Gabe Howard / Bipolar Disorder

When I was younger, before I was aware I had bipolar disorder, I loved my birthday. I loved everything about it. I was able to pick the meal we had (I always picked lasagna), I got to pick the type of cake I wanted (Dairy Queen ice cream), and I got presents from my family. Even on the years my birthday fell on Thanksgiving, it was awesome. My entire family would play along — save for my snotty siblings — when I said the Thanksgiving Day Parade was to celebrate me being born.

In adulthood, especially after the bipolar diagnosis, I started to loathe my birthday. The passing of another year just reminded me how far I was behind others. I watched peers in my career advance up through the ranks while I sat at home alone suffering from yet another failed medicine change or therapy technique. When I left home and struck out on my own, I did so with bravado, with confidence, and unencumbered by the reality of the real world.

See, I was going to be wealthy. My wife and I were going to have six children and, just so you know, we had their names picked out. Call it wishful thinking, call it grandiosity, but I knew I could make it. I had my sights set high and nothing was going to stop me. Much in the same way the builders of Titanic knew it was unsinkable, I knew I was unstoppable.

Celebrating Birthdays While Suffering From Bipolar Disorder

When I turned 30, I cried. Celebrating my birthday while suffering from bipolar disorder isn’t a fun thing. I was on my second marriage. The woman I had chosen to be my soul mate and mother of my children had left under a cloud of mistakes, infidelity, and neglect. My second wife tried to console me, but being unemployed, sick, and defeated, I didn’t listen. Thankfully, she was an understanding person and didn’t take my ranting personally.

Gabe HowardEvery birthday represented a failure. Another year would go by and I wasn’t rich or successful. I was barely hanging on. All of my energy went to fighting an illness most people didn’t understand. As my second marriage crumbled into divorce, I started to come to terms with the fact that I simply wasn’t going to have six kids. I wasn’t even going to have one. I wasn’t going to be rich. I gave up being respected, as entirely too many people ignored me because of my bipolar diagnosis. The confidence I had in my abilities was gone.

I would be lucky if I could manage to be happy and self-sustaining. The years I lost due to battling bipolar disorder would never be restored. I hated the reminder that every November 24th brought. I turned 31, 33, 37 and I just kept crawling forward. I was secure in my own mind that all I could do was barely hang on.

Then, last year, I turned 38. My birthday itself was uneventful enough. My wife, whom I love so very much, is a terrible gift giver. Or perhaps I am impossible to buy for. She gave me a mix CD – our tradition – filled with songs I almost never like after the fourth time I listen to them.

During the past year, I was hired as the Director of Development for a provider agency in Central Ohio, my writing career took off, my speaking career followed closely behind, I won a number of awards, and I continue to receive so many e-mails that I can’t answer them all. I even became associate editor of this very website.

My wife and I bought and moved into a new house, bought a new car, and went to Disney World. I even high fived The Mad Hatter and showed him the tattoo on my arm – which is of him. (The Hatter was so shocked to see his face on my arm that he checked his own biceps to see if my face was staring back at him.  Sadly, it wasn’t.)

In a few days, I will turn 39, and all I can really say is this: I am unstoppable. Bipolar disorder took its best shot, even won a few rounds, but I fought back. Crawling may be slow, but it’s still forward progress, and as long as I keep inching ahead, my dreams are still attainable. It’s just taking longer than I thought.

Gabe is a mental health coach, writer, and speaker living with bipolar and anxiety disorders. Interact with him on Facebook, Twitter, or his website.