We Are the X-Men

Like the saying from the X-Men: “You have more power than you can imagine.”

I remember being a big fan of the TV show The Incredible Hulk when I was a kid, and the The Hulk, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and the X-Men series as movies when they came out. I always thought they portrayed mental illness in a quirky way, but I never realized the significance they had for me until recently. It was in watching the latest episode in the X-men series, X-Men: The Last Stand, that it all came together for me: We are the X-Men.

Stan Lee and the creators of all of those characters have shown uncanny insight into the nature of our condition and our struggles. All of their characters have special powers. They also have weird quirks and idiosyncrasies. Most of all, they struggle with their powers and their inability to handle them.

In watching X-Men: The Last Stand, I noticed several characters with whom I could relate. They wanted to live a “normal” life and could not see the benefit of a power that they could not control. They were subjected to overwhelming pressure to get “cured” of their disease, and many succumbed to the promise of a “normal” life.

Many fought to see the possibilities in harnessing their powers for good. As they gained the ability to handle their unique gifts, they found that they could control their super powers and turn them into an advantage.

As I struggled with my condition, I learned that even some of the powers that had no apparent benefit were a source of great strength. I now see that my “super powers” give me the ability to do things a “normal” being couldn’t even fathom. I also see that my lack of ability to harness them and keep them under control had brought me dangerously close to my own death.

Like the characters of Stan Lee’s invention, I too would have done anything to become “normal,” but in the end chose to engage in the ultimate battle: learning to get my powers under control to harness them for good.

Of course, with those powers comes the struggle against them and our inability to harness them. In the end, we have no choice but to get them under control with any means available, including medications, therapy, and our own hard work. However, many choose to give up on the effort to harness our powers, for fear that we will never gain sufficient control over them.

The problem is not that we are mentally ill; the problem is that we experience 150 percent of what “normal” people do and we are frustrated that we have not yet learned how to handle it. But that does not mean that gaining control is impossible.

With incredibly hard work and the help of our entire team of supporters, we can learn to get more and more of our powers under control and actually begin to see them as unique gifts to cherish. If we assemble a team and a solid plan that takes a slow and progressive approach, we can see modest results in a short time, and accomplishments that are truly miraculous within a few years.

As we begin to learn, we gain the ability to handle more of the power available to us. Our doctors and therapists will recognize our ability to better manage our condition and can lower our medication so that it does not hold us back as much. Very slowly, and with close supervision, we can adjust our medication to the minimum needed to keep us in control. As we develop insight and make a stronger effort, our range expands and we start to experience the highs of mania and the depths of depression without losing control.

As our range expands, we are faced with new challenges that sometimes we are unable to handle. However, with proper supervision, we become much better at recognizing the edges of our abilities. Thus, we can fine tune both our medications and our efforts to help us function in a better range.

The shocking discovery came when I started learning how to see the benefits in depression. As I learned to better understand what was going on, I learned that I could function very well in a depressed state and it afforded me insights that I never dreamed were possible. The best changes we ever make in our lives are often the result of insights gained in depression. We might accomplish many things when manic, but the desires to reevaluate our lives and to make changes are not among them.

This exploration is exhilarating, but should only be explored with the help of a professional team. It will take tremendous effort and tenacity; there will be many times when it seems hopeless, as if you are making no progress or are even sliding backward. If you look back far enough, though, you can always see progress which, if kept up, will inevitably lead to success.

Along the way you will discover “super powers” you never knew you had. Best of all, you will discover yourself and realize that those powers were given to you to help you along the way. Stan Lee has often said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It is our greatest responsibility to keep our powers under control while learning to harness them for good.

(This was originally a chapter in The Depression Advantage book. It was modified to be included in an article in BP Magazine, but is shown here in the original form.)

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Tom Wootton founded Bipolar Advantage with the mission to help people with mental conditions shift their thinking and behavior so that they can lead extraordinary lives. His most recent work focuses on moving beyond recovery in bipolar disorder to what he calls Bipolar In Order.