By: Chris Chambers
It can feel like Bipolar Disorder alters who we are. After all, it changes thinking, emotions and behavior. We typically view who a person is based on those qualities. Believe it or not, our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are not who we are, they are just the tip of the iceberg.
I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2008 after a manic episode. I experienced psychosis or a loss of touch with reality. As the saying goes: “I lost my mind”. Losing touch with reality is a very earth-shattering experience. As people, we have an illusion of control over our minds, so to completely lose hold of the wheel is very foundation shaking. I am pretty sure I not only lost hold of the wheel, I don’t even think I was in the vehicle for times of that experience! It was pretty surreal and wild. All of it got me questioning “Who am I?”. I went through a major identity crisis. Over the years, as Bipolar cyclically took hold of the wheel, I wrestled with these questions about my identity. Over time I arrived at some answers.
Exploring yoga helped me find answers. Yoga philosophy believes we all have a true nature or highest self, and that thoughts actually obscure this self. Through meditation, movement and breath we can begin to quiet the clutter of the mind and unearth our true selves. I also asked myself about family members with dementia. Their behaviour, thoughts and emotions were very altered, but I knew the dementia was not who they were. I had a sense of who they were underneath it all. That was what I aimed to see in myself.
So, I sought to find who I am beyond Bipolar Disorder. I explored values lists, selecting the ones that resonated most with me. I noticed over the years, my core values did not change much. I went through lists of passions and interests, and reflected on my strengths and characteristics that described me. I noticed my strengths and characteristics did not shift drastically. My interest and passions changed over time, but they all seemed to align with my values. All of this gave me a more concrete idea of a pervasive sense of self unchanged by the throws of Bipolar Disorder.
While understanding my values and strengths was helpful, ultimately, I have concluded the self is not something that can be summed up in words. It is more of a felt sense that just is. Yet, no matter how much our brains change, it is there. The self, who we are, is always shining, even if it is underneath the workings of the brain. That is what our loved ones see, and that is what we see in our loved ones. It is always there to come home to and guide us through the challenges of a differently functioning brain. So, to those who share this disorder I say: “You are not, never were, and never will be your Bipolar disorder; you are you”. Or in the words of Doctor Seuss: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive that is youer than you.”