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8 Things I’ve Learned From Several Decades of Bipolar Disorder

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I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety a couple of decades ago, after being misdiagnosed with major depression. During that time, I’ve learned a lot about myself and about bipolar disorder. I’d like to share them now.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

1. Educating people about bipolar is part of my mission in life.

Many people with bipolar disorder prefer to keep it to themselves, while others reveal it to only a few selected people — usually close friends or family. And those are valid, personal choices. I have been open about my diagnosis. I’ve maintained my blog for years. I’ve written two books (“Bipolar Me” and “Bipolar Us”). I talk to friends and family about it, even the ones who don’t really understand. This helps me as well as some of them. I have learned that more people than I thought have bipolar, depression or another disorder.

2. Other people may be able to “chose happiness,” but I can’t.

I’ve seen in my reading and heard from friends and strangers that they are able to keep their bipolar or depression in check through positive thinking, choosing happiness or other non-medical means. None of that has ever worked for me. For me, my condition is a brain illness and must be treated with medication for the underlying causes and with talk therapy for developing coping mechanisms and getting a reality check.

3. Even meds and therapy don’t keep me from relapsing.

I still experience depression from time to time. I just don’t fall as far. (I have bipolar 2, so I seldom get mania.) But the medications help me to know that my depression will end, and the therapy helps me know how to hang on until it does. At the back of my mind, I always know that I will find my way back to baseline stability, if not as quickly as I’d like.

4. I am still able to work, be married and have many friends.

These are blessings that have come despite my bipolar disorder. I may be able to work only part-time, but I am proud of being able to use my education and bring in some money. My husband and I have been married for over 30 years. He is being treated for depression, so he knows a lot about what I go through. And I have good friends who stick with me even when I am difficult (and I certainly can be).

5. I can still step out of my comfort zone and try new things.

I have ridden a zip line, though the act of stepping off the edge was terrifying. I gave a public reading of my first book, though I hadn’t spoken in public since before my major depressive crash.

6. I still can’t do everything I’d like to.

Being in large groups is still difficult for me, especially if I am the center of attention, such as hosting a party. I can’t even be at a party very long without having to leave. I can’t do holiday shopping in crowded stores. In fact, I do most of my shopping on the internet.

7. My creativity is not lessened.

My two blogs and two books are evidence of that. And I’ve been working on a novel — a mystery — and am in the process of getting back to it now that I have a new idea for some subtext it desperately needed. I can write poetry, sometimes about bipolar disorder. I can make jokes and conversation. I don’t often feel writer’s block and can push myself through it, even though it sometimes takes a while (as with the mystery).

8. Bipolar may be a life sentence, but it’s not a death sentence.

Yes, I’ve had suicidal ideation (and I’ve written about it). But I got through it and I know that I still can, should the feelings return. And I know that, unless science makes some really spectacular advances, I will be dealing with bipolar for the rest of my life, getting through with the help of medication, therapy, my husband and my friends.

All in all, I have to say it’s been a good life, despite my bipolar disorder, and I expect it to keep on being so. As I mentioned, educating people about bipolar is one of my passions, and I hope this post helps people understand the realities — not just the depression and the mania, but the possibilities.

Photo by Andre Furtado on Unsplash

Originally published: October 21, 2020
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