Why Bipolar Disorder Recovery Is Like a Choreographed Dance Production


Just about anyone who is willing and able can get up and dance solo. It doesn’t really require much… maybe the person themselves and some music to guide the movement, but it doesn’t take a whole lot to make it run other than (some) preparation beforehand. Even less is required if this soloist lacks an audience.

For many people, managing bipolar (or another long-term mental illness) is treated this same way. We put in some effort preparing for the dance by doing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and taking medications. Maybe some external voice or sound is directing the way we move our bodies — our therapist or psychiatrist perhaps.

But then what? Often, we find there’s no support in the crowd, the dance is anticlimactic and the whole experience lacks a certain lasting flair.

Friends, much of my life with bipolar was spent trying to do just that: to dance solo.

And while this all seems great and wonderful, once the dance is over… I was left wondering what to do next. What was my next move? Do I keep dancing the same dance? Am I alone in this? Where is the support I need?

The unfortunate truth is that dancing solo only led me to continue to relapse into periods of rapid cycling (quick and dramatic fluctuations in mood). I would try dancing the same solo in order to fix the problem, but I just got tired of dancing. I had little motivation, support or life left to care about dancing anymore.

That is when I realized that managing bipolar in my life would have to look more like a full-on production. Maybe, for some of you, that looks like your favorite long-standing orchestra or theatre show on broadway. Maybe for others, it resembles a sports team.

The fact of the matter is, these experiences (these productions) have a myriad of things going on around them to support the ongoing success of the production itself. In a broadway theatre show, there are directors, prop experts, sound and light engineers, and an audience all supporting any dancing going on within the parameters of that stage. In other words, there’s a whole cast of characters and support teams around them making sure it is the best show possible. Heck, even when the show isn’t playing, there is plenty of practice and preparation taking place to ensure the best quality possible. Maybe there are changing parts where teams replace broken pieces with new ones.

This… this is what managing bipolar is like. It’s like being an actor in a cast of characters with a director showing you which way to go… with an audience cheering you on, and support systems in place to make sure everything’s running smoothly.

Living successfully with bipolar doesn’t usually mean just taking your medicine and doing a little something here and there on your own. I’ve unfortunately learned that the hard way.

For me, it takes going to therapy, taking my medication, seeing my psychiatrist, being prepared, having support, managing my time, eating right, exercising consistently, doing CBT, organizing my time, and on and on and on.

What I am trying to say is that I can’t do all of those things solo. It takes a team. It takes support. It takes a production.

I encourage you, if you are living with any sort of mental illness, to get a network of people around you who can help. If that’s troublesome for you, there are plenty of support groups that meet all over the world. I’d love to connect you with one if you are looking.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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Thinkstock photo via blanaru


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