Why I Say I 'Successfully' Live With a Mental Illness

I present my lived experience with bipolar disorder to many different audiences; people with mental illness and their families, law enforcement officers and the general public. One of the things I say over and over in my speeches is that I am “successfully” living with a serious mental illness.

One day I was asked what I mean by “successfully.” It took me a few moments to answer because I realized that “successfully” means different things to everyone, and even to me depending on where I am in my journey.

Today, living successfully means working full time in the profession I love; volunteering to speak for others who have mental illness, both as an educator and an advocate; co-parenting with my ex-husband to raise our two children, one of which has serious disabilities and emotional problems; and being able to manage my mental illness by taking my meds, making sure I get enough sleep and taking care of myself.

But at other points in my life, such as when I get out of the hospital, success might have just been being able to take a shower, spend time with my kids, or make it to my doctor appointments.

As I started to get better, I would redefine success as being able to cook for my family, clean the bathroom (but maybe not any other part of the house) or focus on a task.

Later success might be working part time, doing all of the laundry (there is a lot of laundry) or helping my kids with their homework.

I guess living “successfully” for me is moving forward in my recovery. Don’t get me wrong, there are setbacks — like when I had to check back into the hospital to be monitored last year — but looking back, I can see how much better I am. I can see just how far I have come. To me, that is how I am “successfully” living with my mental illness.

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Thinkstock photo via Poike

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