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How I'm Fulfilling My Dreams While Living With Bipolar Disorder

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My life began seemingly perfect, though nothing or no one ever is.

A loving and fun childhood full of adventure, and an exciting and promising future. I had always been an overachiever — strong-willed and highly motivated. In high school, I took AP courses, played varsity volleyball, and was involved in several extracurricular activities. I also experienced great joy volunteering and traveling to do mission work. I continued to have a steadfast focus and determination throughout my college years, where I obtained my Bachelor of Science degree and received an athletic scholarship to play volleyball. This was one of my dreams, playing Division I volleyball and getting my college degree, which happened rather easily. I had more dreams, but everything changed dramatically after graduating college.

I recall rather clearly experiencing my first episode of psychosis. My heart pounded as I paced back and forth trying to gain control of my racing thoughts. Many of them were incoherent and void of all logic and reason. It was difficult to make sense of what was happening to me. I was only 22, just out of college, full of dreams and ambition. But everything appeared to have come crashing down. I went around five days without sleep and no desire to eat. The thoughts were intrusive, which made it difficult to think clearly.

Thankfully, my family was present while I was experiencing my first episode. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and remained there for five months. This felt like the longest season of my life. Days went by while I lay heavy in bed, with no energy, nor did I have any concept of time. I felt like a prisoner in my mind. The health care staff said I was in a “catatonic state.” Literally, trapped in my own mind, unable to speak, broken down, and sitting for hours at a time staring off into space. I honestly could not remember certain things about my past, like my birthday or memories of my childhood. After countless group therapy sessions, psychiatric evaluations, and individual and family therapy, along with taking medication, I slowly began to recover. Not to mention, my unwavering faith is something that I never lost, as it is very important to me.

For 15 years, I have lived with bipolar disorder. To me, this diagnosis was daunting at first. I wondered, “What does this mean?” “How do I live with this?” “What will others think about me now?” and “I am broken.” Living with a mental illness has been debilitating, feeling the highs of mania and lows of deep depression.

I have lost jobs, self-medicated, acted out of impulse with uncontrollable thoughts, cried puddles of tears for hours, been abused mentally and verbally, experienced more manic episodes, another hospitalization, along with multiple medication changes and therapy. This journey to fully recover and manage my illness has been a great challenge. At times, I lost sight of my identity, lost all confidence and even hope. Most of all, I felt broken and lost my sense of normalcy. However, small actions and little achievements, one day at a time started to add up to progress! Even if it was something as simple as going on a short walk, I felt victorious.

I learned to practice self-love and began to have the realization that my mental health condition does not define or identify who I am. Nor is it my fault. With proper management and coping strategies, I can live the life I desire to have. My dreams can be a reality again. My determination, compassion, and motivation still make me who I am. I have not lost myself! I can still pursue my dreams of getting married, having a family, and a fulfilling career. Not to mention, enjoying things I love, like traveling, crafting, fishing, etc.

More recently, I have come to discover that others can gain hope from my story. I am no longer embarrassed or ashamed to share my experience and provide hope. There is purpose behind the pain of struggling or even beauty in the brokenness. I am proud of who I am and who I have become through it all. It has been over 12 years since my first episode and quite the rollercoaster filled with twists, turns, ups, and downs. But I made it, and others can too! There is hope, especially with an individualized treatment plan and sticking to it. Yes, I will live with bipolar disorder for the rest of my life. But it won’t stop me from pursuing my dreams because I can and will. You can too!

It took a lot of perseverance and proper treatment to get here. I also would not be here today if it weren’t for my supportive and loving family. Today, I am happily married to the love of my life, and we absolutely adore our 5-month-old son, Nicholas. Recently, I obtained my Master’s in Business while working as a business administrator. I still have a promising future and more desires in life. It has not been an easy journey to get here, but that makes me more grateful for the support I have had as well as faith to push through loving myself more each day.

As Gail Saltz, M.D. says in her book “The Power of Different,” that “the sources of our struggles can be the origin of our greatest strengths.” Even living with what is considered a disability, you can still have the potential for great talent and living a fulfilling life. Most importantly, you are not alone!

Here are my most helpful strategies for success when living with bipolar disorder:

1. Surround yourself with loving, supportive, and understanding individuals.

2. Solidify a routine.

3. Volunteer and help others.

4. Remain medication compliant (if taking medication).

5. Practice physical activity and mindfulness.

6. Give yourself grace; no one is perfect.

Originally published: April 17, 2024
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