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"An illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure," writes Dr.Kay Jamison in one of the most famous memoirs of bipolar illness, An Unquiet Mind. The popular caricature of the disease -- people swinging rapidly between happiness and sadness -- isn't the whole story."I hope it doesn't scare you off."Panicked thoughts raced through my mind. This was the odd humor Sara and I had already established, but I wasn't entirely joking.I'd had several close bipolar friends, and had once been in a long-term relationship with a bipolar woman, Nyla, whom I still consider the smartest person I'd ever met.At eighteen, she enrolled in the Ivy League university she'd dreamt of attending since childhood, and within a semester, was incapacitated by depression; she dropped out and returned to L. Sidelined for years, she was finally looking forward again: doing PR for a record label and working part-time toward her bachelor's degree. When I looked at Sara, I felt inspiration, not pity.And even though I'm not the type to plunge quickly into relationships, I was convinced I was in love. Aside from a quick trip to clean out her studio apartment a few weeks later, she never went home."Of the two of us," I told her as we lay happily in bed, "I must be the crazier one."Nine months later I stood over her pale, unconscious body, frantically dialing 911 for the first time in my life.It's easy to confuse love with mania, Jamison says. Most of us may have been unhappy enough at one time or another to recognize a fit of depression, but the other half of the disease (the mania that leads to everything from religious fervor to shopaholism to insatiable libido) is much harder to fathom.For instance, hypomania, which is a mild form of mania characterized by enviable productivity, can lead to what is called a "mixed state," in which the bipolar individual is both miserable and energetic enough to do something about it.
With both Nyla and Sara, I never knew what sort of response my advances would receive.Everyone from disgraced New York Times reporter Jayson Blair to Debra La Fave, the high-school teacher convicted of seducing her fourteen-year-old student, has employed the bipolar defense.And if they don't trumpet it as the explanation for their misdeeds, media experts are happy to do so on their behalf.This is partially thanks to the ubiquity of advertisements for medications like Abilify and Zyprexa, and partially due to diagnoses, which have doubled over the last decade.A 1997 National Mental Health Association survey found that more than two-thirds of Americans had limited or no knowledge of the disease; almost a decade later, eight out of ten Americans think they know what bipolar disorder is.
You could compile an entire book of quotes comparing love to madness.