My Bipolar Disorder Makes Me Who I Am—and I’m Glad I Have It
After 20 years of living with bipolar disorder, one woman finally made peace with her mental health condition.
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When I was a child, I used to lie on my back and watch the clouds glide across the sky. They were constantly changing shapes—a dragon, a rabbit, a face—becoming something new over and over again. To me, that's how it feels to have a mental health condition. I have been living with bipolar disorder for over 20 years, and I almost let it destroy me. Like clouds, bipolar disorder can be ominous and scary, especially in the beginning. I felt like I was always changing, becoming a new (and sometimes not improved) version of myself every day, sometimes every hour. But over time, I've come to accept my disorder; it makes me who I am, and I wouldn't entirely give it up.
Bipolar disorder has taught me to see the silver lining in everything, even if it's just "I survived that experience." And while I understand that everyone's journey and symptoms are different (and many people with mental health conditions might not feel the same way I do), I want to share the reasons why I've been able to find beauty in my bipolar disorder.
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I'm more confident
Facing my challenges has given me a newfound sense of confidence. I'm okay with who I am, and proud of the strength I've gained and the steps I've taken towards recovery. For years, I tried to rationalize my behavior and the effect it was having on my life, but that didn't help. Now, I'm working on maintaining balance through therapy, medication, and a healthy lifestyle, including proper nutrition, exercise, and building a support network. Most of all, I'm striving to accept and love myself.
From Vincent van Gogh to Ernest Hemingway to Virginia Woolf, the list of famous creative people who reportedly had some type of mental health condition is extensive. I can understand it: While I've certainly had ups and downs with my disorder, I've found that I can often tap into the avalanche of creative energy that seems to come with it. When my brain is on fire, my ideas and enthusiasm seem limitless. Although my mind can sometimes feel like a chaotic and disorganized place, I've learned how to harness my creative energy and direct it towards a goal, which has helped me pursue the things I want in life.
I'm more empathetic
I believe being diagnosed with a debilitating illness has given me a deeper sense of humility and empathy. Having a mental health disorder has taught me how to read other people's emotions and understand their pain. And because I've been on the receiving end of unfair judgment in the past, I'm now hyper-conscious not to judge others. As a result, I've become a better listener, and I know how to advocate for those who are going through the same highs or lows I've felt.
Once I experienced the giant swinging pendulum of a mood disorder, I lost my sense of fear. It's still alarming to experience the episodes of mania and depression that accompany my bipolar disorder, but the result is that fear no longer holds me back from anything. I'm less afraid to seize a new opportunity or jump into a situation where I may not be able to predict the outcome. Perhaps because I've emotionally been through it all, I've already crossed that line of fear, and now all I want to do is live life to the fullest.
Like blue skies after a storm, the joy I feel after a severe depressive episode is beautiful, and I'm always grateful for it. My disorder has helped me appreciate the life I have and the friends who didn't run from me. As the author Brigitte Nicole puts it: "Anyone can show up when you're happy. But the ones who stay by your side when your heart falls apart, they are your true friends."