Bipolar and Cultivating Community

Author: Matthew Palmieri


After my initial diagnosis in 2014, like many, I felt deep shame. There was this nagging and persistent feeling that bipolar had put me behind somehow. That I had done something wrong to end up here and this was going to be something I’d fight alone and within myself.

My friends and family were lapping me, accomplishing this, achieving that and the only way I could catch up would be to pretend nothing happened.

I would work twice as hard to accomplish what they were doing, at an even faster pace. In other words, hello MANIA — although I didn’t really have a clear understanding that it was this feature of bipolar that would rip me away from the depths of my first major depressive episode and what would, naturally and inevitably, plunge me back in.

With every big thing that I accomplished after my diagnosis, I identified less and less with Bipolar. I may have mentioned my diagnosis in passing but it was never really a part of my identity.

Like many others, my illness got progressively worse because no matter what, I still had this anger and irritability that said, ‘Nope. Not enough’ — to the point where I finally started to seek treatment outside of just medication.

What emerged from this extensive period of denial, was the discovery of a sense of community and a kind of awe that my patterns could be categorized and would run parallel to many others. Millions of others.

My denial made sense. I was always feeling so alone and isolated and like many others, figured since the meds were working (I wasn’t horribly depressed anymore) I would likely always just have to play ‘catch up’.

Doing things alone can only get you so far in life, though.

After my worst breakdown yet, I finally started to discover that there was a world outside of my solitary understanding of the illness.

There were classifications and explanations for the irritability I felt. The extreme highs I cherished in art and music in particular could be explained or at least generalized. I started to have more a-ha moments once I saw my life in other people.

My mind finally welcomed bipolar and it was like my heart said, ‘Ok now we’re getting somewhere.’

It isn’t an instant relief and it goes without saying that I still struggle. It is kind of like a form of solace that I take with me as I rebuild again, this time truly new.

Deep within depression, when I am struggling the most, I now can at least say I have resources in my inbox, I have a therapist who understands the illness, I have a care team and support from friends and family.

In other words, I have community.

I certainly now feel a before and after.

Not to say that resources can always provide clear cut answers. As it is often stated, no two people experience the illness in the exact same way, and there really is still a dearth of information and research.

With every reveal to family or friends, there is often a subsequent, ‘Why are we even talking about this? We ALL have mental health problems.’ The mentally ill must often grapple with this, but hey, we are resilient.

The Bipolar community has taught me about the importance of a holistic treatment plan. One that includes talk therapy, medication, sunlight, exercise, journaling, and connecting with others, to name a few efforts.

It is true and unfortunate that darkness often brings light, when we have no one to blame but ourselves for our behavior, but it is within these contrasts that I often can start to see the patterns really emerge.

I am finally able to forgive myself because of this community. Not to justify my erratic and often destructive behavior, but to finally say ok this is a thing that I can relate to others with, and it isn’t a death sentence.

What all these resources have in common are that they generate a form of togetherness and connectivity.

There is hope and it is ok to stumble. Depression will come back. Mania will always tempt you.

Bipolar is just so persistent. It is an invisible illness and one that is and will be the greatest teacher of my life.

Thankfully, there are others. 

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