“That is the boundary, and the price, of immortality.”
In the fantasy genre, nobody has crafted better magic systems than Brandon Sanderson (hereafter referred to as “Branderson”). His characters perform amazing feats that go against the ordinary laws of nature—but not the laws of his worlds. For whatever magic his characters perform, there is always a specific cost, almost to a scientific degree. In the Mistborn trilogy, for instance, there’s allomancy, magic based on metal.
Allomancy has many widespread effects, such as enhancing and dampening emotions, Pushing and Pulling on metals, and even temporal effects. Each Allomantic power has its own metal, which must be ingested and “burned” to activate. Source
And later: “Weaknesses and costs alike make a magic system more interesting.”
Take a look at this here article:
It’s hard not see bipolar disorder as a kind of superpower or magic, one that amplifies certain abilities at great cost later on.
I suppose I am more creative than the average person, though I don’t generally think of myself that way. My creativity doesn’t come up spontaneously; I don’t care for art as self-expression; I don’t like to make something up just to see what happens. I’ve always used what creative inclinations I have for some other purpose; I suppose I channel it like a tool to be used for more important causes than my own pleasure and satisfaction. I am darned jealous of creative people who find the creative process “fun” and do it as a hobby. For me it’s deadly serious, and you’ve probably caught a lot of that self-seriousness in my voice on this very blog.
Nonetheless, I am indeed sometimes cursed/blessed with a flight of ideas. When I’m on a roll, when my brain is in full manic mode—or, when I am praying for a solution on my knees—new things just pop into my brain. New connections to things I’d written previously, new layers for a reader to uncover, new meanings to mundane happenings. Or new ideas for essays or chapters or moments in a story. When I’m in the right frame of mind, it can be an exhilarating experience—and one I chalk up wholly to God, not me. When it comes to my best ideas, I’m just a messenger, a medium.
Here’s a horror story for you: one time I was lying in bed, tired but not sleepy, and utterly relaxed on a soft pillow—and bit by bit, a fantasy trilogy trickled into my mind. The precise narrative beats of each book, how they were going to end and start, what truths were going to be revealed and when, the exact hidden relationships between every character and how they were going to learn about each other, the plan and identity of the villain(s) and the story magic that would pull the reader through each book to the end—I had all of it, the whole, floating there in my head. It was complete.
I decided not to write it down just then. Sometimes when I start writing ideas down, I concentrate too hard on how to word them and I end up forgetting the larger aspects of them, in the end leaving only the words on the page, and the feeling and passion behind it all unspoken. I was afraid something similar might happen. I didn’t want this feeling, this sense of wholeness, reduced to scratchings of ink on a notebook page!
A few hours went by. I continued to not write it down. Same with the next day. And the next. And soon I found that I’d forgotten almost every detail. A total gift from God! A full and complete story that was beautiful and exciting and deep, WASTED, because I didn’t take the time to work it out on the page. I remember a few things, but none of the brilliance: two of the three titles were: “The Book of Empty Pages” and “The Book of the Last Chapter,” or something like that. “The Book of Endless Pages” might have been the middle book. Man, I wish I had that again.
Can any of my fellow writers relate?
Anyway, the point is that having bipolar disorder can lead to some amazing powers. Mania can be like a drug, especially when it’s coupled with the Spirit (boy that sounds blasphemous, but I don’t mean it to be).
But it all comes at a cost.
One of these, for me, was delusions of grandeur at a young age. It started with Troy Dunn’s talk, “It’s Okay to Be Young and Successful!” In the talk he shares stories of famous men and women who made their mark on the world at a young age, as teens or even preteens. But this drive to be like them metastasized in me only when I read Ender’s Game. Particularly the chapter, “Locke and Demosthenes,” when young Peter and Valetine Wiggin essentially take over the world via political essays on the internet. Peter and Valentine told me it was possible to obtain greatness as a child, and that message ignited the bipolar in my brain, convincing me that I, too, could absorb books on history and science and politics and write convincingly as an adult. They wrote, and I was kind of a writer, too. If they could change the world, I could too. So I began to think of myself as this great writer who knew exactly what he was doing and was an authority on all relevant knowledge.
This eventually turned into writing fiction, especially after reading Victor Hugo and Fyodor Dostoevsky and imitating their styles and thinking I was writing as powerfully and profoundly as they did. I completely believed that my first attempt at a book (the very first “Sea of Chaos”) would be published. (It was, but only because I paid a self-publishing company to do it.) Then the second book came, and it was going to be a masterpiece and bring me great success, because it was so deep and exciting and full of truth and beauty. (That was Metagopolis Book One.) I started writing Book Two and I got 95,000 words in before I realized I’d only written about 1/4th of that book’s story and set it down. I never picked it back up, but I became sure as all heck that Book One was going to be accepted for publication and I would finally achieve that elusive success.
Bear in mind, I was now an adult, just married, and had never taken a single creative writing class. I didn’t need one, of course!
I wrote another book the next year (the first version of No Romance). This one I was sure would get me an agent, get me published and well-known. I actually queried several agents. My good friend Kevin Haws (bless him) read the book as I was writing it, finishing the last chapter just a few days after I did. Kevin was so nice, and said the book really spoke to him, and when he said that, I squeeled for joy, knowing my success was right around the corner. Then I decided to get it edited and critiqued by my friends at Leading Edge—and this, this, was the first major time that my brain broke. Brandon Jones (bless him, too!) led the critique and delivered the devastating news in the comments of that document: this was not a great book, or even a good one (my translation). I was crushed—and I needed to be.
I was in some creative writing courses at college by now. I was learning a few things, but mostly using the peer-editing parts of class to try to show off. I will say right now that it wasn’t like I had no talent at all. I had a few literary gifts that others didn’t have, a penchant for symbolism and imagery that I think I possessed from the beginning—thus fueling my delusions. I could pull off the kind of thing in my stories that they talk about in English and literature classes, and I was proud of that. But there was still so much I didn’t know, though by now I was definitely learning along the way. (And that’s an important thing to keep in mind—I was improving.)
So it’s the last year of college, and I’m doing my thesis, and I get approved to write a novel—the second version of my very first book, Sea of Chaos. This time, I’ll do it right. I’m a much better writer now. I know how to do things.
And it’s better. A lot better. Fueled by a comment made by my faculty adviser, Scott Abbott, who looked at the first five or ten pages and said in stark surprise: “This is a first draft?” That kept my ego fed for a long time to come.
I apparently had the ability. I had the ambition. (Sea of Chaos has always been hugely ambitious, and that hasn’t changed in the last five years. For instance, now it’s six books long.) And by the end of the year, I’d written it—191,000 words over the course of about ten months, while doing school full time and working part-time. I know it needs some changes. I know it needs editing and several parts need rewriting. But give me a couple months where I’m free from the burdens of school or work and I can take care of it!
I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it for No Romance, either. I wrote a second version of that book and it was…better…than the first. But still kind of lousy. And I realized later on that Sea of Chaos needed much more work than I thought, and put it off for awhile.
Then I got a book published! The Hero Doctrine, put out there by Cedar Fort. I was, and am slightly to this day, proud of that book. It didn’t help me curb by ego, though, when the person who accepted it called it “genius writing.” It DID help me curb my ego when the book flopped in sales and I got a lukewarm-at-best review in the Deseret News. That crushed me, and still crushes me to this day. Nonetheless, it had a humbling effect.
I wrote a fantasy novella this same year that like three or four people read (and was rejected by Tor during their big novella contest). I wrote yet another draft of No Romance that again ended in failure, and then I wrote a script for a video game that I was proud of, and am still working on producing with my good buddy Kyle. I wrote an anthology of short stories to accompany the game that as of now only about two or three people have read. I wrote an 80,000-word novel that was originally meant to be a 20,000-word prologue to the third version of Sea of Chaos, and the year after that (this year) I spent writing 100,000 words of a more fully realized vision for that little story that I realized just a couple months ago needed drastic rethinking—all of this done with the highest of literary ambitions in mind, all with the utmost surety that I would, that I will, get my work recognized by someone, somewhere, and it will lead to success and the realization of my dreams and my own self-conception…
Inevitably, after the crest comes the trough. This is when, in allomantic terms, you’ve burned all your pewter and suddenly you collapse, totally devoid of not just super strength but normal human ability, and you lie there. Empty of everything. No energy or motivation to move. A black cloud enshrouding your emotions. Nothing is worth it. Your great ideas were worthless. You’ve written a million and a half words but people don’t really care. Your problems will never be solved. Every doubt or fear you’ve ever felt about your friends, your own abilities, your potential, are all confirmed. There is no hope, there is no light, and you even feel that there is no God, because He’s not saying anything, He’s not lifting the cloud from your eyes, He’d not doing anything whatsoever to help you. The Holy Ghost can’t even touch you when you’re in this cloud, behind that wall. It is dark and you are utterly alone.
And death doesn’t seem so bad. Maybe people will appreciate you better after you’re gone. Maybe this is how you can finally get it in their heads that you matter, that you had needs and they didn’t fulfill them. Maybe this is how they can be punished, and how they can feel the misery and hopelessness you feel. Maybe this is the best way to communicate. Maybe God should have to pay for this sickness He’s put you through.
You see people like Branderson finding success. You see their writing, which is flawed, getting raves and publishing contracts and…and fans. And it’s just not fair.
This is my experience with mixed state bipolar. It’s not just a depletion of energy for me. It’s a combination of the depressive (sad, hopeless) with the manic (a mind that cannot rest). It’s hell.
But it always passes. And hope returns.
Do you know that feeling when you’ve been clenching your teeth for a really long time, and you finally notice and loosen your jaw? Or when your body has been tensed up and you finally notice and you relax and breathe again? And you get that feeling, that question, of Why was I doing that?
That’s what it feels like when the black cloud drifts on and your mind can take in sunlight again. You remember yourself! You feel normal! You are again a rational human being capable of good thoughts and charitable feelings and deep wells of happiness! You can do that project you set your mind on; you can fulfill that potential others see in you; the feelings of envy that once gripped your brain have faded away and you bear no one ill will. The crazy thing is, you can’t predict when this will happen. You can’t know what random stimulus
This is my experience, anyway. The glory of it all is that the pain and depression truly do pass. Sometimes by itself, but sometimes by the outreach of others. We who suffer the black cloud need evidence in our lives to refute the demons whispering in our hearts. We need those who can reach into the darkness to pull us out with a helping hand. Because that darkness is just like the Brandersonian magic system. It needs negative stimulus to give it life. It needs fuel to burn. It craves justification. Positive stimulus, love from those around us, can make it burn up quicker. And when it’s all used up, the depressive effects dry up too. Be the allomantic metal pulling in the opposite direction! Be that for someone you know who’s having a hard time, whether they’re diagnosed with a mood disorder or not. We’re all fighting hard battles, and we need the fuel of love to keep at that fight.
My bipolar disorder has given me delusions of grandeur. But it’s also given me the energy, the work ethic, the absolute belief in myself and in what God has given me to literally one day attain those dreams, that success, that grandeur. If I never had that surety, I would not have worked so damn hard for so many years. Because I’m better now! Maybe it’s just yet another delusion, but my writing has improved so much over these last ten years. I know what I’m doing, I know what tools and techniques to use, only because I suffered that heartbreak and learned from it and because that high, those dreams, that mania, has given me an everlasting hope that it’s still possible. That hope has never fully died. The depression cannot vanquish it for good. I will not stop working, or dreaming, because what I see, the vision I have for these six books of Sea of Chaos in particular, is so real to me, and I need others to see it too.
And maybe THIS time, the realization of that dream is right around the corner. I’ll keep working as if it does. And in the meantime, I ask of you some pewter—some fuel to burn and produce positive energy. And I ask that you provide it to others, too, if they need it.
And really, we all need it.