Dice—tools of gameplay, signifiers of randomness, representatives of chance—are the very hands of fortune itself. They are volatile devices, unpredictable by nature, and outside of family board games and casinos, we seldom vest our happiness in their outcomes. Our lives would simply be out of control. We instead sequester them away, deem them only appropriate for fun and games, and test their apathy only when we want to. We base our real-world actions and perceptions in the sturdiest of foundations; we create routines, set goals, and incessantly check boxes off well-organized lists.
While the true nature of our reality is that of constant flux, the paradigm through which we experience it is tacitly of our own sturdy crafting. However, there are also those among us whose paradigms of perception are cataclysmically enslaved to the dice. Their concepts of reality are not determined by themselves, but are rather subjected at any moment to a broad spectrum of changes: drastic inflation, demoralizing manipulation, and everything in between. These unlucky minds are those ravaged by bipolar disorder, and the very lens through which they see the world, themselves, and their peers is either bent or flattened at every turn of the game. They are dice-rollers, and I am one of them.
Dice represent the all-too-random brain chemistry we live with every day. Soaring highs of mania and crushing lows of depression are regular to us, but never expected, and this perpetual cycle of boom and bust is simply a harsh variable in the formula of life. Alan Watts, in his work, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, described the relativism of our world with the selfsame terms I use to console the havoc of my mood:
. . . Just as the hour-hand of the watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there is day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter. You can't have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn't be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side-by-side with white, or white unless side-by-side with black (Watts 17).
It is hard to find a writer who philosophizes so deeply on the pure relationships reality has entangled within itself. Stranger yet is the incisiveness with which he describes the distance between opposites—summer and winter, love and hate, rolling a twelve and rolling snake eyes.
The exhilarating crest and the paralyzing trough of the bipolar wave established their tyranny over my emotions, and mercilessly grew more variant as I first experienced college. Rising stress levels, unstructured time, and the muse of procrastination all contributed to mood fluctuations. It is a dangerous game to unwillingly roll the dice as my mind does. Each ensuing turn either rouses me to hyperactivity, numbs me into a fugue state, or places me on some part of the curve in between—descending only to suddenly skyrocket or ascending to inevitable collapse. The Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu—whom I discovered in my new-fangled, collegiate pursuit of knowledge—offered me a tale that runs parallel to the vicious circle of mood. The legend has it that one day Chuang Tzu sat beneath a tree, and became so relaxed that he soon dozed off. In his sleep he dreamed that he was a butterfly. He did not know himself as Chuang Tzu, but instead as no more than this butterfly. Upon waking up, he instantly regained his identity, but as C. W. Chan interprets it, “He did not know whether it was Chuang Chou dreaming that he was a butterfly, or whether it was the butterfly dreaming that it was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and the butterfly there must be some distinction. This is a case of what is called the transformation of things” (Chan). My case is the transformation of moods, of mindsets, but most painfully of personalities. When the time comes again for me to slip away into the doldrums or let loose with mania, the boundaries of my identity blur and bend. It becomes unclear whether I am a sad man dreaming he is powerful beyond measure or a happy man dreaming that his happiness has vanished. I continued my search for words that could anchor me, tools with which I could pry off the two-faced mask.
I have learned to ride the waves and cope with the outcomes of the dice to some avail, but my studies and future career ask more of me. They require an anchored, steadfast me, of which I used to only dream. However, when I discovered Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” I realized my best defense as a dice-roller is really no defense at all.
Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events;
These come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering
at it. (Whitman)
Instead of deflecting my emotions, I found it easier to let them pass through me. In the act of channeling, I am greeted by a fresh new optimism, a new outlook which Whitman also matches:
I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other. (Whitman)
In my efforts to own my bipolar condition, to let it do its worst and persevere nonetheless, I have also tried approach my disease head on. Was rolling the dice truly my obligation, or only the illusion of suffering? The book, An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison, showed me that transcending my dice-rolling could be a gracious process after all. She writes, “The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast you must first make it beautiful. In some way, I have tried to do that with my manic-depressive illness. It has been my fascinating, albeit deadly, enemy and companion” (Jamison 5). Wondering how I could possibly see my disease in that light, I welcomed the idea that bipolar disorder is a phenomenon separate from my nature. It is veritably a condition I must persevere through, but it is not me.
My nature contains my bipolar dice game, but also extends far beyond it. It is here that I currently stand, trying my hardest to let the beauty inherent within show itself. The wisdom of Lao Tzu allows me to see it. He said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” (de Botton). I know now to trust the dice game, to welcome chance into my life, with the hopes that the only person my disease will render me is, in the end, its champion.
Chan, W. C. "The Butterfly Dream." From the Philosopher. The Philosopher, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.
de Botton, Alain. “Lao Tzu” Youtube. The School of Life, 21 Nov 2014. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.
Jamison, Kay R. An Unquiet Mind. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1995. Print.
Watts, Alan. The Book; on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. New York: Pantheon, 1966. Menantol. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.
Whitman, Walt. "Whitman's ‘Song of Myself’" Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.