Most people do not associate with William Shakespeare with mental health issues. After all, for over 400 years, most people have only thought about him as a young genius from Stratford-upon-Avon who left his wife and three young children to write plays in London.
“Stratford” had to be stable mentally because he also led a group of investors to rebuild the Globe theater. He also lent money and sold malt and grain. He was not known to erupt with any mental health issues, but Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford DID.
Oxford as we call him was known for his “volatile temperament,” reckless sexual escapades, and impulsive spending habits. He personally believed he should have been King and signed his name with a crown in his signature – a sign of grandiosity that rubbed some people the wrong way.
Interestingly, mental health issues can be found in Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. In Hamlet, for example, when Hamlet utters the line, “to be or not to be,” he is talking about suicide, isn’t he? When King Lear talks to the fool, he is referring to his own belief he is going mad, not the fool. ‘O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! / Keep me in temper, I would not be mad! ‘ (1.5. 46–47); ‘O Fool, I shall go mad! ‘ (1.4.)
Finally, Macbeth sinks into a state of madness, doesn’t he after killing the former king, Duncan? Madness and hallucinations are what drive the story for they become the antagonists of the story and bring about the end of Macbeth.
The sonnets are filled with snippets of talk about depression, time, the inability to sleep and death. They move into the bipolar realm too – hitting the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
J. David Phillips is a novelist who has Bipolar disorder. When asked why bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose and treat, here is how he describes it:
Bipolar Disorder really isn’t just one thing. Good grief, it would be nice if it was. As someone living with Bipolar II Disorder, I can tell you honestly that the answer boils down to one thing:
And Nature is a real bitch.
Why do I say Bipolar Disorder isn’t just one thing? Just look at it at face value. It’s a mood disorder that can’t seem to make up its mind. Are you manic or are you depressed?
Nature decided for shits and giggles that you needed to be both. Sometimes at the same time. Sometimes more than once during a single day.
Now, if that wasn’t enough, Nature threw in hypomanic states just to round things off nicely.
Hypomanic states can range from really dark moods to ones where you’re light, airy, upbeat, and happy.
But hold on!
Hypomanic states can also mean you’re irritable, grouchy, and prone to fly off the handle into a rage at any moment.
But wait! We’re not done!
Either end of this—Bipolar I or Bipolar II—can come with a sense of grandiosity, making you believe you’re capable of far more then you really are. Which can also make you prone to irrational and questionable decisions and behavior.
As if all of this mental fuckupery isn’t enough, it distorts your perception of the world, which affects the way you react and respond to events and situations.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bipolar Disorder can also come with hallucinations and highly skewed perceptions of reality.
And that, friends and neighbors, brings the dreaded word, “Psychosis,” into the picture.
So along with a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder come a train of co-morbid issues that occur in tandem with the mental illness.
You aren’t treating depression.
You aren’t treating psychosis.
You aren’t treating anxiety.
You aren’t treating mania.
You’re fighting all of them at once.
Thanks a lot, Nature!
Brain imaging shows that when someone with Bipolar I or II is in the midst of a mood shift, their brain appears to be in a seizure-like state. This is why the most effective medications are anti-convulsants. The one I am on—Lamictal, 100 mg twice daily—has saved my life and my sanity.
But now I have to live with the fallout from this illness. I have lost friends, loved ones, and family members due to what this has done to me. And at times I struggle reconciling that with the fact that I never once asked for any of this.
To make matters worse, either variety of Bipolar Disorder mimics other mental illnesses, making proper diagnosis a long process. This is crucial, however, because the medications prescribed for depression or borderline personality disorder can send someone with a mood disorder into a full blown manic state. So even the things that are supposed to help you can make matters much worse.”
Scholars often say there is “a fine line between genius and madness” and yet scholars often dismiss de Vere as the “real” Shakespeare. Was madness the reason why people today call his authorship a “conspiracy theory”? Find out more in Hang Shakespeare!