I was sitting around the other day thinking about how long it has been since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 18 and all that has happened since then. It’s quite interesting because I seem to remember my first inpatient stay still so vividly, but I think I always will as I know many people who don’t forget their hospital stays no matter how long it has been.
I went through the typical denial phase, then the acceptance phase, then the back to normalcy phase, then relapse, then stabilization, and then back to normalization. This all seemed to happen within my first few years of treatment for my bipolar disorder. Honestly, by the time I hit the age of 23 in 2007 I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I found the miracle for surviving bipolar disorder. I finally found the one medication which gave me real stability, I knew my disorder inside and out, I was in school and I was holding a small part-time job. I could help others who were new. Both I and those who watched me suffer for the last few years and resigned to the fact that I probably will not reach any since of normalcy which I had before my diagnosis just 5 years earlier, were thankful in every sense of the word. I felt I had reached a level of normalcy despite having bipolar disorder. I felt I had beat the odds, I had beat the statistics which surround mental illness and specifically those diagnosed in their teen years, as that was the category I identified with the most. That is what I felt was robbed from me, which I had now reclaimed with great victory. While other teens and college students were out having fun and living the typical young adult lifestyle, mine was spent in the whirlwinds of my disorder and the trials and errors of finding the right treatment. So, I truly felt I found the way through the labyrinth of my mental illness and it felt like a huge feat.
Something that’s interesting about mental illness is it seems to have the upper hand because we don’t know everything about it. That’s the most miraculous aspect of the brain is it is the organ in the body which is so complex for which we have only covered the surface. So, when it came to my mental illness, I have found there is always something to learn, there can always be a new aspect which can pop out from behind the bush which I passed every day, but now looks slightly different. It keeps me on my toes and it is always teaching me.
You might ask, what’s so different now? Did you have another relapse?
The last year has been a rollercoaster ride as it gave me loss; every emotion in the book, a hospital stay, and two new diagnosis’s added onto my bipolar disorder, and a boat load of change. It challenged my view of me, my idea of normalcy, and my previous conception of beating the odds of having a mental illness. Before now, I thought I was supposed to have everything figured out, why shouldn’t I? I have been in the mental health system for 10 years, I should know relapse signs way before they hit. I should be an expert. Being the expert that I should be, relapse should not occur and I should be able to be a part of society in a productive way as everyone else. Boy, did I have it wrong.
It’s amazing how the standards I hold myself to are so different from that which everyone else holds me to. I know I am a perfectionist, but I have learned so many things in the last year which if known before, might have saved me unnecessary grief. It doesn’t matter how long one has been a part of the mental health system (2, 10, 25 years) relapse is always a possibility. Relapsing doesn’t say anything about my strength, or any other character flaw. It is a part of my mental illnesses and sometimes the relapse is worse than others and it can still happen even if I am in treatment doing everything I am supposed to. But, it doesn’t erase hope and it doesn’t change any positive experiences I had before and will have after. As much as I would love to say there is a universal way to live with a mental illness and a way to be a productive part of society and its normalcy, everything is individualistic when it comes to what works for people and what their idea of normalcy looks like. I wouldn’t tell a friend whose cancer came back after being in remission that she should have known better, so I need to show myself the same kindness, gentleness.
A good friend of mine always told me to be kind and gentle to myself. This last year has shown me how I am worth trying to show myself the same kindness and gentleness I show to others and that I am worth that kind of treatment. I also need to be patient with myself as life itself is a learning experience full of rollercoaster rides, mental illness or not; if you add mental illness to the mix, the rollercoaster rides can be more intense, but the people on them still are worth kindness, gentleness, and patience.