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April 13, 2009

 As I was writing a portion of my dissertation proposal, I thought, "Out of all the things I’ve done in my life, writing may end up being the most courageous." Maybe this is a cliche, the thought that writing is courageous–an idea spawned by the many "save-your-life-by-writing" and "uncover-your-genius-by-facing-your-demons" mentality of so many creativity how-to books. But there is truth here as well. 

For my dissertation, I read the memoirs of those who suffer from bipolar illness. As a disease that evokes shame and brands stigma on its sufferers, the act of writing is truly an act of courage–an attempt to escape the silence of shame, an attempt to create a bridge of understanding with others, an attempt to make some type of sense of frequently chaotic lives. One of the writers, a psychiatrist, risked professional credibility and capability when she "came out" as bipolar. She’s since become an internationally-recognized authority on the disease and writes books professionally and for the general public. A type of Brian Greene for the bipolar world. 

But, unlike Greene’s discussion of string theory and quantum physics, her work is tied to her identity in a different way–a fact she unabashedly admits. It is motivated and affected by her own experience of the disease, and by a passion for lessening the pain of others–if not through ways of controlling the disease, at least socially by making it more possible to live a life without prejudice. With each text she writes, she creates meaning for herself as well as others. She creates a bridge across the silence of shame, deep pain, and difference. 

Building and crossing that bridge in writing can seem nearly impossible. It is not only bipolar sufferers who deal with this problem. Shame is endemic in our society as a form of social control. Pain seems to be an ubiquitous experience for human beings. And we all struggle with those things and people who are different from ourselves.  This is not to say that there aren’t degrees in struggling and that building and crossing some bridges may be more like Fitzcarraldo’s quest to pull a ship through a jungle than laying a plank over a small stream. 

Building a bridge through writing–no matter how small or seemingly easy-to-build it is, is also always an exposure of the self. The possibility of shame increases. The possibility of experiencing oneself as different and thus open to rejection comes with every word written to connect with others. Writing builds relationships, and relationships are one of the most beautiful sources of love, but also of pain. This is true even if one is only writing for the self. How many times have those writing in a personal diary hesitated to write or continue to write of a newly discovered dark, "dirty," or embarrassing aspect of the self? Even when it is almost certain no one will read it?

My dissertation is currently my writing bugaboo. It is not the most overtly personal project I’ve done, although there may be parts I add that will be. The least seemingly personal parts, though, are currently the hardest to write. Because they are oblique references to things deeply personal, but hanging out at the edge of my consciousness, refusing to offer up the next board for the bridge. I wait at the edge of the last board laid, staring down at the abyss and praying for the next plank to surface. Kierkegaard would call it vertigo. I call it courage. 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    May 15, 2009 10:38 pm

    I write about BPD too
    In my academic day job as a mental health/substance abuse researcher, as well as in my creative writing. My protag is bipolar – I have tremendous respect for you doing your dissertation – I would lvoe to read it. Peace, Linda

    • May 16, 2009 1:50 pm

      Re: I write about BPD too
      Thank you! After exploring (2!) other topics I finally settled on this because it was closest to my heart. It has been very, very difficult at times…
      What type of research to do you? I’d love to read yours (if a layperson can understand). I will definitely (gladly) let you read the dissertation. (So few read them–I’d be honored.) I deal with how the bp memoirs reveal aspects of the pervasive myth of punishment in our society, as well as an alternative logic (grace–but not understood traditionally within the same punishment context–shown in writing and connections with others).

  2. February 26, 2010 11:03 am

    Thanks for your efforts! its really hard to achieved the target, but your posted experience help me a lot, that how to make it more simple and manageable, Thank you for very helpful tips.
    dissertation | dissertations | dissertation writing | writing a dissertation

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