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The Symptom That Helped Me Accept I Had Bipolar Disorder

“Grandiosity.” That’s the word that convinced me I actually had bipolar disorder. The sleep disruptions, increased energy, racing thoughts and flight of ideas — not to mention the recurring depressive episodes — all these other textbook symptoms somehow left me doubting. But the grandiosity is what got me.

When I think of grandiosity, I look back on my very first hypomanic episode: I was studying music in college… though in retrospect “studying” is too strong a word. I barely ever went to class or rehearsal, failed many subjects, completely hung my duet and trio partners out to dry, and scored shamefully low at competitions. And through it all, despite overwhelming evidence of the contrary, I was convinced I was better than everyone around me. Yes, they got better grades than me and beat me at competitions, but surely if someone could see beyond the surface they would realize I was superior, right? And if not better at music, morally superior at least. I didn’t go to certain classes because I saw the teachers as failures who surely couldn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know. And anyway, I didn’t need to go to class, because surely those teachers would know to give me a passing grade based on my innate superiority alone, right?

Wrong. I was so obviously wrong, but I couldn’t see it at all. But I see it now, and I look back on that part of my life mostly with shame. That certainty, confidence — over-confidence — was just a symptom. And in accepting that, in choosing to pursue treatment, I wondered if I would ever feel such confidence again.

I can say I truly love myself now. That self-love is not quite as exhilarating as the grandiosity I’ve experienced while hypomanic, but it’s more reliable. It can be nurtured and worked on. It may fluctuate, but it won’t just disappear at the end of a hypomanic episode. It’s not unshakeable, I may lose sight of it at times, but I always know it will come around again. Where grandiosity made me look down on other people, self-love allows me to appreciate them as they are, regardless of how I measure up to them. Where grandiosity told me I deserved the world “just because,” self-love lets me react appropriately to events in my life: I can be proud of my accomplishments, and I can forgive myself for my mistakes while still holding myself accountable. I can see myself as I am and find worth in that person.

Sometimes I worry when I love myself “too much.” I worry about having another episode and losing myself in those feelings of superiority, losing myself in a lie curated by my bipolar brain. And yet sometimes I miss it. Hypomania has its magic: it’s like the most intense power-trip… except you don’t actually have any power. Sometimes the difference is obvious. Other times I can’t tell them apart at all. One is all thrill, the other is… I don’t know. Peaceful? And though it would be nice to have both, if I have to choose, I guess I would rather have peace.

I didn’t go directly from self-loathing to self-love. It was more like a gradual progression of logical steps: from hatred to a vague and passive dislike, then from disliking to being able to tolerate myself, and from tolerance to a vague occasional appreciation, and so on. And it still varies from day to day. I still dislike myself sometimes. Some days I dislike myself a lot. And other days I tolerate myself. But most days I find myself somewhere between “like” and “love,” and that’s a wonderful place to be.

A version of this post originally appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s blog.

Photo by Shashi Yadav on Unsplash

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