Author: Valery Brosseau
I used to wonder if I’d ever get “better”. I used to wonder what “better” even really meant. I assumed it meant the emotional pain would stop, the debilitating lows would disappear and the dangerous highs would be tempered. As someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I wanted to get “better”. I wanted to feel like I could live my life with a semblance of stability and perhaps have other people not even realize that I lived with a mental illness.
Years later, after 5 months of inpatient treatment, years of therapy and countless medications, I can tell you that FEEL better. But can I say that I AM better? Is the illness gone? Has my brain been repaired? Am I a different person?
Bipolar disorder is something I will manage for the rest of my life. It is a chemical imbalance. It is an illness I was born with. With support and hard work, however, I have learned to live a healthier, more stable life. And that’s what people see – that I got “better”.
I spent a tumultuous several years oscillating between frequent deep depression and sporadic bouts of hypomania. I attempted suicide three times and I self-harmed for years. To outside observers, this was clearly mental illness. I was a girl who was struggling, who was lost, who needed serious help.
And I sought out that help; I found therapists and psychiatrists and learned to take myself to the hospital when needed. I surrounded myself with supportive and compassionate people who helped lift me from the darkness and who helped calm the distress.
Now that I have learned the tools and strategies to better manage my symptoms, that I have the right support system and that I am on the right medications, I don’t “look” or “act” mentally ill. At least not most of the time. People see a bright, capable and inspiring person, who uses her lived experience to help educate others and help them feel less alone.
Does that mean the pain is gone? Does that mean I don’t have dark days or difficult moments?
No. It just means they are less visible, less obvious.
If you are like me and you’ve gotten “better”, I want to tell you that I see you, I acknowledge you and I validate your experience. Once we get “better”, many people see just that – they don’t see the tremendous effort and work that goes into it, or the fact that we still experience emotional pain and psychological distress.
“Oh, wow. You so don’t seem bipolar.”
Unless we are in crisis, most people assume we are just fine. They don’t see the constant battle to stay that way.
If you have gotten “better”, I’m here to tell you that I understand that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I understand the hard work that goes into it and I recognize that there are still painful days.
Be proud of how far you’ve come. Celebrate your hard work, your growth and your ability to overcome. Hopefully you FEEL better. But never feel pressure from anyone to BE “better”, never feel pressure for your recovery journey to follow someone else’s expectations. On the hard days, during the crises or the panic attacks, don’t let anyone tell you “Oh, but I thought you were doing better.” You are the one who defines “better”. “Better” means you have found hope, you have found support and you are working hard to manage your mental health. It does not mean you now fit others’ ideas of how you should act and feel.
We all have our own journey and invisible illnesses can make it difficult for people to offer us the support we need. They often don’t realize we need support. Let your close circles know to check up on your when you seem “better”, when you seem like the strong one, the put together one. You deserve support no matter what stage of your recovery you are in.
Keep pushing, keep fighting – you are doing it. You are overcoming, you are conquering. I see you, we are in this together.