Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor

It’s no secret that I have struggled with bipolar disorder for several years. What may be less known is that I have also fought hard to overcome numerous setbacks and personal losses as a result of my illness. I don’t like that I have had to deal with an illness as cruel as bipolar disorder can be, but the more I focus on how unfair it is the less time I have to live a full life.

I know for sure I am not the only person who has suffered because of bipolar disorder. There are many kindred spirits out there who can relate. So I dedicate this post to all of you reading, looking for some words that may bring peace to your heart.

You see, I know a great deal about believing in the American Dream and living that dream to some extent. I also know first hand what it’s like to lose almost everything at the hands of a mental illness. I think the worst loss for me was when I lost my sense of self. I was once a confident, young woman who thought creating dreams, setting goals and accomplishing those were simply a way of life. It was my way of life and it worked well for me.

Then I met this fierce competitor. Not in the form of a human being, but an invisible force that took away my ability to function. There has been no greater challenge for me than to find my way back to a stabilized person. Even making my way to the Olympic Games was in no way a fraction as difficult as it has been to fight bipolar disorder.

This is how my friends I know just how strong you are. If you’ve found your way back to stability from any bipolar episode, you are one tough person. Because this competitor we face does not play fair. It has it’s own set of rules and takes no prisoners.

But we win everyday by fighting the good fight. I know I had to pick up many pieces in my life in order to recover–one step at a time, day-by-day and sometimes moment-by-moment. The biggest and most important part of the fight is to never give up trying.

Part of the challenge is also to remake ourselves all over again. Because often times bipolar disorder has taken us off whatever path we may have been on. It might have kept us from finishing school or stopped us real quick in our career paths. But to fight back means we forge on looking for new opportunities. This is where it really becomes even more difficult.

If you’ve ever been at the top of your game and fallen all the way to the bottom, you know how hard it is to remake yourself. But you made the journey, why stop where you are? This is what I tell myself as I continue to get stronger on my path.

See, no one is there to point us in the direction we need to go, at least not for me. I’ve been fumbling my way around trying to find a sense of purpose for my life. I walked down several paths, only to either quit before seeing it through, or get to the door of something new and run before I opened it. I have even a greater fear of failing than I have ever had in my life. I’m not afraid to step out there and try, I’m just afraid if I try too hard my nemesis will rear its’ ugly head and render me incapable. I wish I wasn’t afraid, but I am.

I try to dream and set goals. I have accomplished a few along the way. But the really big ones elude me. I have had to learn how to be satisfied with the small wins. Because I know in my heart the small wins will lead to bigger ones.

I don’t have a great deal of answers for anyone. More than anything, just know there is someone out there who knows exactly how you feel. And whatever you are trying to do, keep trying. Don’t give up. Eventually we’ll find our way. We always do.

Reconciling the Past and Staying in the Present

Reconciling the Past

Many spiritual teachers typical focus a great deal on “staying in the present moment.” For those who don’t live with bipolar disorder it’s still a great challenge not to hold on to the past. Because I live with bipolar disorder I feel like it might even be more difficult for me to “let go” of the past.

While I know it’s not healthy to hold on to the past and certainly even less healthy to ruminate about it, I still find it difficult not to get stuck sometimes in a time when life might have been a little easier. I also have those moments when living in the present actually triggers my thoughts and takes me back to a different time and place.

Whether it be with my current job situation or my past career I can’t help but wonder where I would be without this illness. This mental war doesn’t happen relentlessly, but it does affect me everyday. I realized this when I started paying more attention to my thoughts. A little thought monitoring in an attempt to stay more in the present led me to realize just how much I dip back into the past.

Then there are the times when I feel I have to try to make sense out of a bipolar episode and the subsequent fallout from those times. There are days when it makes me so tired I often find myself going back to bed just to stop the unwanted memories.

What helps me focus on the present?

There are times when I can successfully take a deep breath and bring myself into the present. It also helps me to recognize sometimes I overestimate the “good times” from the past. After all my “before bipolar life” was not perfect either. Then again, when I do look back I realize bipolar disorder was affecting me from the time I was in high school, maybe even sooner.

It is no secret my life did not turn out the way I wanted it too. But I tell myself anyone who gets taken out of her life because of any illness is not necessarily living a dream life. I am not so sure a dream life exists anyhow, although I would have like to have known a life without so such struggle and pain. I simply did not get that opportunity.

Each day is a new start, a clean slate. A new day is a chance to try and live fully in the present focusing on the days gifts. I try to practice acceptance of “what is” and fully embrace exactly where I am.

I do consider myself a relatively positive person, but I have realized the tough times have caused me to become a little more cynical than I would like to admit. I don’t sit around waiting for the “shoe to drop.” But as I become more aware of my thoughts it shed some light on the disappointing views I hold close inside.

Once I was a dreamer and I was really good at setting goals and reaching my dreams. I still hold hope that my dreams will come true, even if those dreams consists of simple everyday living that inspires my soul and not grandiose dreams that go up in smoke after the end of a manic episode. The truth is through the proper treatment I am blessed without having mania and that is surely a plus. Now I focus on reconciling my past and staying in the present without giving too much credence to wishing my life was different.

Paying attention to my thoughts has given me a new-found realization that I am glad I have found. It’s not an easy task to stay in the present moment, but it is where life takes place. We all know the past cannot be changed and the future is not guaranteed. The present is all we truly have. I just wish the past would leave me alone and not grab my thoughts backward.

Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to focus most of my energy in the present. At the very least it will give me a peace of mind and that’s all I really hope for.

 

 

The Need to Feel Understood!

Doesn’t everyone have a desire to be understood?

I have always thought a good connection with someone meant she really understood where I was coming from. Then, bipolar disorder came into my life and all bets were off. It’s hard enough for those of us who suffer from bipolar to understand our illness let alone other people who have no experience or knowledge about mental illness.

But if I had a wish I would hope for more people to embrace people with mental illness and attempt to understand some of the challenges we face.

Over the holidays I spent some time reading stories of people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Each story was unique to the individual but there were many common themes. I found myself shaking my head because I truly understood what the individuals were talking about. I hadn’t been in their shoes, but mine were a similar type.

You probably know the story well. The struggle to find out what is wrong with you sometimes taking years to finally get a proper diagnosis. The unwanted and yet necessary hospitalizations trying to get stabilized and then counting up the casualties caused by erratic behavior from unstable mind. The trials and failures of multiple medication regimens and the subsequent fall out from the all too often minimized medication side effects. And have I mentioned all the while your struggling your supposed to find a way to live your life. Be the mother, father, sister, brother, partner, employee that you have always been without disclosing anything is wrong.

I think for years I used to cry when describing the journey. Now, I kind of chuckle with how ridiculous it is to expect ourselves to put on a front that nothing is wrong, when it seems like your whole world is falling apart. Often times because it is.

But how strong we must be to overcome and persevere the hand we have been dealt. I don’t claim to have handled my illness in a perfect way, but I handled it the best way I knew how. If I was more informed, had access to better treatment providers, had people in my inner circle who could talk to me and reach me with good solid advice, and the “ifs” can go on and on.

The reality is many of us who have bipolar disorder struggle and then we fight to get our lives back on track. We continue to reach out and search for information, education and resources and hope for the best. We must learn to live in the present and take one-day-at-a-time.

In the meantime, most of us would like others outside of the mental health world to understand our illness. I don’t expect people to know as much about it as I do, I just want them to know enough to offer compassion and support. I want them to read stories like I did, and realize the path is a tough one and I’m not to be blamed for what happened to me. I didn’t choose freely to struggle with a serious mental illness, it just happened to me.

It’s part of our human condition to desire others understand us. We all have issues, challenges and problems these things just get more magnified and complex when living with bipolar disorder.

I know you can’t make people understand you, but you can hope for others at the very least to have some compassion, and pray one day they’ll gain the knowledge to understand.