Growing Older With Bipolar Disorder
As I write this I am five days from my 56th birthday. The time that has passed since my first bipolar psychotic episode at the age of 18 has been full of ups, downs and in-betweens. The remarkable thing is that I’m actually still here to talk about it.
I would say the most important thing I’ve learned is things change. As I’ve grown older, my body has (unfortunately) changed and my brain has (fortunately) changed. While I’m unable to run, which was one of my favorite ways to cope and deal with stress, I’ve transitioned to cycling. And as for my brain, I have been able to stabilize my condition through a combination of medication, therapy and self-help tools like being part of an addiction recovery group, using my support system of family and friends, and other self-care tools (proper sleep being one of the most important).
Another thing that has come with getting older is the simple idea of maturity. I am thankfully no longer the impulsive, unfettered individual I once was. I now can look at life through a different lens, one which is based on my life experience.
Over the course of this 36-plus years of living with bipolar disorder, I have had so many enriching opportunities to learn. To learn about myself. To learn about my relationships. And to, most certainly, learn how to remain mentally and emotionally stable. I’ve endured the death of both my parents, have had many psychiatric hospitalizations, physical illnesses, as well as separation from friends. I’ve also been blessed to have gotten married to the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, raised two incredibly talented and strong young women, and found a career in mental health education and advocacy that truly feeds my soul.
Getting older is bittersweet. In many ways, my early years in recovery were challenging, but the process of self-discovery they’ve produced has been invaluable. I would ever want to relive those days of severe mania and depression (although I wouldn’t change a thing either). All of these experiences have served to enrich my life and helped me to become the person I am today. In addition, the things I’ve been through have helped me help others, and that is so gratifying. It kind of makes the years of pain and misery worth it. I know many people have said the same thing, but it’s true.
Recovery is hard work. It requires a measure of perseverance, belief in oneself, faith
in a Higher Power (if one chooses) and acceptance, among other things. The stress in our lives can seem insurmountable. But it is possible to manage the situations that can often overwhelm us.
What it all comes down to is the simple fact that while I’m well beyond the mid-point in my life, I still feel like I have room to grow and learn. Life is like a classroom and we are here to gain an education. For those of us living with bipolar, or any other mental health diagnosis, it can feel like we’re failing. But let me tell you, there is always a chance to turn the proverbial corner and get better. Do not be discouraged. If anyone had told me 35 years ago that I would be mentally stable and have the life I do I never would have believed them.
So, when I celebrate the day of my entering this world, I am going to take a moment to pause and reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going. Getting older isn’t such a bad thing I guess.
Follow this journey on The Hope Shot.
Getty image via jacoblund