In 2011, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type I disorder with psychotic manifestations (visual and auditory hallucinations). The diagnosis and the surrounding experiences were certainly life changing. Two years prior however I also had another life changing experience. I was diagnosed with an Epitheliod Trophoblastic Tumor, which falls under the general heading of Gynaecological Cancer. I wasn’t short on life changing experiences, in all actuality; it was the one thing that seemed to be in abundance.
The maddening journey was almost unspeakable to those outside my inner circle. I wasn’t courageous or brave, nor was I certain within myself. I was tired, emotionally exhausted and I was spent. In addition to the above experiences, I had lost my mother in 2005 after her devastating battle with bowel cancer and I grieved two babies owing to ectopic pregnancies. I had to find whatever strength I had left to endure my newly acquired journey, complete with a young family that included a beautiful son who is high functioning Autistic and my husband, a fellow suffer of Bipolar disorder in tow.
I sought comfort in kindness and those who demonstrated understanding towards my plight without the need for in depth explanations. I also decided to take charge of whatever little control I had left when and where I could.
The acute stage of my life has passed. The need to make attempts on my life to stop the maddening voices was no longer required. The time spent in a local prevention and recovery centre commenced the journey to healing. But the afters shocks remained as the quest for meaning and understanding began in earnest. There seemed to be handbooks on how to live our life everywhere we look. There were spiritual handbooks, self help handbooks, philosophical and psychological handbooks, yet a handbook that showed me how to live successfully with a mental illness remained elusive. How to take this chemical imbalance in my brain and breathe wisdom and gratitude into it. It was a handbook that didn’t exist on the library shelves and it was a handbook that I would attempt to write, only if it were to appease my own sense of sanity. How do we salvage meaning in the desperate, blue hours of depression and how do we appreciate the flying red mania episodes. How do we cultivate a self love and a self respect for ourselves when we can be considered to be abnormal and unacceptable? How do we meet the blindness and ignorance of those in society who choose to disparage mental illness and how do we break through our own self imposed walls of doubt?
There are more questions than there are answers but in order to understand the world and all that is around us, I think we need to work from the inside out.
To openly discuss mental illness takes courage. The courage to share, the courage to face fears, the courage to listen, the courage to bear witness and the courage to confront Bipolar disorder and embrace it for what it is. Courage does not mean that we are not scared. I think you can be courageous and fearful at the same time. Courage is not bravery. I think courage is born out of love and a sense of self respect and despite itself, is a vehicle to create a pathway to let in the light and continue the journey. Courage means “ I will continue to fight through the depression even though its really hard”. Courage means “I don’t want to have to take medication for the rest of my life but if it means I have a better quality of life for myself and those who partake in my inner circle, then I will do it.” Courage means “ I know that life is for living and I will do the best I can with what I have”. Courage is a mental attitude that transcends our disabilities and works to harness all that is wonderful. It finds its expression through blog posts such as this, poems, stories, status updates and heartfelt e-mails.
To have Bipolar disorder is to have the gift of courage.
To be willing to participate in the betterment of ourselves not only for ourselves but for in our inner circle and in society so that we may contribute positively to growth and wellbeing is an act of generosity.
In discussing Bipolar disorder and our own personal experiences, we come together to share a common bond of understanding, of fraternity and of membership. When we talk, we make something of what is easily discredited as nothing, we create and within that creativity we give of ourselves to others, sometimes to comfort, sometimes as a form of camaraderie and others as a form of self acceptance. We give of our disorder not because we want to be left with less, we give because we want to double the experience and share the burdens equally with the joys that befall us. Generosity is to listen with an open heart and to be accepting rather than imposing and to willingly share rather than force our opinions.
To have Bipolar disorder is to have the gift of generosity.
When I was first slapped with the diagnosis of Bipolar disorder after three months of bouncing in and out of the overworked and underpaid public mental health system, a private 28 minute consultation I had an overwhelming sense of forgiveness. Forgiveness of myself for wanting to take my own life, forgiveness for my partner whose short temper was result of his Bipolar Type II disorder and the stress that my diagnostic journey represented within the family. Forgiveness for society for not being as open as I wanted them to be, for still allowing stigma to occur and for measuring them against my own self imposed expectations. Forgiveness in knowing that it wasn’t my fault.
Forgiveness for me meant letting myself go. Letting all those expectations, perceived failed dreams, new disabilities of thinking and of mind, the anger and the grief that comes with a sense of loss of self and a loss of my old life and my professional identity. Forgiveness is that quality that lessens the load and shares the weight. Forgiveness in mental illness is to accept ourselves for who we are and lets go of all the rules and regulations we followed to live our life. Forgiveness is accepting that through depression there will be many rainy days and it is okay to sometimes spend those days in pyjamas or in bed. Forgiveness is after a bout of flying mania we tell ourselves it is okay to feel out of mind and its okay if we have not cooked the family meals for a couple of days because you were penning the next best selling blockbuster. Forgiveness also means letting go of the inner critic when life seems less than perfect, when things do not work out and to acknowledge that sometimes we are in the middle of stitching up our wounds along the way. Forgiveness isn’t about seeing the failings in ourselves and in others and judging them for it, it is about acknowledging who we are, to accept what we do and have done and to realise all the good and wonderful things we are capable of doing regardless and in spite of ourselves. Forgiveness means I am worthy of love, love for my self and love from others.
To have Bipolar disorder is to have the gift of forgiveness.
Bipolar disorder is many things to many people. Sometimes the majority of the time it is fraught with negativity and besmirching, fear and uncertainty. I don’t know of anyone who given the diagnosis of any mental illness disorder shouted “Excellent! Just what I was hoping for, let’s celebrate!” Initially, mental illness to me conjured up images of straight jackets and hospital wards, metal bars and doctors in white coats. It evokes imagery of wild eyes and screaming mouths, uncontrollable fear and loss of freedom.
The tide is turning and we are learning more every day. This newly acquired knowledge of our illness and our selves opens our minds and nurtures our hearts. It calms the spirit and enhances our wellbeing. It demonstrates kindness in the sharing and kindness in the receiving. Mental illness means being kind to ourselves, understanding the journey we are embarking upon, being kind to our loved ones who choose to unconditionally love us in return. It has also taught me to be kinder to those who may need it the most, to share a smile with those who are bereft and have none to give.
To have Bipolar disorder is to have the gift of kindness.
To have Bipolar disorder is to know that we are alive. When it was realised that the steroid Prendiselone, the mood altering, life giving airway opening drug dispensed during my severe asthma attack was the causal trigger that spiralled down to the Bipolar disorder diagnosis, the treating doctors stated that dead people do not have mood swings.
With that comment in mind I picked myself up and dusted myself off. I was here, I had made it through what seemed to be a never ending limbering state of purgatory complete with the unleashed hounds of hell in hot pursuit. I was grateful that I was surrounded by people who wanted me alive and who gave me the courage to continue to fight another day. I was grateful that I came across a wonderful local psychiatrist whose honesty and openness surpassed any medical prowess he possessed. I had Bipolar disorder yet it was not the end of my life. In all actuality it was the beginning of a new chapter in my life that didn’t have to be all about doom and gloom woven with those prejudices that I highlighted in earlier paragraphs. Somehow I had recognised the power of choice, no matter what happens to us, we can choose our responses and our reactions. Within that came a new sense of freedom and dare I say a growing sense of adventure. With that, came a sense of gratitude for all that was good and wonderful in the world. I was grateful for the people who willingly chose to share my life and grateful for the unconditional love and for the friendships that span decades and continents. Within the madness I also realised that I was one of the lucky ones because at the end of the day, it could have been much worse.
To have Bipolar disorder is to have the gift of gratitude.
If we are lucky, we can come to understand what makes us tick, what is this mental illness all about and how best we can learn to live with it, thrive rather than just survive. We learn this through courage, generosity, forgiveness, kindness and gratitude – gifts that we possess. It does not mean that we make excuses for our mistakes or refuse to own up when we have had momentary indiscretions, lack of judgement, poor decision making which have landed us in hot water or created circumstances we would rather forget, but rather bringing together all that is good and the mistakes made in between, learning to accept them both as part of our humanity. I am still uncertain as to whether our personality and Bipolar disorder are entwined or remain somewhat independent of each other. Nevertheless, we can still choose how we want to live. We can choose how we command ourselves after all, as Jean Paul Sartre said; “Freedom is what you do with what has been done to you” and within this choice I think, lie the keys to life.
To have Bipolar disorder is to have the gift of living.
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