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Finding the Good Things Throughout My Life With Bipolar Disorder

Sometimes, it seems like my life has been one long string of misery, despair and disappointment. But that’s not true, really. Though I was likely bipolar even as a child and have struggled with depression and anxiety ever since, I still have some good memories of even the most difficult times.

Take childhood, for example. Yes, I was moody and difficult, and I missed out on a lot of opportunities, but good things still happened to me. My parents didn’t understand my condition, but they provided a stable, loving home. We had relatives in the country whom we visited often, and I had the opportunity to fish, ride horses and play in haylofts. My parents encouraged my love of reading and regularly took me to the library to get a “fix.”

Yes, I cried at songs on the radio that weren’t even sad. Yes, I went into complete withdrawal after a humiliating incident at a birthday party. And yes, I walked alone in the rain so no one would see me cry. But I also have memories of camping and hiking and baking cookies, going to concerts and discovering “The Lord of the Rings.”

When I went to college, my condition was even worse. My moods were even more unstable and I began to self-harm. I went to the college infirmary when I expressed suicidal thoughts and stayed there overnight. Twice. (The only times I’ve been hospitalized, sort of.) I sat awake in the hallway at night, staring at a poster on the wall. I took a year off to try to decide what direction my life would take and returned with nothing changed.

On the other hand, I made some really good friends who stood by me. I had some amazing professors (including Carl Sagan) and developed my writing skills. I finally had my first date, my first kiss and a few other firsts.

During that time, I also entered into a disastrous relationship that lasted just over a year and did major damage to my self-esteem and my moods. It shredded my ability to cope and led to more self-harm and self-medicating.

But again, there were bright spots. I made some more friends whom I cherish to this day. I met my husband. I heard some wonderful live music and met many of the performers. I made it through the four years and won my diploma (and it did feel like a real win).

While I was healing from the traumas I’d already experienced, I had a lot of problems with depression and anxiety (which were not yet diagnosed as bipolar 2). But I also held down responsible nine-to-five jobs and began to have my writing published in magazines. I traveled domestically and abroad, both alone and with others.

For a while, it seemed like my disorder was on hold. I thought I had escaped the traumas of the past and made a new life for myself, one that included a few close friends, a lasting love, some new experiences, hobbies, beloved pets and more music, both live and recorded.

Then I experienced a major crash, one that left me unable to work, to write or to do much of anything for over a year and a half. It was unrelenting. I enjoyed nothing. I had distressing physical symptoms that left me incapacitated for days. I wouldn’t have gotten through it all without my husband.

Then came my proper diagnosis and medication. Things didn’t change for the better instantly. I still suffered profoundly while my doctor and I tried med after med, seemingly to no avail. At last, we came upon a cocktail of drugs that made it possible for me to live and work again, to enjoy day trips and weekend travel, to write and love and live. Since that time, I have learned to live with the limitations I still have and to treasure the good things that do happen.

My bipolar disorder has been like that, with a series of relapses and relatively stable periods strewn among the bad times. And, though at times my disorder has felt all-pervasive and unrelenting, if I think about it honestly, even the bad times were dotted with little islands of good things.

Bipolar disorder may have been a large part of my life, but it hasn’t been my whole life.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash