Every time someone suggests I read an article on having Bipolar, I discover that articles written or paraphrased by normal people always find a way to quip on how people with mental illness should adopt more normal activities in order to enjoy life. It is appalling that with all the available information and sensitization on mental health, the myths like mental health is a spiritual or worldview problem fixable with a religious tweak still thrive. There are many solutions to universal problems, but human beings are not as different as we would like to believe. Having being diagnosed with bipolar disorder since 22, I think maybe the world needs to learn the essential coping skills for a bipolar disorder patient.
1. A PROFESSIONALLY TRAINED GUIDANCE COUNSELOR
If you were to wake up with a huge boil on your forehead, what would you do? It seems natural to call in sick from all your responsibilities and get medical attention. Now turn the situation around and a person wakes up with an emotional malfunction, they simply have no coping mechanism and go about life with an emotional disease. An emotional malfunction is a symptom of an impending psychological disaster. We often want to ask our friends complex questions about sex, marriage, relationships, family structures, essentially turning them into on the fly psychologists instead of seeking help from the real professionals that deal with such situations. Popular culture has forwarded the belief that a night out with the boys/girls and binge drinking is enough emotional guidance, but well we all know that has never solved anything. The blind should not lead other blind. Professional counselling is not a measure of how disturbed or emotionally maladjusted you are, it is a step in compartmentalizing psychological problems that would otherwise stop you from reaching your full potential. Refuse to walk around with a psychological boil saying it is all going to be okay. That boil is symptomatic to a problem that would also not show in the first 5 pages of a Google search.
2. DISREGARD MONEY ONLY AS A PIECE OF PAPER
The most common misconception about having bipolar disorder is that we are often homeless folk, chasing people in the streets and scavenging for food. Most of us are actually highly functional human beings with families, high flying jobs and all those perks equally enjoyed by people without mental illnesses. One of the biggest challenges I had in my late teens was spending every cent I had on alcohol. Until my first job I would budget enough money for one day and this trend continued well after I stopped drinking. Now I am somewhat a ‘frugalist’, only after I was informed my splurge spending was a symptom of having bipolar. I was also taught plenty of money management skills. A lot of folk go about life saying ‘I want to be rich’ or ‘fake it till you make it’, a popular culture that has become somewhat a cult worshipping wealth. Having bipolar may have spared me that mental anguish of needing luxury or inflating my financial/social status amongst friends and family. Money should stop being the focus of being alive because even if you live 50000 years amassing all the wealth on the face of the earth, more money will be printed to meet your demand. Money is a semi-permanent utility, the less of it you need to be content the greater your quality of life. Detach yourself from the hedonistic pleasures associated with having more money and you will discover that your life is meant for something else.
3. FIND A SPIRITUAL PATH
If I still have your attention this far into the article, you are probably wondering if I am about to ask you to backpack the world, becomes hippie or live as a recluse. The title is a dead giveaway for the biggest challenges posed to all people suffering with mental illness. Even addicts in the 12-step program have one final step ‘had a spiritual awakening as a result of the steps’. Bipolar disorder unites all its victims across religious backgrounds through shared experiences, coping strategies and medication. The world really needs to stop getting into religious arguments yet spirituality is abundant. Every time I am approached by someone about spirituality I often paraphrase something I must have read somewhere; we were born pure in spirit but growing up we kept adding to this spirituality, like a library growing in titles. Somewhere along the way some of us forget to organize the titles in the library and end up mixing the good and evil we have collected in our environment. Spirituality is allowing yourself to become a librarian who reorganizes the titles in their spiritual library. Classify good and bad and if it all concurs with your religion, let no one convince you otherwise. We cannot be spiritually empty people because then life would seem meaningless, but this is a road that must be traveled individually. Do not find security in a crowd thus avoiding the eventual ‘spiritual librarian’ duty we must all undertake. Finally, allow yourself to borrow from other librarians, preferably those who have been on the ‘job’ longer. We indeed can all get along.