As 2015 is drawing to a close I often find myself reflecting on the things bipolar disorder has taught me over the past 12 months. This year, like the last few years, has been a steep learning curve. However unlike last year where I became fully acquainted with my bipolar disorder as it immersed me in extreme depths of mania, depression, mixed states, psychosis and paranoia, this year I have been able to process and embrace the life-changing lessons this illness has taught me:
1. To be more tolerant and question perceptions
I’ve always been an accepting person, but since my diagnosis I’ve become more so. I am far less quick to judge and I challenge the preconceived perceptions of people. You never know who’s fighting a hidden battle.
2. To do what makes me happy
Being diagnosed with a chronic condition and coming close to death a few times has made me re-evaluate how I live my life. Our time on this earth is short and I have become very aware of my own mortality. This has given me a grounded (and liberating) view of the world at a young age. I’ve realised an important lesson: to do what makes me happy and what I feel is important. I take every opportunity to spend time with people I care about, to have fun and to laugh whenever I can.
3. To appreciate quality over quantity
Quantity means nothing if there is no quality and this can leave you feeling empty. Over the past two years I’ve applied this to relationships. I’m lucky because I have a lot of friends and many supportive people in my life. It’s important to branch out and make lots of social connections, but I have become choosey about who I consider to be close friends and whom I can rely on for support. This has freed up my time to nurture these close relationships and to create a strong safety net.
4. To not sweat the small stuff
Bipolar has taught me that the little stuff is insignificant. So I have acne? So I stumbled over a few words while giving a presentation? So I had to take a week off work for my health? In the grand scheme of things, WHO CARES? These day-to-day, small anxieties are unimportant and not worth my worry or time. Chances are no one else is dwelling on them because they have their own concerns. I would much rather dedicate time worrying about significant things when they arise – like the health of family, friends, and myself.
5. To live in the present and embrace every moment
Before my diagnosis my head was in the future. I was so goal-orientated that I didn’t stop to appreciate my achievements. Now I soak up every moment, every interaction, every victory (big and small) and every emotion. I not only do this with the good times, but also the bad. I’ve learnt to accept the times when life is tough because to feel still means you’re alive and human. Besides, nothing is permanent and the bad times pass.
6. To be thankful for what I have
Again, before I was diagnosed I never stopped to appreciate all the good things in my life. Everyday I pause and reflect on something I’m grateful for. This helps to keep me grounded if I’m spiraling the depressive drain of negative thoughts and rumination. Practicing gratitude also adds to my happiness in general and I will never take anything for granted again.
7. To ask for help when I need it and allow myself to be vulnerable
I was never good at showing my vulnerabilities and when I needed help I was too proud to ask. Now I realise being vulnerable is not weak but brave, and it takes strength to ask for help. If I didn’t have bipolar I wouldn’t have learnt this lesson through experience. I would still be an emotional vault and feeling somewhat disconnected because of my reluctance to let people in.
8. To be kind and caring to everyone
Need I say more? Don’t be mean-spirited. If someone is in need of help give it to them. Even when you’re angry or arguing with someone you can still treat them with respect and dignity. (This is more of a re-enforcement than a lesson).
9. “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes” – Dag Hammarskjold
Someone whom I greatly respect and admire got me onto this quote and I love it. Whenever I need motivation or if I’m having a bad day I think of this. It reminds me that my past has made me the person I am today, that everything in life is a lesson and if we learn from the bad then it’s actually a win. It also makes me excited for the future and reminds me to take chances and embrace every opportunity.
I often say that I would not be the person I am today if I didn’t have bipolar disorder. Bipolar has given me much more than it has taken and I wouldn’t change that for anything.