Accepting Bipolar disorder is the first step to learning to live with it
Accepting bipolar mental illness can be a long process. It’s a common diagnosis and like any disability, learning to live with it and thrive takes skill. The stigma of having a mental illness is the first hurdle to overcome. How will people see me? How will I feel about myself?
Learning to accept disability and learning to live with stigma is not for the faint of heart. Over and over again, it is required of you to love yourself, to accept yourself. That doesn’t mean you won’t get mad. Get angry. Feel the grief. That, too, is as much a part of this journey as anything but keep going. However, you must learn to take that which can be perceived as weakness and realize the truth – your vulnerability is your superpower.
There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.Leonard Cohen
Accepting Bipolar Disorder: The First Step
Big sister, soccer player, hip-hop head. I was proud of most of the labels that had identified me, that I identified with; however, all of that changed when I turned twenty-four.
After what I would later learn was a manic summer, I wound up in the psych ward at Lenox Hill Hospital and got a new label – Bipolar. Bipolar I with Psychotic Tendencies, to be precise.
My initial reaction, which took a while to shake, was that everyone was wrong; The doctors were wrong, the nurses in the psych ward were wrong, the other patients whose stories I could completely relate to. All wrong! I would play along until I was released, but this was not me. Big sister, soccer player, grad student – that was me. Not… crazy.
I don’t remember the moment I accepted my diagnosis. It was a gradual process. It is a process of educating myself, of therapy, of medication trial and error, and it is also a process of attuning to myself. I am proud of my resilience. I have gained strength and wisdom that others who are not “tested” in this way will ever know.
From my vantage point now, I can offer some perspective. First, I have learned that healing from mental illness requires a long journey of acceptance.
My Steps Toward Stability with Bipolar:
This is a journey, and like any journey, there are twists and turns, unexpected roadblocks, and detours. Stability can be tricky. When you think you have it figured out, your body changes, or an unexpected stressor comes into your life, and your hard-won stasis is altered. Decades may pass on this journey. It did for me.
During these decades, I continue to work at healing — which may sound like a bit of a paradox. Nevertheless, I committed to my medication regimen, to therapy, and to be healthy.
People often do not fully accept their medication regimen, stemming from a refusal to accept their diagnosis or distrust of the medical complex. I tried alternative therapies for years, but when I realized that I spent many of my days on the couch because I was “too sensitive” to go outside (I would feel other people’s energies too strongly), I knew I needed a change. Refusing to take medication is a significant barrier on the road to healing, recovering, and living in wellness. Finding the proper medication(s)is no easy feat either.
Choosing your approach to accepting bipolar healing
I could choose how I would approach healing, and I decided to take things one step at a time, deal with crises while practicing resilience proactively, and always have hope for my situation. I needed to go deeper into acceptance, and in doing so, I discovered my choice. I chose, I surrendered, and I trusted. I trusted my doctors to work with me, and I trusted myself (gradually, over time) to be able to know when things felt right and when they were off.
Managing meds takes practice
Years of medication, getting my blood drawn, attending psychiatry and therapy appointments and still trying to do chores or exercise despite symptoms and side effects, dieting despite the weight gain side effects, Decades of getting, of setbacks, of bad days and good, of health scares and of feelings of isolation. But also of moments of profound revelation, of unexpected and deep connection, of making art, of self-discovery and self-love. This is the work of healing and is a part of the warriorship required of one with a mental illness.
I can’t help but think some days that I am “all better.” And for the most part, I guess that is true, but a mental illness or any healing journey for that matter doesn’t work that way. What I do know is that today, I feel good. I feel solid and stable, and I know that I can ask for help if and when I need it.
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