The Freedom Obsession, The Creativity Possession And The Superpower Connection
Freedom is an important value to me. It’s always been.
I have always had this never-ending fascination for being free and testing my abilities beyond known boundaries - whether actual or metaphorical or metaphysical.
And you know what? It all began at birth.
Yes, this is exactly what you're thinking it is. A long story.
You might want to get some tea or coffee or whatever tickles your reading bone.
Wait! Did I say it all began at birth? Sorry, I'm taking that back. Everything about freedom and the disdain for boundaries began way before my birth. The blueprint was drawn at conception.
Here's how it happened. I was conceived a mere two months after my preceding sister. My mother had no idea I was conspiring my existence up until I had graduated to foetus status. It took one talented doctor to see through her oblivion and excitedly share the news that she was going to deliver yet another bundle of joy six months after that.
My grand plan to sneak my way into existence had worked. And the result was that my sister and I were born in the exact same year - albeit at opposite ends of it.
My miraculous conception followed a dramatic pregnancy that got me totally excited about making my way into this big world.
Mum says my birth was the easiest of all her six deliveries. According to her, I was very eager to enter the world. And that's probably true. But it could also be that I was very eager to leave solitary confinement. Whatever the case was, both theories do well in explaining my proclivities.
As a toddler, I was always climbing things. Not table-y or chair-y things. Those were too easy and frankly, much too boring for my tastes. I aspired for way more exciting things. Things like door and window grills.
Every time I climbed, I never quite got to the top. It wasn't because I couldn't or didn't want to. The problem was always that there was a well-meaning adult in the room ready to spoil my fun. They would always sneak up on me quietly and carry me back to safety. Every damn time.
When I wasn't climbing things, I was interacting with crawly creatures. I'd have forceful conversations with cockroaches, beetles or lizards. Ants were definitely an option but they always seemed too small to warrant my efforts. So I focused on the bigger creatures. It was always difficult to speak to them when they were moving so I'd use my hands to make sure they stayed put.
And speaking of conversations, languages came easy for me. I didn't quite figure out insect lingo but human languages were a breeze. I somehow managed to jump the chronological ranks. I learnt how to speak sooner than my preceding sister.
Babble speak just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I had to make some headway.
I needed to communicate with the party-pooper adults around me. With better vocabulary and sentence construction, I’d finally be able to explain why my climbing techniques were skillfully advanced. I’d be able to assure them that if they allowed me to climb whatever I wanted, I’d discover ways of making the skill much safer for toddlers around the world.
With time, I discovered that speaking could do more than just earn me some idle climbing time. I realised that speaking could allow me to test my abilities in a lot more things. Things I was somehow quite good at.
Like playing Little Miss Entertainer at gatherings with family guests, performing a Jim Carrey-esque entertainment piece in front of class whenever the teacher stepped out and playing the role of a very loud and cocky Devil in a Jesus' Temptations school play.
During much of my childhood, nothing ever seemed too high, too dangerous, too awkward, too scary or too complex for me.
But as one would expect, a lot of that natural self-confidence went poof! once I approached adolescence. I lost a lot of that outward fire. I morphed into a meek apology-strung hamster.
One thing never changed, though. The need to never be boxed in.
I always loved some freedom.
Even within large and impossible-to-escape systems, I'd always seek to expand my world.
A perfect example is school. The restrictive intellectual prison meant to keep little (and large) humans busy.
While there, I won myself some freedom by getting into all the extracurricular activities imaginable. It was the perfect plan. If class was boring, at least I’d be able to direct my daydreams to more exciting things.
The coordinated marching steps I’d have to do as a Scout. The pose I’d have to pretzel into as a gymnastics member. The tree I’d have to nurture as a UNESCO member. The verse I’d have to memorise as a choir member. The less-than-awkward sentence I’d have to mumble to my fumble-over-the-words teenage crush. The stroke I’d have to manoeuvre at swimming classes in order to be regarded a worthy member of my class and to avoid being frisbee-d into the pool by Mr. Njoroge.
In high school, the three-month prison sentences in the form of boarding school were only bearable because I had the chance to be a Girl Guide, a dancer and choreographer, a choir member, a Darts club member, a table-tennis player, a Decorations team member, a consistent cleaning duty punishee, a devout Roman Catholic convert and a one-hit-wonder marathon runner. Of course, it also helped that my closest friends and roommates were the perfect laugh buddies. It never got boring.
School or no school, extracurricular (or rather, extra-life-icular) was my lifeline.
After the four-year high school conviction, my decision was to dive into the arts. Painting, sketching and dancing. I always drew as a kid. I always danced whenever I could. The arts were a piece of cake.
Modelling would eventually become my strangest adventure to date. I stumbled into it during and after Arts college. It appeared worthwhile mostly because it looked like a challenge and I seemed to meet the bare minimum requirements. Something else helped. The heartbreak delivered by my first ever boyfriend. It did well in pouring extra fuel to my catwalk and my overall selfish motivations.
Apart from the slow motion movement of my fifteen-minutes-of-fame as the winner of a pageant title and being the daughter of a mother with unlimited bragging rights, my modelling days zoomed by as fast as I wanted them to.
Soon enough, I became just a normal University student. The Clark Kent days of pretending not to be a pageant queen while at campus and pretending not to be a student while at pageant queen-dom were over. No more pretend superpowers!
But at that time, I was already taking AIESEC seriously. And with it, I got some actual superpowers. Particularly, the power of invisibility.
I could disappear into thin air for hours or even days, to towns, cities and countries I’d never dreamt of. In the process, I lost touch with friends, loved ones and a sizeable amount of course credits.
Despite all that, I gained one huge thing. The World.
This seems like a nice spot for me to set up camp and rest for the night.
Translation: This is the point where I'll tie things together. I know. Terrible analogy.
It's at this point where I get to remind you why the hell you have to go through all this seemingly unnecessary storytelling.
I need to do it now, here, before you consider abandoning your cup or mug and this post altogether.
Okay, maybe you can abandon the cup or mug. Especially if it’s carrying a terrible brew of tea or coffee. Or some acrid alcohol - to which I’d ask “Why the hell are you drinking it from a cup?” I honestly don’t mind you boozing as you read my words. What I mind is you boozing in a less than ideal container while reading my words.
So, please accept my offer to allow you to make some drink-related improvements right now.
No worries. I’ll wait.
Great! I see you’re ready.
Drink-related improvements for prose-related improvements. It's a fair exchange, don’t you think?
Okay, let’s get to it!
From the unrestrained storytelling, you'll notice a conspicuous pattern.
That’s if you’ve been paying attention.
The only thing missing from where I paused is that after my University/AIESEC days, I ended up working nine jobs in five countries over a span of just five years.
From my time in the womb to this very moment as I write this, I’ve always displayed allergic reactions to monotony and societal boundaries. I've also always had a knack for creativity and creating things.
Over the years, this has earned me adjectives such as free-spirited, artistic, rebellious, crazy, inspiring, loony, non-committing, brave - you name it.
It’s easy to sum me up using adjectives and wordy character traits. Very easy.
But you know what’s easier? Getting to use just one word.
A word that's both a noun and an adjective. That word is: bipolar.
Yes, that’s me. I’m bipolar.
Ever heard of it? I bet you have.
And I bet you’re probably spooking out right about now. Please relax. I’ll try to paint a less scarier picture than the one you have in your head. No promises, but I’ll try.
Let’s start with the label.
It's a scary word.
And that's thanks to Hollywood, the not-so-funny mental health jokes, the offhanded adjective use (i.e. every time you've used "bipolar" and "schizophrenic" as adjectives in an non-mental-health context) and the general ozone layer of mental health ignorance that envelopes the earth.
The word "bipolar" is scary to a lot of people because it’s usually associated with the most extreme and debilitating instances of the disorder. But the fact is, there are numerous kinds of bipolar-type disorders. All of them in one huge and confusing spectrum. Some still yet to be understood. Mine seems to be the Bipolar II kind - with a touch of high-volume anxiety poured over it. The latter was added for greater effect.
But allow me to make a switch here.
I prefer to use the term “manic-depressive” instead of "bipolar". It's much better, don't you think?
Or perhaps it's not.
And that's because, fancy title or not, a mental disorder is always viewed through stigma-tinted glasses.
So, before I proceed, I’d like to inform you that stigma glasses are not allowed from here on. Store them away in your bag or even better, hand them over to my team. They'll ensure they are properly destroyed on your behalf.
As a manic-depressive, there are a couple of things that happen to me on a recurring basis. "Me" being the me that's on the receiving end of whatever my very own mind/brain chooses to throw my way - curve ball or not.
Sometimes, I'm in a hypomanic state. Other times, I find myself in a depressed state. Sometimes it's weeks at a time. Sometimes it’s days at a time. Sometimes it's hours on end. It varies. And I'm still trying to figure it all out.
When I'm in a manic-like state, I usually feel like I have the ability to do whatever. Whatever I want, whatever I can and even whatever I cannot or should not do. In this state, my mind makes me feel like doing anything - regardless of whether my energy, my morals or my bank accounts agree with me. On such days, anything and everything is possible.
When I'm in a depressed state, I usually feel like I'd rather do nothing. Absolutely nothing. On such days, the most significant thing I’m able to do is drag my sorry self out of bed.
Even if that’s all I get to do in a twenty-four hour period, I’ve won the day.
Because very few things make sense in this state. Life is dark and gloomy. Life seems superbly dark and gloomy. This is so even when there's absolutely no reason for me to see things this way.
Feelings of worthlessness usually take centre stage at this point.
These types of feelings are notorious for evoking a varied number of death-related thoughts.
Not the “oh my! I’m really scared of death” kind. No, not those ones. The ones I'm talking about are the “hmm, death wouldn’t be so bad right now” kind.
I think you get the idea.
And since this post is not at all meant to be a pity party, allow me to un-dampen the mood. The point of this revelation is to shed light on my dispositions. It's certainly not meant to be a factory of pity for them. Factory of awareness, perhaps. But not pity.
So, I'm un-dampening the mood, starting now.
Here's a quick question. Do you know who else is or was a manic-depressive?
I’ll help you out.
Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Jean Claude Van Damme, Mariah Carey, DMX, Wiz Khalifa, Amy Winehouse, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kanye West, Virginia Woolf, Marilyn Monroe, Demi Lovato, Sylvia Plath, Jenifer Lewis (best known for playing everyone's mother and currently, Andre's mother in Black-ish), Mel Gibson, Britney Spears, Chris Brown and quite possibly, Vincent Van Gogh.
Even my favourite doesn't-know-I-exist mentor, Mr. Tim Ferriss, refers to himself as a manic-depressive. Which perfectly explains the mental jiujitsu he dropped in The 4-hour Workweek.
Yep. Take a moment. Let all that sink in. Read the names again if you have to.
Now please take a moment to forget that some famous names not mentioned here were serial killers. I thought it smart not to include them. And for good reason.
Please also forget that some people mentioned here actually committed suicide, or went a little loony, or got themselves in prison, or brutally beat other people up. Forget all that for a moment. I need you to focus on just one thing. The fact that all these people had or have amazing talent. It’s even quite possible that their manic-depressive symptoms amplified their talents.
Makes you want to be a manic-depressive, huh? Yeah, I know. We’re a pretty cool bunch. Especially with a mix of creativity, which, studies have shown, is almost natural to us.
Here are some stats for you. Apparently, writers are ten times more likely to be manic-depressive than the rest of the population.
Forty times more likely!
Vice versa works too: manic-depressives are very likely to be writers, artists or poets.
Due to my unwavering fascination with writing and the arts, I’m clearly a paragon of the manic-depressive bounty.
And it makes a lot of sense. Whether I find myself in a hypomanic or depressed state, there’s never a scarcity of emotion or material to create with. It's partly why I want to get better at poetry. I clearly have the "right" mind for it!
So do you see? I don’t look at my manic-depressive-ness as a consistent burden. At least not anymore.
Of course I have days when I haul expletives at my mental states and their erratic swings. I have days when people haul expletives at me because of my mental states and their erratic swings. But my overall reaction is that I'm now okay with it. Borrowing Kanye West’s words, being bipolar is indeed my superpower.
It's the superpower that explains my obsession with freedom and with creating. It's the superpower that is explained by my obsession with freedom and with creating.
It's an egg-and-chicken scenario that I'm yet to fully unpack - but regardless of whatever came first, the connection is solid. My need for freedom and my need to create is connected to my superpower.
A bunch of studies say that manic-depressive symptoms appear at about the age of 25. My belief is that the blueprint exists way before this age. It certainly did in my case.
It’s the reason why I’ve always been allergic to general monotony.
It’s the reason why I’ve always sort out extracurricular activities.
It’s the reason why art was such a huge part of my life during my childhood.
If I wasn’t who I am, I wouldn’t have had those school experiences. I wouldn’t have dedicated my entire University experience to AIESEC and I wouldn’t have done what I got do, went to the places I got to go to or met the people I got to meet. I wouldn’t have jumped around from job to job thanks to my AIESEC contacts and from continent to continent in search of my perfect “job”. I wouldn’t have started and failed in entrepreneurship. I wouldn’t have kept following my heart wherever it wanted me to go. I wouldn’t have chosen the life of a freelancer. I wouldn’t have chosen the life of a digital nomad. I wouldn’t have become obsessed with location-independence. I wouldn’t have fought so much with my mind on the journey to understand it better. I wouldn't have had the countless epiphanies that my mind loves to come up with. I wouldn't be as at home with my mind as I am at this very second.
As with any superpower, you get amazing days, amazing wins, but also terrible losses and some fantastically shitty days. Just ask Superman. Amazing days with family and Lois Lane. Shitty days whenever Lex Luthor and kryptonite are involved.
When you have a superpower, you get to realise just how great that gift can make you. The same superpower will also show you just how weak you can get when any kind of kryptonite is brought near.
With every passing doom and gloom cycle, my Lex Luthors and kryptonites keep revealing themselves. It's never fun when they do. But at least I get to classify them and invent new ways of dealing with them in future.
With every passing day, the rays of the sun keep me strong. They totally do.
Each ray of sun is precious. The meditation, all the moments of creativity, any kind of fitness, the eating healthy, the random light bulb moments, the awesome conversations with friends and family. Each of these rays adds some much-needed strength.
Each of them adds enough strength to stand tall during those dreaded shit-hitting-the-fan days.
Each of them adds just enough strength for me to embrace, what I like to call, my gift of lunacy.