by Christine Anderson
I was diagnosed Bipolar I in 1987 and I spent 23 years in denial, became medication compliant in 2008, and finally accepted my disease in 2010. I have been in recovery since 2011.
I have experienced all three stages of my topic and I would like to discuss with you and tell you from first-hand experience what each one of them feels and looks like.
I am not here to throw a lot of statistics at you, at this stage of the game you have probably been overloaded with those, this is a realistic look at the three stages of bipolar disorder and how they affect you, the diagnosed and your loved ones.
You know that you have felt off, you are tired, you’re just stressed, it’s PMS or maybe if you’re a guy you’re just plain moody. These are the things you struggle with and tell yourself to make excuses for the highs and lows, but then they become severe, so much so that you wonder if you’re losing your mind and you know in your heart of hearts something is wrong, so you seek a therapist or a family doctor and they ask all the right questions and perhaps you fill out some questionnaire and in 15 minutes you have a diagnosis…you’re bipolar. Your first reaction is the doctor is wrong, then there’s the second denial, I definitely don’t need medication and regular therapy is out of the question. I will feel better in a couple of weeks I just need a break, get some rest, yea, that’s it. NO what you need is professional help.
It may take weeks for some, but years for others, people like me who believe that they can beat this on their own. It usually takes that old adage you must first hit rock bottom to find your way to the top. For me it was federal prison. I finally accepted the fact that the doctor was right, I was Bipolar, I needed therapy, I needed medication and I was only going to be as good as my support system. There is a poem about acceptance that they teach you in alcoholics anonymous and reading those words and really hearing them is what made the difference for me. I share them with you here:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed, It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
Copyright 1976 A.A.W.S. Inc.
What does it take to get well? You have to have regular therapy sessions, be compliant with your medication, and find your higher power. Support groups, especially online communities, can be so beneficial to have other identify with your moods and feelings and symptoms. There is strength in unity. Now I am not saying that you are going to be perfect and not falter, you will talk yourself out of taking your medication, you will feel “normal” and start skipping doctor’s appointments and sometimes isolate, and these could be signs of mild mania. Part of recovery is relying on acceptance to remind yourself you are beautifully flawed and need a little extra care.
Do your part, read everything you can and educate yourself, research some great organizations out there such as the International Bipolar Foundation, that are doing great work to help and raise awareness and fight stigma. Remember the words George Eliot once said, “The past cannot be changed and the future is yet in your power. It’s never too late to become the person you always might have been.”
Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles, including a regular column by the International Bipolar Foundation.