I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder seven years ago. I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder 13 years ago. You would think with all this time, and the fact that I write about bipolar disorder professionally, that I would be well into the camp of accepting I have a mental illness. You’d be wrong.
I call it “my bipolar disorder,” because that’s what it is. It’s not some unknown entity hanging out in my brain. We’ve met. We are well acquainted, and it won’t leave. So, it’s mine.
Accepting the fact that it’s mine isn’t exactly the same as fully accepting that it is a part of me as a whole, and moving forward with it. My bipolar disorder and I do not have a good relationship. We fight. Often. I still sometimes think of it like a cold. If I wait it out, it will go away.
Well, I’ve got news for myself and anyone else with the diagnosis. It’s not going anywhere.
I’ve heard numerous times that the process of being diagnosed with a mental illness is a lot like the grief process. That makes sense in a way. There is a part of you that dies when you finally hear the words. There may be that sense of relief of finally having a label to put on the terrible feelings you’ve been having, but then comes the realization.
That means I will struggle with this my entire life. My hope for ever living a “normal” life has died.
Now, I don’t know what normal actually is, and I’m not sure anyone else does either. But, for argument’s sake, let’s just say it’s neuro-normal. No mental illness to worry about.
-No staring at a wall because you no longer have interest in things you used to love.
-No fear of being stigmatized.
-No worrying about whether or not your headache could be a warning sign for a manic episode.
-No need to know what a manic episode is in the first place.
-No days when you can’t get out of bed because your depression is crushing you mentally and physically.
-No worrying about whether or not you may eventually be one of the many who commit suicide.
You get to fill your medicine cabinet with pills that are hit-and-miss. One may work to get you stable and another may make you worse.
Sometimes it feels like you’re throwing spaghetti at the wall just to see which treatments stick.
I won’t lie. There are a few benefits to having bipolar disorder. I have above-average intelligence. I’m creative. I’m a decent problem solver. When I can focus on a task, the world around me becomes invisible and I can immerse myself into it until I’m satisfied with the results.
But would I give up these things if I could get rid of my bipolar disorder? Most of the time, I would say yes.
If the stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, I fluctuate between the last three. I spend a lot of time in anger and depression, but maybe those are just symptoms and I choose my illness as the target.
I look forward to the day when I have a mature relationship with my bipolar disorder, when it’s part of my life and who I am, but is more of a silent partner. Today is just not that day.
You can find me on Twitter @LaRaeRLaBouff
Photo credit: tiffany terry