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5 Lessons I've Learned From Having Bipolar Disorder

Around this time of year, many people begin thinking about things they’re thankful for. If you’re like me, bipolar disorder probably isn’t on that list so much. And that’s OK.

While I may not be thankful for the diagnosis, I am thankful for the life lessons it’s given me. I thought I would share some of the major ones with you.

1. Your mania/depression doesn’t define you.

There’s a big rumble around the mental health community that too much time is spent on identifying someone based on their diagnoses. It is said we should strive for “person first” language. This means instead of saying “I’m bipolar,” I would say “I have bipolar.”

The thought is we wouldn’t say “I’m broken” but rather “I have a broken leg”. And to some extent, that seems fair. But for me, it needs to go a little deeper.

I am not my mania — I exist with mania symptoms. I am not my depression — I exist with depression symptoms. Remembering I’m a human first and changing the way I communicate my needs has been a game changer for the way I look at bipolar disorder.

2. You’ve gotten through your worst days.

One of the motivational quotes I plastered everywhere was, “I’ve made it through 100% of my bad days. I will not break that streak.”

There have been so many days I thought were the lowest of lows (even in mania), and that I would never recover. But I did. And the next time I had a bad day, I looked at that sentence and hoped it was true, even if I didn’t believe it then. Turns out, it’s not wrong.

3. Self-care doesn’t have to be grand gestures.

Self-care is one of my favorite phrases to throw around. I will use it as an explanation for taking a day off and sleeping in, just as much as I will use it for an extra cup of coffee or a small trinket. The thing about self-care is that it’s so broad in nature, the meaning can get lost.

What is it you can do to make your life a little better? It’s very easy to think about purchases, but maybe it looks smaller. Maybe it’s smiling during a song. Maybe it’s rereading a book because you’re not ready for the emotional journey of a new one. It’s knowing your limits and respecting those.

4. The little things mean more than the big things.

When I was first diagnosed, I thought I was a “freak” or at the very least a “weirdo” because I was in some way “defective.” It’s been several years since those early days and I’ll admit, every now and then those thoughts creep up. But in all that time, I don’t think anything has been more impactful than sharing my story and hearing, “Oh my goodness, I thought I was the only one!”

It’s a small phrase but sometimes, the only thing you want is to hear someone else understands. That’s love.

5. Start at the beginning.

Do you remember going out after thunderstorms and jumping in puddles? Or going to the grocery store and only being able to walk on certain colored tiles? The floor is lava? Chances are, you didn’t do those things because you had to — you did them because they made you happy, regardless of who was watching. Bipolar disorder isn’t so different.

As much as I try to challenge the “I’m not crazy, I have a medical condition” idea, sometimes it’s nice to run out and make snow angels or step on the diagonal tiles like I’m a chess piece. I know people might be watching but I’m not living their life — I’m living mine. And all that stuff is still fun.

People often say, “Life is a journey” when times are frustrating and difficult. But maybe they’re not so wrong. Bipolar disorder is a journey. It’s a lot of ups and downs and twists and turns, but we’re making it. One day at a time.

Getty Images: Farbentek

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