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Deeply Satisfying Joy Is Still Possible With Bipolar Disorder

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I am a 58-year-old grandfather who enjoys his family, gardening, music (classical and roots), literature and creative writing. Next year I will take vows as a lay Buddhist. I love nature. My illness, bipolar disorder, presents as racing thoughts, alternating with periods of exhaustion – to a devastating degree. When unstable, my inner environment was distinctly altered from the norm. This, for many years was a horrible state beyond imagining.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I was diagnosed in 1968 when I willingly sought help. As I seem well, I was mistakenly diagnosed with an “identity crisis.” When I was properly diagnosed, it was crushing for me and my family. I would wake up hoping it was all a bad dream.

The impact of my illness is that I was unable to work or to return to university. Because of this, some people struggle to accept my illness. Discrimination and stigma were extremely difficult to overcome. Once, in the 1970s, I actually found bags of human feces tied to my shrubs that I took to be a show of discrimination against me as a person with mental illness.

My wife, however, was very loving and supportive. In fact, my wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter are crucial in my continued health. Also, medication and meditation – Buddhism and my Buddhist colleagues at the Atlantic Soto Zen Center; having gone to the mental health inpatient unit, and New Hope where I have gained acceptance and loving kindness; my wonderful, loving friends – have all been vital in allowing me to maintain my health.

I would like to stress that there is very definitely life after illness. We are all individual human beings who have an illness – we are not our illnesses. For those who find themselves ill presently, my advice is to educate yourself. Be proactive. Don’t do it alone. Don’t let the stigma keep you from seeking help. Comply with your treatment program, don’t self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, and divert yourself with interests.

Never give up. Deeply satisfying joy is still possible.

Thinkstock photo by jacoblund

Originally published: March 12, 2017
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