From The Guardian, 11/30/16
“We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not “I survived living in Mosul during an attack” heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder. That’s why it’s important to find a community – however small – of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.”
As another person with bipolar disorder, I really admire the way that you have spoken candidly about your own mental health and made people like me feel less alone. I hope that over the next decades of my life from my 20s now to my 60s I’ll be able to get to where you are.
Right now, though, it’s tough. I’m doing the best that I can. I see my doctor regularly. I’ve tried different medications. But trying to deal with my mental illness and meet all of my responsibilities at school, work and home feels like a terrible balancing act. Some days I juggle everything better than others, and sometimes I let everything drop. It feels like only a matter of time until the things that I drop shatter irreparably. Have you found a way to feel at peace when even your brain seesaws constantly? I can’t see very far down the line from here and I hope that you can give me some insight.
You’re lucky to have been diagnosed as bipolar and accepted that diagnosis at such a young age. I was told that I was bipolar when I was 24 but was unable to accept that diagnosis until I was 28 when I overdosed and finally got sober. Only then was I able to see nothing else could explain away my behavior.
Going to AA helped me to see that there were other people who had problems that had found a way to talk about them and find relief and humor through that. It doesn’t sound like you have a dual diagnosis as an alcoholic and/or addict so you’re not a perfect fit for that, but there are groups that are simply for people with affective disorders (depression, bipolar, etc).
Initially I didn’t like the groups. I felt like I had been banished to sit with a group of other misfits like myself to sit still for an hour. But then someone said, “You don’t have to like these meetings, you just have to go, go until you like them.” That took me by surprise. I didn’t have to like something I did? Wow, what a concept. I thought I had to like everything – so I would wait to be OK with something and if I didn’t get there it was permission to give up. But if I didn’t have to like it – if I just had to effectively put my head down and move through some uncomfortable feelings till I got to the other side – what a notion! My comfort wasn’t the most important thing – my getting through to the other side of difficult feelings was. However long it might seem to take and however unfair it might seem, it was my job to do it.
We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not “I survived living in Mosul during an attack” heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder. That’s why it’s important to find a community – however small – of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.
Don’t I sound like I know what I’m talking about? The truth is, I’ve never done what it sounds like you’re doing: balancing school, home and work. I left home and school. So as difficult as it seems like it can be, you’re ahead of the game. You’re doing more than I did at your age, and that’s courageous.
You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it. You can let it all fall down and feel defeated and hopeless and that you’re done. But you reached out to me – that took courage. Now build on that. Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do.