Self-Image and Bipolar Disorder

From the time we can talk, people begin asking us what we want to be when we grow up. My answers were usually one of the following: ballerina, model, actress, doctor, nurse, painter, art therapist, occupational therapist, photographer, illustrator, writer. I wanted to help people and make the world prettier for the most part. In college, I changed my major like I changed my outfit before a big date – often and always looking for the “perfect” one. More than that, I was looking for that something that would make me happy and feel that my life is worthwhile. But now, thinking about the original question, shouldn’t it be WHO do you want to be when you grow up? That is a whole level deeper, a whole existential debate about what is really important in life. And to confound matters, where does bipolar disorder (or mental illness in general) fit in?

As an example, I will start with myself (because I know me best). I am not bipolar, but I do have bipolar disorder. I am a wife, a mother, a student, an employee, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a godmother, and an aunt. I am an artist, a writer, an athlete. I am a dreamer. I am an idealist. I am a lover of books and I am always thirsty for knowledge. I am many, many things all at once. Each of us is.

Sometimes I love myself – I am proud of my flaws and imperfections. I feel strong and unstoppable. Sometimes I loathe myself – all I see is flaws and I feel hopeless. My moods shift with the seasons and sometimes shift without reason. I am dependable and unpredictable at the same time. Staying grounded is not always possible when I have so many thoughts and dreams all at once, but I can find solace in the strength and stability of my family.

That is all well and good for me. What does that mean for you? How do we each establish a positive self-image when our self-image is constantly morphing? Self-image not only shifts along with moods, it can be influenced by the consequences that accompany our actions. In other words, if we do something not so nice while manic, we still have to live with the repercussions of that action. I have done some pretty bad things while manic and the guilt I felt (and still feel to some degree) has tainted the way I think of myself. But I am not a bad person. I have done some not so nice things, but not with the intent to hurt anyone. When I stabilized, I reached out to the extent I could and did my best to patch up the relationships, or correct the wrongs, or return the purchases. Sometimes it can’t be fixed, it just is – forever. I learn to deal with that, too. Sometimes coping is healing and that is okay. And that makes me who I am.

But who are we? What does it mean to be? I honestly don’t know if there is one answer. It is different for each of us. And maybe it is not a place to be, maybe it is a path to walk (or run with scissors, depending). Maybe the purpose of life is to do our best each day, one step at a time, dancing with two left feet, because face it, who the heck knows all the moves anyway? We are human. We are alive. We are survivors. We are comedians. We are the writers of our own stories. We are our own choreographers. We just are. And that is enough. Just to be.

Yes, I have bipolar disorder. I also have brown hair (and a bunch of grays). I have a big heart and a passion for life – even when I am at my lowest depression. I survive each day and do everything I can to make it a good one. Even on the days I feel that I am one big imperfection, that is okay. I am. And tomorrow I will be, too. So I will try to make me the best me and love me either way. If today you are depressed, that’s okay – bipolar disorder gives us ups and downs. Neither lasts forever, but each day you wake up is another day to rejoice in and another day to celebrate yourself. You are incredible. You are a survivor. You are you and that is just what you should be. Who do you want to be when you grow up? I just want to be me!

Read the rest of Beka’s posts for IBPF here. 

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