Around 25% of adults suffer from a mental illness. I want to raise awareness about this issue, and help people understand the different aspects of living with a mental disorder a bit better. That’s why I’m launching a series of guest posts called Mental Health Mondays, where I give other people the opportunity to share their experiences with mental disorders. In this week’s post, Amber from Amber Uninhibited talks about how life with bipolar disorder has been for her.
For most of my life, I didn’t believe it was possible to live with bipolar disorder and thrive. Bipolar was a black hole of destruction and misery, and there was no way to escape its pull. When my therapist told me that she knew people who had gone twenty-five years without an episode, I laughed at her.
It’s been three years since I had a manic episode.
I own two businesses. I’m happily married. My pets are healthy and spoiled. I have a rich life of hobbies, interests, and work that I love. I am thriving with bipolar disorder.
When it came to mental health, I was my own worst enemy. I wallowed in my depression and wrote endlessly about it in my journals. I wrote stories about depressed people. I listened to sad music and created drab art. I allowed it to consume me and I focused on it because I didn’t know that I had a choice. After all, my brain was broken, so why bother trying to feel anything else?
At the other pole of my disorder, I rode the tides of my manic episodes in glorious waves of creativity, confidence, and production. I could clean my whole house, finish a piece of art, write a short story, and start yet another project (that I wouldn’t finish) in one night. I even saw color more vibrantly when I was manic.
It was brilliant until it turned on me. The buzzing in my head, the irritability, and the paranoia of late-stage mania were unbearable and paralyzing. I was lucky if I could get off the couch through the noise. My skin felt itchy and I was restless.
I spent years in that cycle – manic, depressed, on meds, off. I hit rock bottom, climbed out, slid down into the pit again.
When I was 21, I got out of a seriously destructive relationship and decided this cycle had to end. I had let it consume my life for too long. I had just moved back in with my parents after four months of couch surfing and sleeping in cars because I had nowhere to live. I had no job. No significant other. Few friends. My self-esteem was non-existent.
Something had to change. I was going to be happy.
When I realized that happiness is a choice, and that, because I have bipolar disorder, I would have to fight to make that choice, things began to shift.
It started with my attitude, with gratitude. Whenever I felt down, I made lists in my head of all the things I had to be happy and grateful for. I’m thankful for that pretty painting. I’m grateful for that sunset. I’m happy because I started a new journal today. Sometimes negativity and pessimism crept in – ok, it happened a lot – but I fought them off with my joy and gratitude, with all the little, beautiful things that filled my day.
Then I changed my behavior. I stopped missing my meds. I started being honest with my doctor and I stopped letting doctors push me around. I asked questions. I read books. I became their most informed patient.
I stopped drinking and partying. I lost a lot of friends who were only my friends because we went to parties together. It didn’t matter. I cut out toxic people too – people whose lifestyles or attitudes didn’t align with my choice to be happy.
I stopped giving into my creative impulses.
I’m a writer, artist, and crafter by nature. Creative expression is vital to my happiness. This was one of the hardest things for me. I stopped allowing myself to get swept up in rushes of creativity that came with manic or depressive feelings. If it kept me up all night or made me skip my meds or stopped me from going to work, I didn’t give into my creativity. That kind of expression isn’t healthy.
Instead, I made time for my creativity in healthy ways. I scheduled it or allowed myself time to work on certain projects during set times – like weekends or days off. I didn’t let my impulses rule me. If I had a brilliant idea in the middle of the night, I wrote it down and went back to bed. I didn’t jump up and pull out my paints or my camera.
After I met my now-husband, I pushed myself even harder to improve my mental health. It was important that I be stable so that we could both be happy and not struggle all the time. He has been the most understanding person in my life when it comes to my mental health, but he holds me accountable. He doesn’t let me give up. He encourages me, but he doesn’t coddle me. He knows I’m strong enough to do this, and he doesn’t let me forget it.
I learned to plan and manage my time better. I stopped walking out on jobs I hated and instead put that energy into finding work I loved.
I worked at a well-paying job for two years, but my boss and I didn’t get along and it wasn’t fulfilling, so I left to start my own business. I was terrified that having bipolar disorder would ruin my chances at being an entrepreneur. New businesses are difficult for healthy people, and most businesses fail.
I’m still here, two years later.
This summer, I started doing other work as a contractor, and I’m going to turn that into a full-blown second business next year.
Sometimes I can’t believe I’m living the way I do – happy, free, in control of my work and my time. I still have bipolar symptoms. Some days I just meltdown and spend hours crying for no reason or because one little thing went wrong. It happens. I blow my nose, dry my tears, get some rest. Then I start over again the next day.
As part of being healthy, I created plans for what to do if I became manic or depressed. My husband has a list of my medications and numbers for my doctors and family. He knows where the line is, when he should call someone for help because my symptoms are too extreme.
I reached out to my friends and family and told them how they can help me if I have an episode. I started speaking up and speaking out.
I stopped hiding my disorder.
I still have bipolar disorder, and I know it will never go away. I’ve had to figure out how to continue seeing clients and managing my schedule when I’m horribly depressed and don’t want to get out of bed. I still have panic attacks and crushing anxiety. I still go through bouts of low self-esteem, in which I’m certain that I suck at my job and everyone is going to find out that I’m a fraud.
I also have beautiful periods, in which I know that I’m good at what I do and that people enjoy working with me. I know that people like me and appreciate me. I can accept my awesomeness and inner boss lady without becoming manic.
This is the hardest work I’ve done in my life. Being healthy is a necessary priority, and I’ve had to learn that it’s not selfish to turn friends down so I can go to bed early or leave an event because it’s time to take my meds. The people who are true friends understand.
The hard work is worth it. I’m here and I’m doing things that my younger self never thought would be possible.
Bipolar is a balancing act that I never stop performing. Sometimes I teeter. Sometimes I fall. The trick is getting back up and trying again. Every time I do, my balance gets a little better.
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