What I Needed Most When I Was Learning to Live With Bipolar Disorder
It was about a year after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder when I fully reached my breaking point. I was a wreck. I cried all of the time and couldn’t understand what was causing it. I was in college full-time, but could not focus on my schoolwork and my grades were struggling. I flaked out on friends regularly, and when I actually showed up, I was a puddle of emotions that had very little to give to others.
Most people would have walked away or gotten fed up with me. Most parents would have shipped me home to micromanage my disorder and try to fix me. But as I’ve said before, I was lucky. The people who loved me most did what I needed the most — they invested in me. My roommate helped me connect with one of the best doctors in the city. She also gave me more emotional support over the following months than I could ever repay her for. She was gentle and loving and kind, even when I fell short of being a good friend or a good roommate. She and other friends in my church stood by me and supported me emotionally when I could not support myself. No one said they understood what I was going through; no one tried to fix my disorder with their advice. They just held my hand as I passed through the storm.
My doctor did not just give me medications to make me feel better. He invested in me as well. He taught me about bipolar disorder. He taught me about each of the medications I was on — side effects, benefits and even the pathways the drugs take in my brain to help me find balance. He taught me about neurotransmitters, neural pathways, dendrites and synapses. He gave me books to read and a place to talk about them. He taught me how to track my mood so I could identify where in the mood cycle I was currently and how best to manage my depression and my mania.
Above all, what made me lucky was that my parents invested in me. My mom would support me emotionally, reminding me of who I am and telling me she was here for me over and over again. She would drop everything for me, anytime I called, so I was never alone. When I had a bad reaction to a medication change that made me suicidal, she flew out to Colorado the following day and never left my side until the storm had passed. She saved my life more times than I can count.
And my dad supported me as well. He is a problem solver and a man of logic. He taught me to look at my mental health journey as a full-time job, and to treat it as such. He told me to work full-time at doing everything I need to do to get better. He supported me financially as long as I needed it until I was able to stand on my own, so I just had to worry about getting better. I still feel guilty over how much of his money I spent in those months and years when I was learning how to live with this disorder, but he has never held it over my head. To him, it was an investment. He didn’t try to fix me. He invested in me so I could figure out how to manage it myself. It was my problem to solve, and he supported me in every way he could to give me the best chance of solving it myself. He gave me what I needed to overcome, and that was the best thing he could have ever given me.
It’s been 16 years since I first started my battle with bipolar disorder. The war is never truly over, but I have come a long way. I have a loving family and a successful career, I am stable more often than not and I continue to fight to overcome my mental health struggles. For me, this is what it looks like to be winning the fight.
The hardship of dealing with bipolar disorder, particularly in the beginning, cannot be overstated. It is incredibly hard to deal with this disorder when you know very little about it. I am where I am today because other people invested in me, but also because I invested in myself. I read books written by people who have bipolar disorder, I journaled about my condition, I talked to my loved ones about what I was dealing with and I’ve been in therapy for almost two decades, learning how this disorder manifests itself in me personally. I have learned what I need to do to stay healthy, and I continue to learn more every year.
What worked for me in my story will not necessarily work for everyone. For someone else, it may have been best to move home instead of sticking it out in college. I am not here to say my story is a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone facing this disorder, because let’s be honest: being human is never one-size-fits-all. Each person, each situation, is unique and requires love and kindness and creativity in helping that person find their way through this battlefield.
If there are others reading this who would like to share their story, I encourage you to do so, either in the comments section below or somewhere else you feel comfortable. Our stories are worthy of being heard. We all deserve to know we are not alone in this journey.
As for me, I am eternally grateful for the people who were here to cheer me on and lend their aid whenever they were needed. They were there to give me hope when I had very little left. To every one of them I say thank you — you saved my life.
Unsplash image by Michelle Spencer