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Everything Hits a Little More

Hey, folks. I wanted to take a moment to kinda put myself out there and talk about something personal to me that I've not really talked about before: my bipolar disorder.

I've always loved elves and elf-like creatures in fiction. They're badarse, agile, fast, and have an incredibly long-term perspective on the world - they're a combination of aspiration and wish-fulfillment for me (as a guy with terrible reflexes and more body fat than I'd like). Their connection to the world and the wilderness is something I love - I was lucky enough to grow up in a place with lots of wilderness and outdoors to explore, with a family that could afford to do things like camping holidays.

But more recently, there's another side to elves and elf-like fey creatures in fantasy that I've started to very much appreciate - their tendency towards heightened emotional states, and how that in many ways reflects my struggles and triumphs regarding mental illness and bipolar disorder.

At this point in my life, I've got a good handle on my bipolar, and I can do so without meds. I'm fortunate in that regard - many people with bipolar cannot say the same, for a variety of reasons. But the only-semi-predictable cycle of depression and mania (which I experience as an excess of enthusiasm, confidence, enjoyment of life, and creative output, all of which sometimes gets to the point where my grip on reality starts sliding a bit) still exists for me. I say semi-predictable because while I might slide towards one way or another at any time, I do experience it most heavily during seasonal change - early winter and late spring, especially.

When I hit a patch of mania, everything is great. I'm super proud of the stuff I make, and I make a lot of stuff. Drawing, writing, animation - my output at least triples. I feel better about myself. I'm more outgoing. I laugh, I have fun! And sometimes I can lose myself in it a bit. The worst part about these times is that in order to cope with it and keep myself grounded, I kind have to remind myself that I'm manic and that my view on things is shifted. And that can make me question my own identity as a person - is the manic me even the real me? When will this metaphorical summer of existence cool into autumn?

Conversely, with depression, everything sucks. I'm not sad, exactly - I'm hopeless. If I feel any emotion beyond hopelessness, it's helpless anger. The world is burning down. I'm overweight. My art might be better than most other people's, but it's not consistently professional level, and any previous jobs were just flukes. People only are nice to me because they don't want to be mean - they don't like me, they just tolerate me. It's winter, and not the "softly-falling-snow" kind, either. It's the "freezing rain, damp patches of snowdrifts, leak in the roof" kind of winter.

You might be starting to see the parallels here.

And look, elves (or their fictional relations, such as my shae) aren't the perfect, Mary-Sue species some people like to claim they are. They aren't just perfect pretty people with pointy ears - heck, I interpret shae as spookily inhuman. But their heightened emotional range isn't portrayed like a straight-up madness, though it might seem that way to some. It isn't treated with the stigma that mental illness gets a lot in other media, fantasy and otherwise. It's not analogous to bad things and evil - it just... is. It's a part of them, for better or for worse. It makes them incredible creators and artists, deeply passionate lovers and friends. It makes them mercurial and unreliable, prone to getting caught up in something that only they see as incredibly important. It gives them traits that I see in myself, traits that are accepted and judged only for how those traits affect others and the world, with no further stigma attached.

There's a reflection there, neither patronizingly encouraging or damningly judgmental, but simply a reflection that heightens what already is, who I am. It makes no illusions to hide the negatives that come with this disorder, but neither does it dismiss the positives that can happen as a result. It says "Your mental illness can lead you to beautiful, terrible things. All you have to do is navigate it, and work your bloody hardest to channel it in the most positive fashion you can."

It's not a perfect 1-to-1 parallel - my bipolar is affect by seasonal change, but can also happen randomly, and usually isn't brought on by any one specific event, whereas the heightened emotions of fey are a 100% always-on kinda thing that is very much affected by external events.

But the parallel is there, and it's there for me. And that's enough.

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