Author: Christina Chambers
I distinctly remember the moment my perspective on accepting Bipolar Disorder shifted. It was three years ago, in the midst of a severe depressive episode. I was seriously considering if giving up forever was the best option, which is a place my mind always goes in the darkest part of depression; and I chose to purchase a workbook on DBT and Bipolar Disorder. Once again, my stubbornness, or determination as I prefer to call it, served me well. I wanted to know how I could possibly accept Bipolar Disorder for life, something I consistently struggled with in the midst of episodes. I was projecting the depressive episode into the future and was certain it was something I couldn’t accept. I despairingly flipped to the part of the book on radical acceptance. It spoke about accepting the moment- only accepting one moment at a time. Clear as day, I realized that while I need to accept Bipolar Disorder as lifelong, accepting that it will continue the same way for life, is not what needs accepting. It’s simply not possible to predict the course of Bipolar over a lifetime, so it’s not worth trying to accept anything specific about the future with Bipolar. I realized it’s important to accept my future will involve Bipolar, but that anything was possible with how that could look, so I needed to shift focus to accepting the moment.
I have heard many times that with treatment Bipolar Disorder typically gets better over time. From experience, I knew that with each episode I was learning and honing my ability to manage the disorder. Logically, I concluded my Bipolar had to have an improving trajectory over time. So, I got through that depression by accepting that I was depressed in that moment, doing what I could to get through, and accepting that while I have Bipolar Disorder for life, anything was possible for the course of my disorder.
This January I celebrate one year and six months Bipolar episode free! I cannot adequately express what a truly monumental accomplishment this is for me. I had rapid cycling with mixed states woven painfully between each episode. For years, it was only a few weeks, if that, between episodes. Eventually, it became a month between episodes, and then there were a few times I actually made it as much as three months. Over time, my mixed states dissolved, and my norm became four episodes a year: a depression mid-winter, hypomania in the spring, depression in the summer, hypomania in the fall, interspersed with periods of euthymia (“normal” mood or without episodes). I honestly believed that quarterly episodes were a given part of the disorder for me, but my determination to continue learning apparently served me very well.
I am not going to pretend it has been a cake walk. I regularly get warning signs of episodes, especially depression. It is crucial for me to catch the warning signs early and put my wellness plan into action to nip it in the bud. It takes a lot of effort at times, but it has been so worth it. Now that I know it’s possible to be episode free for so long, I am that much more motivated to put effort into my wellness when needed so that I can stay well. The majority of the time, my wellness tools are habitual and are part of my routine in a way that doesn’t take conscious effort. I also recognize there will likely be times in the future with exceedingly great stress, and my best efforts won’t keep the episodes at bay, and that will be extremely challenging. However, I know from experience that the course of my disorder is not set, and I have so much power in its outcome. So, when times are tough, I will work to accept only the moment at hand, while at the same time knowing that the future is ripe with possibilities that might not even be fathomable yet.