I’ve always been a little bit different. From my earliest childhood, throughout the school years, being a parent, pursuing a career, and looking ahead to the senior years there has been something that has set me apart from others. Living with Bipolar disorder can be exhilarating. It can be devastating. It can foster some beautiful relationships, and destroy them just as fast. For those who don’t live with bipolar disorder it is difficult if not impossible to understand just how serious and life altering this disease can be. More often than not, they will tell you things like “Get over yourself”, “You’re not sick, you just use it as an excuse”, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, or “Bipolar isn’t a disease, it’s a weakness”. There are some who are understanding, supportive and caring. But they can’t truly understand. A man cannot possibly understand what it’s like to give childbirth. A woman without children has no idea what motherhood is all about. People with this illness are different in a way that is unfathomable.
Bipolar disorder is an illness. It’s a physical illness much like Multiple Sclerosis or Leukemia. It’s not something we chose. It’s nothing we’ve done. There is no one to blame. It is an illness that is unique for each of us. Symptoms, treatments, acceptance and outcomes can vary greatly from one person to the next. There can be many shared experiences and personal ones that even fellow sufferers can’t understand. We all have our individual demons that affect each of us in our own way. We have treatments that work for our specific illness. Treatments that won’t work for anyone else. Or treatments that don’t work at all. Discovering a successful treatment plan can be difficult at best. And what works today may not work tomorrow. It’s true that as an illness it can be controlled even if incurable. Or it can be denied and free to wreak havoc for a lifetime. Acceptance is extremely hard, but without acceptance it will never go away.
My own experience has been a lifetime of denial. Even though the signs were there, even though medical professionals diagnosed it from the beginning there was always an explanation in my mind for my behaviors and feelings that kept me from believing. It wasn’t until I was in my 50’s that I finally realized that what had been controlling my life was an illness. A mental illness. I am a person with bipolar disorder. One day it just all made sense. I had been hospitalized for being completely out of control of my emotions, and had been extremely lucky to be assigned a Psychiatrist who happened to specialize in this illness. It took about 15 minutes in our initial session for him to tie it all together in a way I couldn’t deny. That was the beginning of acceptance. Sure, there have been many times I’ve convinced myself that it was all a mistake and that I was just a victim of circumstance. But it all comes back to the truth. I am a person with Bipolar disorder.
There can be a significant understanding of life’s experience with coming to terms with the illness. You may have had the lifetime struggle and tried many different ways to cope, but seldom succeeded. It’s like being attacked by a dragon. You try and try to put out the fire that’s burning you until you realize that the true way to success is to kill the dragon. Bipolar Disorder cannot be killed. But it can be contained, and the dragon can be locked away in a distant dungeon leaving you safe and happy. Over the years I have gone through my own attempts to quench the flames. Antidepressants, tranquilizers, therapy, self medication and abuse. Most worked initially, but ultimately failed. Now that I’m treating the illness and not the symptoms I have hope that my dragons and demons can be kept at bay.
There is no way to compare one’s experience to others. My illness is no better or worse than anyone else living with this disease. It’s unique to us all. You may have a broken leg, and I may have a hangnail but my hangnail will always hurt me more. It’s all relative. We all react to our own illness in our own way, and there’s no way to quantify the impact.
My lifetime of living with this illness has included uncontrolled mania and psychosis. I have known the utter despair and hopelessness in the darkest depths of depression. I have succeeded in my career beyond my wildest dreams. And I have found myself hospitalized with no idea why. I have had multiple failed marriages and damaged people I love. I have struggled with alcohol abuse and self-destruction. I have attempted suicide. I am a person with bipolar disorder. Years of therapy and introspection has also given me insight and understanding which has led to acceptance and healing. However, I’m not done. My struggle continues, and will continue until the day I die. It is my hope that sharing my experiences, my successes and loses, my highs and my lows may help others in their own journey. Because all of us suffering from this horrific disease all share something in common. Regardless of our symptoms, regardless of the impact to our lives, regardless of the difference in the way we are treated, there is one thing we all share.
We are a person with Bipolar disorder.