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Navigating the interplay between spirituality and bipolar
I write this while in a functional manic state, having slept only four hours last night, overwhelmed by a sense of spiritual awakening. Earlier in the evening, I was sobbing over all the stressful highs and lows I had been going through, feeling dread at how it would continue. Then I read a Pendle Hill Pamphlet on Quaker worship (Four Doors to Meeting for Worship, by William Taber) and soon felt deeply inspired. The feeling soon became unwieldy, and it was difficult to settle down. But eventually I managed to shut down enough to sleep for a few hours, which I consider a success, especially as I seem now to be more settled than before.
I feel that there is a relationship between my deep, intuitive spirtuality and my predisposition to bipolar. People meditate in order, to, in a certain way, achieve an altered state: become more blissful, or more aware of beauty, or more connected to a deeper part of self. It just happens that my spirit sometimes leaps to altered states, bipolar or otherwise, without first a disciplined preparation. At my very first silent meeting for worship in 2019, I found myself called to speak, even eponymously “quaking,” “eldering” the incomplete message of another by bringing out its essence; my spirit recognized its home almost immediately. And yet it has been difficult in the years thereafter to commit to attending meeting on a regular basis, due to the hecticness of college life, but more crucially, due to my lack of spiritual discipline.
Bipolar people who experience an increase in spirituality or religiosity when manic or hypomanic sometimes worry if their spiritual experiences are “real” or if they are just a symptom. I think the true situation is not an either-or. I actually am experiencing spiritual awakening, and I also need support to keep myself safe when my spirit moves so intensely. As is often stated in disability studies, Madness is a dangerous gift, an intense and also highly personal both-and. Not everyone who is spiritual is Mad, and not everyone who is Mad is spiritual, but for some people who are both, there can be a way in which to be one is to be the other.
As I navigate these new terrains of self, learning the character and rhythms of my emergent Madness, discipline is essential. I am establishing morning and night routines for myself for emotional and spiritual self-care, which include journaling, meditation, and a daily tarot card reading. I intend to go to Quaker meeting every Sunday that I am available and continue learning about Quakerism and other faith traditions (Buddhism and Daoism in particular have since childhood strongly shaped my thought). My creative practice also needs discipline, through daily piano practice, composing, and writing. Sometimes I will veer off my routines, but when I do, I will guide myself back in rhythm. Routines and rituals are not about perfection, but rather the return.
The next few weeks won’t be easy, but I know I can get through this difficult passage. Adjustments to medications will hopefully help ease the intensity of my rapid cycling, but my spiritual discipline, bridging the heights of the skies and the groundedness of the earth, will be what sustains me.