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My Bipolar Disorder Wasn't Caused by a 'Lack of Self-Control'

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Before I realized how very sick I am with bipolar disorder, I honestly believed the things I was experiencing were unique to me.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I read self-help books that reinforced the notion I was simply undisciplined. That all I had to do was develop healthy habits and everything would fall into place. The message was you can think yourself into having positive self-esteem. That information didn’t help me, in fact, quite the opposite. I was conditioned to believe I could just improve myself all by myself, that the lack was all in me.

I thought 12 Steps might help, but it was much more complicated. Twelve Steps focuses on behaviors, managing behaviors. I know that’s an oversimplification, and I’m not saying 12 Steps wouldn’t be helpful. The thing is, relying on a power greater than myself, which I have done all my life, doesn’t cure mental illness. I finally realized I needed to deal with the bipolar head-on before I could even think to focus on addictive behaviors.

Through my writings, I began to understand more about myself, and how the illness was consuming all the goodness in my life. I started seeing how the illness was dictating my choices and decisions, and how self-sabotaging I had become. But as those truths began to unfold, I simply heaped more blame upon myself.

I started studying more about the condition, reading, connecting in support groups, watching YouTube presentations. More and more, I heard people describe the difficult aspects of my life, those aspects of which I thought I struggled in isolation. They were using the same words I used to help me make sense of who I had become. They were sharing experiences I didn’t think anyone else had. They were giving a voice to my struggles. I wondered why I hadn’t caught on for so long. The only explanation is, all my life I’ve been told I’m dramatic, attention-seeking and just “not right in the head.” I’ve felt as if I was a difficult person my family tolerated, with the tired old explanation, “Oh, that’s just Coco.”

I’ve been told I just needed to think positively. I was told if I cleaned up my act and stopped having sex and stopped drinking and lost weight and stopped sinning and stopped doing “bad things,” I’d be OK. I was told if I just followed Jesus and prayed more and sought Him more and read the Bible more and obeyed Him more and had more faith, I’d be happy. I was told it was all completely within my power. Then I could get off medication, the medication I knew was keeping me from killing myself, but others told me was destroying my health and my life.

I was told my memories of childhood sexual abuse were exaggerated, that my father couldn’t possibly be capable of what I was claiming, and that my memories were falsely planted by secular counselors. I was told I brought all my pain on myself, and that I deserved all the bad things that happened to me, that my rebellious spirit had brought them on.

People ask me why I never got married and had a family. How do you answer a question like that? When someone asks me that now, I answer, “Because I’m a loser and no one wants me.” The question absolutely incenses me. It always will. It stings like nothing else. It’s actually horrifying to think. I’m not always unkind in my response. Some people are just uneducated, and don’t realize how ugly that question is. Sometimes, I say it’s because I never found the right person. In reality, it’s far more complicated than any of that. I see now it was a protection, it’s a blessing it never happened.

So, here I am. Right now. Understanding more and more clearly, that even with a bipolar diagnosis from multiple health professionals, going back into my 30s, I still believed it was a lack of self-control that got me here. And there’s still a large part of me that buys into that lie. It’s still a shock, every morning, to wake up in this body and this mind. I have much work left to do.

I write, I continue to write, every day I write. I write because it’s critical for people to understand, for women especially to understand, you have a mental illness and do things that go against the truth of who you are, but you needn’t condemn yourself.

People need to know there’s a way out, you can survive mental illness. I’m in the thick of my sickness, yet every day I’m getting stronger. I’ll never be healed, but now I relentlessly chase stability, and I’m gaining ground. It’s just going to take time.

In the interim, I write. As I write, I learn who I am. As I learn who I am, I become who I am.

Getty image by Lipik1

Originally published: March 20, 2021
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