What Keeps Me Going, Even Though I Live With Bipolar
There was a time I could not speak for myself, let alone anyone else. I was too depressed or too manic to even know where I was, who I was and I could barely lift a finger to help myself. Things got worse before they got better.
For the ten years following my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, I changed doctors 5 times and medication combinations more than 14 times. Shortly after being diagnosed, I was hired as a teacher for a special education class for emotionally disturbed adolescents. Ironic, eh? I’m a pretty smart cookie and a great actress. I can fake it until I make it in almost any situation and that’s exactly what I did.
Like so many of my students, I held it together long enough to get through the school day, but when I left the school grounds, I was, well, frankly, a mess. At least I had the education and intelligence to know something was wrong with me and I could keep asking for help – searching for answers – until my last and current pdoc found the combination of medications 10 years ago that I’m still taking today. But what makes the difference for me on a daily basis?
And this has made all the difference
But what makes this difference between me and the other 2 percent of the American population that lives with Bipolar? I say I’m a relative success because I managed to stay off of drugs, stop drinking, recover from a nasty divorce, and continue my education and career despite my illness. Most of the people I know with bipolar are so ill, they cannot work full time. They live with broken relationships. They go though their days without hope. Now, this is certainly not true of all of us. Many people live hidden lives with Bipolar Disorder. I have chosen not to.
There are five things I think that have made the difference for me and are why I speak out today about the frailty of a life lived with mental illness.
Medication. I cannot continue to live my life as I’ve come to know it without the life-saving medications that I have a love-hate relationship with. Some of us give up after the 5th or 10th or even 15th trial of medications. But not me. “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” (Albert Camus) Which leads me to the most important trait I have…
Grit. I was raised believing I wasn’t good enough. Not quite smart enough. Not quite athletic enough. Not quite pretty enough. I can hear the voices now: “Only boys can do that” “Only gifted students can do that” “Only graduate students can do that”. I have learned that if you just keep standing long enough, sooner or later, you’ll be the only one left. Then, time belongs to you.
Motivation. How do I keep myself motivated when so often my Bipolar tells me to give up? I listen to and watch motivational speeches and speakers over and over and over again. I use positive self-talk when the negative voices get too loud. I get louder. I push myself. I refuse to let myself stay down. I force myself to get up even when I don’t think or feel like I can. People are relying on me. My children, my parents, my students, my friends, and others who read and watch and follow keep me from giving up. Someone has got to speak up and stand up.
Injustice. I hate injustice. Inequity. That’s probably why I became a special education teacher and professor. What is fair isn’t always equal. In my life, I have been discriminated against because I’m female, because I’m overweight, because I’m over 50 and because I’m Bipolar. But I refuse to hide who I am and what I live with just to make someone else comfortable. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” (MLK) Mental illness matters. The fact that one-quarter of the population lives with a mental health condition matters. I am at a point in my life where I can afford to speak up. And if I can do it, so can anyone.
And last, but certainly not least:
Faith. For me, speaking out about having Bipolar Disorder is an act of faith. God didn’t cause my illness, but he’s using it and me to help others, to bring attention, and to spread enlightenment regarding one of the most insidious illnesses of our time. If I can help or encourage just one person because of my experience with mental illness, if I can make one person’s life easier or better, then it’s not for nothing.
Medication. Grit. Motivation. Injustice. Faith. Notice that four of the five things are intangible and internal. However they can be learned and molded and strengthened. When you are tempted to give up, to give in, to listen to those negative voices, I encourage you. Don’t do it. Don’t give in and don’t give up. There is a fight to be fought and we need you.