The Epiphany I Had About My Bipolar Disorder and Addiction
This is not the first time I’ve realized this and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Maybe that’s part of having a mental illness, I don’t know. But when I think about it, I vaguely remember being in this place before. The fact that I don’t know for sure is another issue I probably should be concerned about … if I had the energy.
For over a year now, I’ve been going to my current therapist anywhere from weekly to twice a month. We have made some real breakthroughs and I’ve learned a lot from her. She’s an incredible counselor, understanding, yet tough.
My realization today came from a form she has each client fill out before the appointment, kind of like a “check-in.” For those of you who have never gone to a support group meeting that has those, it’s basically a gauge of how you are currently doing. For my therapist, it concentrates on the areas of issues and emotions, a one through 10 scale of your depression and anxiety levels and other similar questions. It’s usually based on the time period since you had therapy last.
One time, not long after I started working with this therapist, she looked at my paper as we were walking to her office and remarked I might as well just do a big circle around all the answers under each question because I marked so many of the traits. I can’t remember the exact name of the categories or many of the individual items, but some I do remember (not divided by category) are: bipolar, sleep disturbances, family issues, anger, nightmares, happy, sad, joyful, difficulty with hygiene, etc.
Over a year in therapy, a year and a half going on average twice a week to support groups, serving in one group and working on the 12-steps with a sponsor for over a year … but that stupid paper probably has the same things circled at my last visit as it did at my first.
Does that mean I haven’t made progress? No. I don’t see it much, but many around me have definitely seen where I have made progress. I know the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) saying is “progress not perfection.” So I’m thankful for my progress.
I happened to think about that form during a support group meeting … and I thought about the fact it hadn’t changed. I’ve been longing for the day I’ll get there and circle only a few things … or none. All this time and work and I’m no closer to that wonderful day.
That’s when it hit me — this thing called bipolar really will never go away. I will always be an addict. I talk about it, I write about it, I advocate for people hearing it. Bipolar disorder doesn’t have a cure, addiction can’t be willed away. But I think it wasn’t until today I really, truly realized that it means my bipolar disorder doesn’t have a cure and my addictions won’t ever just go away.
I have understood for a while the best you can really hope for is for these things to be managed — by medication, therapy, support, 12-step work, etc. Then what was it about this realization today that was so radical to what I understood before?
What I think it means is for the rest of my life, if you take a one or two-week period, I will have all of those issues the paper lists. I will have all of those emotions — both the good and bad ones. I will probably have at least one nightmare. My anxiety and my depression levels may never get below an average of eight.
Maybe, just maybe, if I tracked it each day, one day there will be an entire 24-hours that will go by without feeling depressed, even once. Maybe I’ll be able to make it a full 24-hours without having a work issue that overwhelmed me. Maybe I can make it 24-hours without having to make myself take a bath and care about my appearance (that instead, it would be effortless to do those things).
It’s sobering to think unless a miracle happens, I will never be free of this bipolar/addict thing. It’s exhausting to think of the battle I will probably have to fight every day for the rest of my life.
All day I’ve been pondering this realization. If this is all true, then why go on? What hope do I have?
As I thought about it after writing so far, I happened to look back and I think this could be the key: I have got to learn to put my hope in “each day.” I have got to stop looking for an overall cure or even a way to permanently manage them away.
I’m going to have to learn to focus on doing the best I can for each day, knowing I will never be free of all of the crap this disorder and these addictions bring, but also knowing I can make a single day the best it can be, even though I am an addict with bipolar disorder.
Original photo by author