Turning Mental Illness into a Superpower

Thomas

I met Thomas at an art gallery. 
When I mentioned that I specialized in portraits of people who had fought limitations, he suggested I'd write his story. And I wasn't prepared for what I'd hear.


"Let's say that the last couple of years have been intense since I moved to Los Angeles. 
I'm originally from Atlanta, but I grew up in Austria since I was six years old. So when I moved back to the States as an adult, I almost felt like an immigrant in my own country.
I moved here with my Austrian girlfriend. Because of her immigration status, we took a leap of faith and married even though we didn't have a strong foundation.

Be True to Yourself
— Thomas, Bipolar & Superhuman

Just two hours after the wedding ceremony, I received a call from my future boss and accepted a corporate job.

Unfortunately, the stress of moving to a different continent without our social support system or job pushed us to our limits.

Soon after the wedding, my now ex-wife and I were both diagnosed with mental illnesses. I felt lonely in our marriage, there was little kindness, patience, or empathy. Neither of us felt safe in the relationship, and safety is the single most important aspect of mental health. After months of individual and couple's therapy, I eventually asked for a divorce.


Once again, timing: as I was going through the divorce, I got laid off.
At that point, the emotional pain became eventually too much to bear. My body shut down completely, and I had suicidal thoughts. It was like all my childhood trauma came to the surface at the same time. I have never experienced anything that intense before. I called the suicide hotline, hoping they could direct me to a free mental health facility where I could get emotional painkillers.

The person on the suicide hotline suggested I call 911.
Operator - "911 - what's your emergency."
Me - "I’m in pain, I want it to stop..."
Operator - "What do you want to stop?! What’s your address?"
- "Wow, Jeeze. I lost my health insurance and was wondering if there was a free mental health facility I can go to now".
- "Let me see..., we have an alcohol clinic, tobacco addiction clinic..."
- "You know what, never mind, I’m fine”


I hung up and continued with my nap. The authorities called me multiple times and said that three police officers just wanted to check on me. I eventually gave them my address.
As I opened the door to three police officers, I felt threatened and knew that from then own I had no rights. They were talking at the same time and their body cameras were beeping, which was annoying as hell. I was also supposed to take my bipolar II medication, but they wouldn't let me, because it was against protocol. It felt like torture.
I had just awoken from a dream state and felt threatened, irritated and embarrassed as they handcuffed me and took me to a police station for further evaluation. I felt like I was being punished for having suicidal thoughts and calling 911 for help. I was sitting in a cell, arms uncomfortably handcuffed behind my back, with a smile on my face and while chanting "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo".
Finally, I was transported to a mental health urgent care facility.

The officers apologized for putting me in handcuffs and stated that not everyone was as nice and collected like me, but that they had to follow protocol without exceptions. They then expected me to sleep in a couch chair in front of the TV that was airing replays of the mass shootings in Florida, only interrupted by loud commercials.

I couldn't help to be humored by the irony of the situation.

I was finally allowed to take my medication, which make the situation slightly easier to handle.


The next day, after talking to a psychiatrist, I was rushed out the door because "it wasn't safe for me to stay there any longer". The whole experience was so awful, it was hilarious. I had no idea where I was, but I was fine. I thought, if I can survive the torture of going through the system during an emotional breakdown, I can handle anything.

Now, I'm grateful I had this challenging experience.


After that day, I stopped my prescription medication. I didn’t want to be dependent on it anymore and instead rely on a holistic approach without medication:

  • healthy diet,

  • loving supporting environment,

  • surfing, yoga,

  • spirituality,

  • and time in nature.

I started to see the beauty in my bipolar disorder (or as Kayne West calls it, my “superpower”): I realized I could deal with intense and uncomfortable emotions and had the courage to face my demons. We live in a polarized world, and I have the bipolar ability.
I rediscovered who I was without limitations, parts of me I hadn’t explored in a long time.
This emotional breakdown was a spiritual awakening for me, a wake-up call to live my own truth and stop playing along to other's rules.
I realized that if I am not true to myself, life keeps reminding me, first slightly and gradually with a slap in the face.

Eventually, I got knocked out with what felt like a sledgehammer to the chest.
Now, for the first time in my life, I’m not playing a role. I live my authentic truth. I feel like I’m liberated from fear, not led by it and I hope that my story will inspire other people with "mental illness" to see the beauty and strength in it.

Embrace what is! Ask yourself, why is it here? What can I learn from it?

Healing happens when there is acceptance without judgment.

Hélène ClabecqComment