Almost two years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with rapid cycling. I go through the motions of highs and lows quicker than most other bipolar individuals, and my life has turned out nothing like the young, naïve child I once was thought it would be. My younger self never knew how difficult it would be to get out of bed some mornings and simply live, just like I didn’t know I could feel so elevated and spend most of what’s in my bank account—what I need to literally get by—in just a day or two. But here I am, years later, an adult and having to function in the real world while living with bipolar disorder.
It’s a love-hate relationship with my mind every day. Some days I’m on top of the world, shouting at it, “Come and get me! Bet you can’t!” and other days, I’m sunk so far into the ground that I can’t find the air around me to take a deep breath and muster out a simple, “Help me…”
But all in all, bipolar disorder is something I have no choice but to continue living with. It’s become a part of me, and I have to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t learn some important coping skills and life lessons along the way.
1. It’s okay to ask for help. If I had never asked for help, I wouldn’t still be here today. If I didn’t wake up after the morning of my first suicide attempt and called the doctor immediately, pouring out all of the events of the night before and the reasons over the years I felt that maybe, just maybe, I was bipolar, I wouldn’t be here writing any of this. If I didn’t reach out to friends and family when my lows were getting too low or my highs were getting too high that I was about to endanger myself and those around me, I wouldn’t be here right now. The idea of asking for help may seem to some like giving up, like wimping out, like not being strong enough, but I’ve learned that asking for help is sometimes the strongest—and hardest—thing I can do, and that’s okay.
2. Acknowledge your emotions, and don’t try to hide them. It’s okay to feel like the world is ending when it’s not, just like it’s okay to feel like the world is completely yours…to some extent. I’ve learned that bottling up the emotions I feel isn’t healthy. I’m an emotional being, and I need to let the emotions out. The longer they’re pent up, the harder it becomes to begin to control them and the harder it is for myself and others to help me. Just because I’m bipolar, it doesn’t mean that my emotions and feelings aren’t real.
3. Don’t let people invalidate how you feel. Most people will never understand the struggle of going through the highs and lows of having bipolar disorder. Not everyone will understand the sickening depression when it hits you smack in the face, or the addictive feeling of euphoria when the mania sets in. They may tell you to just cheer up, think happy thoughts, stop being so over-reactive, that your problems really aren’t that bad. They may tell you to chill out, quick being so energetic and squirmish, to relax and calm down. But the reality is, it’s easier said than done, and most people don’t understand that. Just because someone else can’t understand why you feel the way you feel, it doesn’t mean that any of you or your emotions are invalid.
4. Take one day at a time. This one is always so hard for me to remember, but it’s so important. When I’m utterly depressed, I want nothing more than to end my life, to call it a day by calling it a life. But the reality is, it’s just a bad day(s) or week(s), not a bad life. And when I’m feeling incredibly manic and I’m staying up until sunrise trying to do any and everything under the sun that I want to accomplish in that moment, I need to take a step back and remind myself that it’s okay if not everything gets accomplished right away, that patience is key. I’ve learned to take one day at a time because my emotions will sway, my mind will change, and that I just have to keep riding the waves.
5. Bipolar disorder doesn’t make me any less of a person. I struggle with this the most. I always feel so set apart from other people, from those who don’t have a mental illness, especially those who don’t have bipolar disorder. But the truth of it is, I’m no less of a person. I’m still uniquely me, and I paint my own life with wild, frenzied colors that help shape who I am and who I want to be. And that’s okay. My bipolar disorder doesn’t define me, it just helps me grow in ways differently than other individuals. I still have goals and dreams; I still have people and things I love and things I want to learn and do. I’m no less of a person because of my mental illness, I just see and feel the world in a different way, and that is perfectly okay.