,
    Thanks for saying that. I needed a bit of a boost. So often people call me ‘soft’ or ‘weak’ because of a few occasional tears. They don’t realise, that if they were suddenly thrown into my situation, they might learn something about emotional strength.

    I also want to comment about the orignal post on intelligence. Natasha correctly reports that intelligence is a complex concept that is defined differently by different people. Many people who commented revealed that intelligence and academic achievement are correlated. I disagree. Although you have to be reasonably smart to get good grades, there are a lot of smart people who don’t. In my country, socioeconomic status is a better determiner of academic achievement, than intelligence. Also, a lot of very gifted people just want to fit in and have friends, and so deliberately keep their grades average. Others are so frustrated with the curriculum that they drop out or try to argue with the teacher about what SHOULD be the correct answer. Well, there’s a lot more I can say but I’m not writing an essay here so I’ll leave it at that.

  18. kat says:

    When a bipolar person is well and their illness is well controlled, they are highly intelligent, highly creative, sensitive people. When they are unwell due to depression, mania, psychosis, over medicated, dealing with admissions and life after admissions then like anyone they are impaired, however, if the illness is well controlled they perform very well in society. Take a look at all the bipolar in the media, in history, actors, actresses, poets, writers, scientists, artists and yo will find much evidence, however, if you choose to lead by example of looking at people finding it hard to cope with bipolar then it is obvious you wont find such evidence. It is like looking at a diabetic who eats candy bars by the hour, takes no blood sugar levels and ends up in hospital in a coma, or choose to look at one who takes all measures to care for their diabetes and lives a healthy life. There is no comparison.This is the trouble with mental health, people are researched when their ill not well. Many are well and thriving.

  19. A new study is out that shows a strong improvement in cognitive dysfunction in bipolar patients from the Alzheimer’s drug Mementine. It appears to directly affect hippocampal functioning and structure, and the cognitive improvements are fairly dramatic. It also enhances lamotrigine’s antidepressant effect. Is being recommended as an add-on drug for treatment-resistant bipolar.

  20. aaron says:

    you’re an idiot. when people talk about intelligence its not memory or grades its intelligence? the fact that a bp on heavy meds can be as intelligent as someone not doped up tell s you something.

    Intelligence is creativity its philosophy conversation and wit. Bipolars have always owned debates philosophy and the arts.

    you dont know anything. Go meet a few

  21. joann dixon says:

    totally agree.The articles and blogs are a virtual lifeline for me, isolated and live alone. Additionally I can either identify with or relate to virtually all the articles and comments since I was diagnosed bipolar 35 years ago. My greatest benefit is that it takes me out of my “terminal uniqueness”, I now have a ‘neighborhood’, friends,
    and ‘fellows” on the journey. What a blessing!

  22. joann dixon says:

    for the record:just took online vocab.test,scored 389,(median =255)majored in languages,straight A for four yrs Latin & French,always think people’s faces ‘look different each time (my own appearance can alter within hours)verbal learning impossible, can’t remember the word I want to use, have impeccable spelling, scored on abstract mathematical testing as high as the other highest (male) in school. Also was proficient in piano,organ; had very difficult life supporting myself doing cleaning and menial hourly wage jobs Am now 82+ yrs. old

  23. Chrisoula says:

    I refuse to believe these shit you write cause I haven’t met or read or heard of any bipolar with low intelligence…It’s either the mania or the depression which makes the person act or feel like an idiot. Besides, all doctors admit that the intelligence of bipolars is an oral rule! Totally agree with Ash, Andi, Kat, Aaron.

  24. Sheila S. says:

    Thanks, Natasha, for your article on whether bipolar people are more intelligent than others. I read it with great interest! I hope you will disregard the haters, because some of us really needed to hear what you had to say. I’ve got Bipolar I and grew up believing I was intelligent, as I did very well in school and ultimately became a lawyer. But after my diagnosis of Bipolar at age 40, I started noticing some troubling cognitive deficits, and didn’t know from where they were coming. Your position, based on research, that Bipolar people have cognitive deficits, is consistent with my reading and my own experience. My psychologist says, however, that I have sufficient “cognitive reserve” to permit me to continue to work as a lawyer. I suspect that a lot of us Bipolar people have such cognitive reserve, thank God. Obviously from your writing, you, Natasha, are brilliant. Bottom line — we Bipolar people may have cognitive deficits, but we can play to our strengths.

  25. Hi Sheila,

    Very well said. We _can_ play to our strengths and nothing can change that. Cognitive deficits in some areas doesn’t define us.

    - Natasha

  26. Schwin says:

    When I was 13 I was tested for my IQ and I tested 165. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 16. I know someone else with bipolar disorder, and he’s not as relatively high tested as me. His problems seem to be way less problematic than mine, but I seem to have better control of mine. I think that intelligence is brain power and allows you to help keep your problems in check.

  27. Cathryne says:

    Not to seem out of touch. I do seem imparied verbally. I search for nouns now that I am on an anti-psychotic. What a pain. But in as much as bipolar is now considered a sprectrum disorder, I do believe that as with any population we are subject to a spectrum of intelligence. I finished 2 MA’s one not medicated, one medicated. One in psych, one in Accounting and Finance. If we weren’t it would be abnormal.

    What I find unsetteling and I may have interpreted this incorrectly, is that we are not as bright as the average in our culture. I don’t believe that to be true. How could it be when we all start out with different culltural mileus, different opportunities, different levels of nutrition. different family dynamics all establishing our ability to comprend cognitively. Both imparied by mental illness and not? Not going into stat detailed language I do believe you know to what I am referring.

  28. Julia says:

    Ok, well I have plenty to add on this whole theme of topics.
    1) First is the distinction between whatever definition of intelligence/smartness you want to use and the definitions of various aspects of cognitive functioning. They are not the same, though there may be some overlap here and there. When it all comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter. At all. Because we have what we have, there are things we can do to improve our deficiencies, and that aspect of this topic is common to every living person. Regardless of anything. But, for the sake of argument . . .
    a) people typically view someone as possessing a good amount of intelligence or smarts:
    *if he/she has a lot of knowledge in one or two areas, and some knowledge in many areas;
    *how quickly and easily someone catches on, learns, and really appropriates new skills or new information;
    *if someone expresses his/her thoughts and knowledge well, particularly with an emphasis on verbal;
    *if the person has a large vocabularly, even if it’s mostly receptive.

    b)Cognitive functioning is different, though certain aspects may effect some of the above. Natasha mentioned most, if not all of these elements in her article. The way cognitive functioning is measured is through a series of tests selected and interpreted by a clinical psychologist who does neurological testing. Normally they’re referred to as neuropsychologists. Typically a student well into the field will be the actual test administrator.
    *These tests are comprised of a very wide variety, including some intelligence quotient tests; straight basic, factual recall tests; visuospatial reasoning and recall; verbal recall (under different changing variables); organizational and planning ability; impulse control; psychomotor testing (ie fine motor skills, gross grip strength, etc); vocabulary knowledge; auditory processing skills; a mental/mood state questionnaire; and that’s all I can think of right now.
    *These tests are normed to your educational background, age, and socioeconomic status. What that means is that the actual content and difficulty of your tests is modified, basically, to a level that others in your similar position have taken. As for results, what it means is that your skills are being compared to others in the same position as you. Your tests and your results are not being compared to that of a rocket scientist, unless you are a rocket scientist, type thing.
    *This testing is long and arduous. It is meant to challenge you. Some of it will be easy, some of it will be right on, and some of it will be darn near impossible. It is given when there is reason to believe there could be some statistically significant cognitive impairment, for whatever reason, be it aging, head injuries, adhd, Parkinson’s and other related dementias, etc.

    2) I’ve had neuropsych testing done, just in the last six months I think. It was minor head injuries that prompted this referral. However, I do have (and always have had) ADHD. I also have OCD and had recently been diagnosed as having Bipolar I. I was still very much cycling quite rapidly at this time (one normal week followed by several manic and mixed state weeks, with that number varying with no regularity). I think on the day of the test, I was doing pretty ok, surprisingly enough. It’s four hours long and difficult.
    The results of my testing were kind of all over the place; I did exceptionally well in some areas and exceptionally poorly in some areas. I didn’t really have an in between that most people do. That was largely attributed to my ADHD, though I had taken my meds and they were helping (because I can tell!).
    There was enough there to indicate an otherwise mild disorder, but not otherwise specified. It didn’t match what they see in dementia, but it was more than just what they see in ADHD or mood affected issues. The neuropsychologist who interpreted my tests said that he attributed this cognitive disorder to yes, the adhd, but also to the collective impact of the other disorders as well–the as yet, unstabilized bipolar, and the ocd. He anticipated that in a year, with the same testing, that I would result with less impairment because the treatment of my psychiatric diagnoses would hopefully be better under control. We’ll see in 8 months or so, I guess!

    This is it for me for now, but I’ll be right back on to continue with my multiple “things to add”!


  29. Julia says:

    3) My opinion is that we (as individuals with bipolar) need to understand there is indeed this cognitive component to the disorder. Knowing that is part of becoming educated about our illness. It’s not a huge thing, it doesn’t make you dumb, and more than likely you’re already compensating for it anyway! Don’t worry about it; that *will* just make it worse.
    The other thing I’ve learned is to keep very close track of when medication changes are made and anything that I feel may be different that is also negative. And then to watch for crossover. I had plenty of negative/bad things happening over the course of the last year, but my psychiatrist and I kept close watch, and none of those things correlated at all with any particular medications, or combinations of meds. As much as I would have liked that to be the case . . .

    4) I always think it’s funny,i.e. ironic, that people try to romanticize the illness. This romanticization of bipolar (adhd is another one that this happens to) can be identified so very easily. We see comments such as:
    *I’m (or I have; whichever) bipolar and people who are/have bipolar are smarter; it’s because we have bipolar,
    *Everyone knows that with the crappy parts of adhd or bipolar, we’re also more creative than other people
    *I’m thankful for all the gifts that bipolar (or adhd) has given me.

    Honestly, all of that, is a bunch of garbage. Yes, I get that it’s born out of a desire to view things more positively. That’s a good thing. But don’t attribute it to your illness! It has almost *nothing* to do with your illness. If you’re super smart, it’s not because of your bipolar. If you’re very creative (however it’s manifest, because there are at least a million ways it can be), it’s not because of your adhd. Nor is it because of your manic phases. You will probably feel more creative in your manic phases, but that’s not the same thing as saying your bipolar causes the creativity. It just amplifies or diminishes how you perceive it.
    Because creativity, intelligence, desire for learning, self-expression are all skills that we can choose to hone in whatever way we want. And just as any individual, certain ways will become our own as our talents are developed. But that’s true for everybody, illness or not.

    So please don’t romanticize mental (or developmental, as adhd is) illness!

    There’s nothing positive about it, but there are plenty of positive things about me. I just have to figure out how to manipulate my illnesses so that I can magnify my positive traits to the largest extent possible. And then I also want to use those positive traits to improve, supplement the negative effects of my illnesses on my life.

    5) Medication is a hard issue. Bad side effects, huge individual differences, no guarantees. Crap; I did not sign up for this. But I guess I did, because I needed better. Even after everything I’d already done and was doing, I still needed better than that better. I was so set against it; I don’t know how I actually ever went to see this PsychNurse Practictioner, but I did. And gee, go figure, she diagnosed me with adhd. Thus began my med journey just three short years ago.
    *There are some meds that do make you cloudier/hazy. That shouldn’t last for more than about a week. If it does, the dose is probably too high, you’re not taking it at the right time, or some other random factor.
    *THere are a very few that mess with your memory, but usually that’s because of the above side effect, not one in itself. (unless it’s in ECT, in which case it improves a little afterward, then overtime, there can be seen a slight lowering effect)
    *Some directly cause weight gain because of the medication itself; most that cause weight gain do so secondarily by making your appetite stronger. Of the meds that do this, Zyprexa is by far the worst. It is the only one that has a direct link to type 2 diabetes.
    *Some people feel that their creativity is dampened by a med or some meds. This can be true especially if the person was just previously manic and is now taking a stabilizer to lower the danger of the manic phase. However, this effect can be the case even if the person was not manic. If a drug makes you feel cloudier, it’s also going to affect how you feel and perceive your creativity. Same goes for intelligence. Being cloudy means you’re not as sharp.

    So my final words on this med issue, good luck. Find a good *psychiatrist* as that is crucial, though not easy to do necessarily. Interview them! It does count–it’s your life.
    Medication should not change your personality. You are who you are. That will not change by medication. If it does, then the medication is not the right one for you.

    Medication should only *help* you to be you more easily. It should facilitate the process of your living in a positive way. The benefits of a medication need to outweigh its cons–whatever they are for *you*, an individual.


    p.s. Am I intelligent? Yes. Unfortunately sometimes. But I’ve learned to use it to my advantage at least. I’d rather have it than not in certain situations I’ve experienced of late. But I hate it when people comment on it; I think because I feel like it’s all they can see. Just as my bipolar disorder does not define me, neither does my intelligence.
    *I* get to define me, on my terms and on what I find important. (not on my talents, which I need to develop and use, and not on my illnesses, which I need to learn to work with and manipulate.)

    byebye again, and for real this time!

  30. Sarah says:

    thanks for taking the time to lay that out, Julia, it was very well put and should clear up any issues that people may have with this article, plus a whole lot of other information.

  31. cathy says:

    That was very informative, Julia. Romanticizing bi-polar disorder if we were all deep down inside Edgar Allen Poe, or Virginia Wolfe is of no use. We may preceive ourselves to be ‘brave” but we were just given a disability that others with different disabilities were not. Is it romatic to be in a wheel chair. No, it’s not. And neigher is romantic to be bi-polar. I don’t like having this disorder. A root canal daily for trhe rest of my life would be much preferable.

  32. judy says:

    No, it isnt romantic. If it were, it wouldn’t be such a stigma, and people would be very open about it.

  33. Julia says:

    Thank you; I’m glad that it was beneficial in some way.

    I certainly agree, obviously, that it’s not romantic. However, it *is* often romanticized. Maybe that’s not the best word to convey what I mean, and clearly the whole disorder isn’t, but whenever you hear people talking about the good parts of bipolar disorder (or whatever else) or all these famous people whom we can somehow retroactively diagnose and it was their disease that made them great . . . that’s what I’m calling romanticization.

    There’s nothing good about it, but there’s plenty good about me (though not because of me) and I am very thankful for that. We can have a positive attitude and outlook while still affirming that the disorder itself absolutely sucks. It’s not contradictory, though a lot of people think it is. We just have to be clear, that’s all.

  34. judy says:

    Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s like people sharing their druggy/drunk stories in AA/NA kinda romanticize their party days. I don’t know of other celebrities that are bipolar except the ones that are pretty open about it, like Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. But when they talk about it, they sound a lot like everyone else, which is pretty cool. As for everyone else, I always found it kinda repugnant that anyone would try to diagnose the dead. They aren’t around to talk about it, after all. It really could be anything – drug induced psychosis, late stage alcoholism to name a few. I knew this elder attorney who pretty much functioned on barbituates/bennies throughout the 50s and 60s. It was quite a common practice once upon a time.

  35. judy says:

    But I do understand why people would make a big deal about celebrities with bipolar. They are usually newly diagnosed, and quite frankly, it makes bipolar seem less like leprosy and more like what it really is – an unfortunate disorder that does not discriminate. A person in my group therapy mentioned Vivienne Leigh and said I should read about her. I didn’t for a while, but when the depression lifted somewhat, I started reading all I could, and came across a blurb about her. So I read more. And it was helpful not because she was a big star, but because she was a human being struggling in the same embarrassing ways. Also, treatment was so draconian in those days, so we should all be thankful that more is known about it, and treatment, while not perfect and really crappy sometimes, is better than the options of yore.

  36. judy says:

    “Retroactively diagnosed” – I love this, btw!

  37. Courtney says:

    I do think sometimes bipolar is romanticized, but I’ve read studies on brain illness and creativity that note that many bipolar individuals feel an intense emotional engagement with their world, and this is what contributes to creativity. (I feel this engagement and saw it disappear when I was first medicated, which is why I switched meds.) I disagree with people who say that you can’t attribute creativity to the illness – certainly bipolar isn’t solely responsible for my creativity (I’m a poet in a highly-ranked MFA program), but it definitely fuels it. Correlation between bipolar and bipolar-like symptoms and brilliant creativity do exist, though not all bipolar people are creative.

  38. Alfredo says:

    I have Bipolar and I have an IQ of 160. I also have friends who have bipolar disorder and they are pretty smart as well. Naturally some cannot cope and are unable to perform well but this does not mean that they don’t have the ability to do so. Just that they don’t use their ability.

    There is a link between mental illness and genius and this is supported by genetic research (Neuregulin1)

  39. Robert Adcox says:

    We can’t measure intelligence scientifically since there’s no way to devise any meaningful operational definition of the word. Then we move on to measuring “cognitive deficits” as a means of better understanding how smart we are. Hmm. That’s like trying to repair the hull of a boat while that boat is under a tarpaulin. Working from the bottom (uncovered portion) of the hull, you begin making repairs to damaged areas which you can see. Then you move up, trying to repair any damage which might be under the tarp. The problem is, you can’t see what you’re doing. You don’t know whether or not the repair work you did on the visible portion will suffice or not. how do we know that the work we did under the tarp was effective or even necessary? Maybe the portion of the hull under tarp was in good shape. I.Q. tests are garbage. Measuring deficits is good if you’re interested in measuring deficits, but one cannot assume from the work along the bottom of the hull that the hidden part is also damaged. Oh, and as for intelligence tests, maybe they reflect test-taking skills and anxiety levels more than they do intelligence itself.

  40. Maisie says:

    My bipolar friends and I have higher than average IQ scores, but are not living optimal lives. I think what you wrote may apply to those with whom you are familiar.

  41. cmM says:

    Julia: I have bp II, rapid cycling. Once a month, I cycle from depression into a mania. My brain has been on this cycle since I was 13. I can tell you, with this on-schedule changing brain I have, I can “feel” the way my mind works as it … does whatever it does to bring itself through the moods from depression to mania. My manic times are my creative period, and I have no doubt about that. When I was still undiagnosed I was a research scientist, and if there was a problem I couldn’t solve, I would tell myself, just wait for a few days until you go into That Time. I counted on That Time, and every month it showed up. I know now it’s called Mania. I don’t romanticize bipolar disorder by any means. But the simple joy of creativity and new ideas afforded by the mania is something I look forward to every month. My friends call it my “idea time” and they too, over 40 years, say I am definitely more creative during a mania. Whether science agrees or not, I don’t really care. Most bipolars don’t have this regularity of mood change (I don’t THINK so anyways, mainly because several pdocs have said so), and some bipolars call manias bad or irrational. But, given that I’ve had over 400 mania-times in my life, and that I’ve used them to solve scientific problems with some success, I will state categorically that I believe the manic-brain does cause creativity. I think intelligence is innate. But I think over the years I have learned to enhance my creativity by teaching my brain how to think about things, and in doing so, have created a construct (or structure) for my creativity to work well in. I don’t know if there are bipolars out there who have been able to do this as well, but it’s remarkably useful. I’ve run across only one other person in my life who is like me — bipolar, creative, intelligent and with a photographic memory — and we both agreed that our creativity is enhanced by bipolar manias. If you disagree with this, perhaps we are creative “normally”, but super-creative during a mania.

    I also will say that it’s the creative manias that get me through depressions … but then again, every mood I have is on this monthly schedule and I’m grateful for that. (Not knowing when or if a depression will end seems like a horrible thing.)

  42. ash says:

    grrrrr…..just diagnosed with bipolar! goin thru worst depressive phase ever! my super fast absorbing brain has totally shut down!!!i am so devastated!! cant even think a thing straight!!!

  43. Ed says:

    I think article has merit but is not conclusive. Every person is unique. I have Bi Polar one. I know when I am going on an up and know when the down is coming. So make the best of the up… be creative write down all your ideas, don’t necessarily communicate with everyone right then, you can read them all later and decide which are useful and are not. When depressed just know that you are why you are, it will get better. Roll with the punches… And for the record, my own personal view is that the greats have been bi-polar, maybe not the always the smartest… it takes a fair amount of madness to pursue the impossible, what sane person would ever try this, by definition wouldn’t that make them mad as well. And we have Bi-Polar we are not Bi-Polar, a distinct difference.

  44. Audrey says:

    Yes, I’m bipolar one. I’ve never had an IQ test. I remember doing really bad in school because I was stubborn enough to think I didn’t have to prove to anyone I knew something and I was bored. I only excelled when I was challenged. I’m an artist so I guess that makes me super creative. I also write and I do feel like I’m more emotionally connected to the world than anyone I know. I’m so connected that I cannot watch the news because it will send me into depression. As for the cognitive disabilities…I don’t have them. I have a great memory…almost scary sometimes. Okay, after asking my husband I do have some executive functioning difficulties, but my Visuospatial reasoning is AWESOME!!! Do I struggle a lot with relationships YES I DO! I think that if I could trade my talents in mathematics for some people skills that would be great. All in all I do think that bipolar makes me unique and I like to look at it as something positive even though I hate it sometimes. I don’t agree that there is nothing good about it and I would never compare it to being in a wheelchair. I think having bipolar is tough enough without concentrating on what sucks about it.

  45. Jake says:

    Iv known since a kid that something was wrong with me, but until I visted a psychologist and was diagnosed. My grades were perfect, from the age of 3 I could read most books on my own, my whole life Iv been obssessed with body language, I can recognize emotions very easily and quickly,I never forget a face, although I’m not good with names or birthdays, and struggle somewhat with learning to drive, I’m a lyricist, and I never record a song whilst reading it, always has to be from memory, Iv memorized 100s if not thousands of lyrics, from my own music to that of others. Almost everything I do, I’m good at, though I do struggle to focus on multiple things at once, I’m either too focused or not focused enough. I’d honestly say I was on the right path in life until I started taking meds, after the meds came very bad anxiety problems and multiple suicide attempts. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who wants to life a full life and enjoy it without unecessary stress. But hey, that’s just me.

  46. Mel says:

    I find your prognosis quite disturbing. I started the onset of bipolar disorder at the age of 14, and the diagnosis has since been confirmed by 5 psychiatrists. I was tested between the 90-99th percentile on aptitude test scores. I was an honors school all through my school years, primarily in the math, computers, biology, chemistry and English. I completed a shortly after college program in Office Administration with Honors (top marks in my graduating class).
    Several years later, my 2nd psychiatrist said I would be on high doses anti-depressants and anti-psychotics for the rest of my life. He medicated me to the point I could not even remember what I did all day. I could not get out of bed and could not even cook a simple meal for fear of burning myself. Then he told me the final verdict was I would never work again and would eventually be institutionalized for the rest of my life.
    Contrary to just throwing in the towel, and becoming a victim to the statistics, I took my health and recovery into my own hands. I sought out a psychiatrist who not only said I was misdiagnosed, he reduced my medication until he found a single drug that keeps me stabilized.
    Since then, I completed a Business Administration program with honors. I have recently completed a Social Service Diploma with Honors achieving the highest mark in several of my classes. I work on a regular basis with persons with mental illness and addiction, as well as tutoring math, computers and biology. I am currently in University and received an A+ in Math and my computer instructor commented “Wow, students and I have been talking about how awesome your project is. Thanks for all your effort, BY FAR the best I’ve had in any class I’ve taught.”
    My illness does not define my capabilities, it only provides temporary restrictions. My illness does not define my personality, it just appears in different ways. My illness does not limit my opportunities, it allows me to find more creative methods to develop them.
    Please take care in pigeon-holing individuals based on their disease. I know doctors, lawyers, actors, scientists and mental health specialists who have bipolar disorder. They are successful in their careers and their family lives. Many people I have spoken to have said that medication played a key role in their mental cognition and abilities to function. People with mental disorders need professionals to build up their self-esteem and help them work past their limitations, not throw a label or a statistic at them and enable them to die.

  47. john Andersen says:

    Thanks. Enjoyed reading your article. Some bipolar people do not have these cognitive deficiencies. I have bipolar I with psychosis. I read facial expressions and micro expressions very well and can flip shapes in my head and do amazingly polished geometric proofs. I am socially retarded and find most people to be regurgitating idiots…sorry for the possibility of made up words….I agree…we all have deficits…and many bipolar people are backward seeming. But many of us are very gifted at what we do.

  48. Mary says:

    I have Bipolar II. I don’t believe lithium has made me cognitively impaired. I think your statements are overly generalized. I’m a retired lawyer. I practiced law for the years I was on medication. You are wrong.

  49. Curtis says:

    Funny how life works. Just as in politics, our mental health tweeters tend to be red or blue. I’ve had bi polar all of my life. I have walked to the hospital twice as the pain of depression was unbearable. I have also taught myself to play jazz piano. I taught myself to paint and in 18 months had four gallery showings, I took up German two years ago, and can pick up a newspaper and work my way through it. I did this on my own. I am a self taught poet. I learned reiki recently. You are one of those red state gotta be in my state tweeters. I take my lithium, and my work is more focused. I like what my meds do for me. I will never see red because i am blue. I will see the morning because I’m not dead. Your pull yourselves up by the bootstraps might work for Ronald Reagen, but for many with bipolar, though they might want to, at times-they can’t. In fact it might be hard for them to even bend down for the boot. And that goes for reality. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Of course I’m mentally ill, and a little slow, just take this as subjective science essay. Time for my (completely natural salt called) lithium, the sun is coming. I’ll say a prayer. Maybe god will fix me. Nah, I like the unique gifts she blessed me with. Please don’t politicize mental illness. You may find that completely normal and realistic bootstrap pulling red state guy on twitter finding you, scrambling for evidence-in a blue one.

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