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What I'm Learning About Stability as Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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When I first started taking medication for my bipolar disorder, and when that medication worked, I was shocked by how much it changed my life. Simple, everyday tasks that used to require so much thought and effort were suddenly just that: simple. Things like the ability to sleep every night, or hold a job or live in one place for an extended period of time, things I formerly thought of as luxuries I wasn’t allowed to hold, were suddenly mine. The world around and within me was so… “normal,” so much more logical than it had ever been. It was magical… and very uncomfortable.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Are you telling me that other people feel like this all the time?????” I thought.

“So I’m supposed to believe that this whole time I’ve been trying so hard just to survive, but it turns out surviving is supposed to take virtually no effort, so everyone else has just been pouring all that effort elsewhere? No wonder they are all so much more accomplished than me!”

And just like that, other people’s successes became so much less impressive. And after the initial mind-blowing effect had faded, it hit me that I actually found the whole situation super unfair. I could have done any one of those things. I could have had degrees, good jobs, high status, nice expensive belongings… I could have been so much more if I hadn’t gone through my entire life up until this point with blinders on.

Then I began to collect accomplishments of my own, and oh boy did it ever feel wrong. I felt like I was playing life on easy mode, like my success was not my own, like I was cheating somehow. Like it was the meds, not me. I hear this is a common experience among people with ADHD, and I’m sure a lot of people with a variety of other diagnoses can relate as well. I felt like I was supposed to be the failure I had always thought I was, and that by stepping out of that role I was disrupting the natural course of life. I thought surely reality would catch up to me at some point and knock me right back down to my rightful place at the very bottom. Stability didn’t feel real. How could it be? It was way too good to be true, right?

I hate to be that person who complains about being too happy and having a life that is too good, but when chaos is all you’ve ever known, it’s hard to be comfortable with… well, comfort. Being comfortable feels undeserved and unnatural. It’s no wonder so many people deliberately sabotage themselves! For every bipolar person who has stopped taking their meds because, and I quote, “I’m feeling better and I don’t think I need them anymore,” I’m willing to bet there is another person going off their meds thinking “Well, life’s too easy, gotta shake things up.”

When you carve your own path to failure, you know you won’t feel good when you get there, but at least you know where you’re going. When you fail on purpose, at least you know in advance you’re going to fail. You remove the unpredictability, the possibility that you might fail by accident or because of some external cause. You get to stay in control, and control is what makes you feel safe… and so you do it. And after you’ve done it enough times it feels impossible to stop.

It’s not impossible though. It is possible to learn to sit in our comfort, to accept it, to believe that it is real and it is ours. It takes practice, it takes a lot of challenging the automatic thoughts that pop up every time something remotely good happens, but it can be done.

And for those times when it is too hard to reckon with the unexpected positives in life: I promise you will have problems again. I promise you. Even on medication, you will get to experience all the joys and sorrows of having the kind of problems you used to laugh at when you saw “normal people” complain about them. It will happen, you don’t have to make it happen; it just will, it’s just life. You will get used to your new baseline, and you will see that no, life is absolutely not “too easy.” Your life was just way too hard before.

Getty image by Qvasimodo

Originally published: September 30, 2020
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