When I envisioned myself at 24 I always thought I would be a huge success. I would be on the front page of fortune magazine, I would have a nice car, a nice house, nice family and nice job. I assumed I’d be out of the house and on my own. I’d be working a career I loved and I’d be on pace to making millions. But life isn’t as picture perfect as I thought it may be. I live at home, I work part time, I’m still in school and I have an average car. And although I’m nowhere near where I thought I may be at this age, I’m OK with that. 

Since being diagnosed bipolar at age 20, I’ve gone through hell and back multiple times. I’ve struggled with substances, with acceptance, with relationships and with a new lifestyle. But now at age 24 I can finally say I’ve made huge strides into my recovery. I’ve learned how to cope with my array of symptoms, I’ve learned how to accept the diagnosis, I’ve learned how to refrain from substances, I’ve learned how to better my relationships and I’ve learned how to adapt to a new lifestyle I never thought before was possible. 

I’ve always had such black and white thinking in regards to my life. I’m either a huge success story or a failure. I either love life or I hate it. I’m happy or I’m sad. The list goes on, it really is quite endless. But I’ve learned a lot over the past 4 years and I’ve learned that finding middle ground is really quite relieving. Maybe I’m not a huge success story because I’m not on the front page of fortune magazine, but I take my meds regularly so that in many minds is a success in its own. Perhaps I don’t love life at the moment, but it doesn’t mean I have to hate it. Life is good, and I’m OK with that. And maybe I’m not happy but that doesn’t leave me sad. Why can’t I just be content? 

After my longest bout of depression lately, I can’t help but feel overjoyed I get to experience another birthday. For one, I never thought I would have made it to this milestone with all of the ups and downs I can experience in a given year. And for second, I didn’t overly want to get older because I wasn’t where I thought society expected me to be. But who says society’s expectations are always right? And who says everybody has to be the same? I’m me, I’m Ashley and I think that’s quite alright for the time being. 

If I were to reflect on my biggest accomplishment this year in therapy is I learned how to love. And better yet I learned how to love myself, flaws and all. For the first time in my life I fell in love and it’s such an incredible feeling and experience that trying to put words around it would bring no justice. I also learned how to accept myself for who I am and love aspects of myself that I never did before. I can finally look in a mirror and like the reflection looking back at me. 

It’s been a big year and although I spent 3 visitations to the hospital, I can’t help but gloat about the good. I finished a year back at school, I started volunteering for multiple organizations, I ran a 25km race for mental health and I overcame a lot of obstacles that stood in my way. Although it wasn’t the greatest year, it wasn’t the worst, instead it was a good year. I think I like this new middle ground that I have seemed to have found. 

The amount of knowledge I have learned over the past 4 years is astronomical. I was once a substance abusing, non-compliant, unemployed, out of school, bump on a log that had no idea what was good for her health and often played the victim to a so-called bipolar diagnosis. Now I am substance free, compliant, employed, in school and a huge advocate for mental illness as a whole. How about that for age 24? Bring on 25! 

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