Friday, March 21, 2008

What Being Bipolar Has Taught Me

When I am depressed, I believe I have learned nothing from being bipolar. I look at the depressions as a waste of time. Because my hypomanias were medication-induced, in retrospect, I see them as an embarrassment rather than a source of pleasure. When I think about the excesses of my behavior, I wonder why I thought it was okay, how I could have been so clueless, and why I didn't see the patterns earlier.

But sometimes, usually at the end of a depressive episode, I see life with a startling clarity. It doesn't make up for the difficulties of being bipolar, but it does give me pause to think. Last night I realized that my bipolarity has reduced me to my elemental self. I've had an unusual opportunity to experience the polar opposites of my life.

I have had "big" jobs that were so prestigious that they garnered a great degree of respect and approbation, and "small" jobs that forced me to struggle to maintain my dignity. I've had decades of "popularity" where people coveted my friendship and sought my companionship, and almost ten years of illness where I have felt like a pariah and lived in relative isolation.

I have known what it's like to feel the responsibility, pleasure, and joy of familial devotion and loyalty, and I know what it's like to feel the devastation, disappointment, and separation caused by familial treachery.

I have spent much of life feeling physically strong and attractive, and I have spent years when I have felt so weak, ill, and impaired that I could barely recognize my face in the mirror. I know the joy of feeling special and blessed, and I know the sorrow of feeling despairing and abandoned.

Last night as I sat and reflected, I realized that my life has now come full circle. I have finally returned to what Parker J. Palmer calls, "the original selfhood given to me by God."

Or as May Sarton has written in her poem,
"Now I become myself.
It's taken time, many years, and places,
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces..."

But now, I am back to the place I began. "What a long time it takes to become the person one has always been," Palmer writes in Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. "How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity--the true self in every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation."

And while it seems to be late in my life to discover my authentic vocation, I believe it is my bipolarity that will lead me in the right direction.

For all of you who celebrate Easter, I wish you a happy holiday! See you on Monday!


Mariposa said...


I'm a bit busy here...just stopped by to check...

Happy Easter!

KJ said...

I love this post. Not as someone who is bipolar but just as a woman. I love reading what you write. I not only learn a lot about my spouse but I also learn a lot about myself. The closer I get to 40 the more I think I am the epitomy of May Sarton's poem. I am glad you are finding your authentic self. What a great self for all of us to find. Happy Easter and Spring!

Sue said...

If you had not gone through the pain, you would not have been able to integrate the suffering into becoming the wonderful writer and compassionate soul that you are today. I admire you. Keep forging ahead.

Syd said...

Susan, what an awesome post! I have felt so many of the feelings you expressed so eloquently, at both ends of the emotional spectrum. I can't imagine ever being able to express that diversity of self-awareness any clearer than you have, so I want to reflect on this and post a link from my blog to this because I think you've shared something very significant here.

Now I'm anxious to hear what you've realized that your true vocation is!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Happy Easter to you! Actually, it's not my holiday but it is my husband's. Nonetheless...hope you have a lovely holiday!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Sue,
Thanks so very much! I appreciate your kind words. It's only when I'm feeling better that I can see any value in all the pain and suffering. Still...there are those moments...


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear KJ,
And your comments made my day! Thanks so very much for your kindness and support. Hope you and your family have a lovely Easter and Happy Spring as well.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Sydney,
As always, thanks dear friend!

With love,

my life with bipolar disorder said...

Susan, I am so glad that you are able to see yourself from a new perspective that makes your life a really enriching and meaningful one despite having bipolar. I am learning to appreciate that too.

Bipolar does not define us. We are still our unique and special person God has created us to be. Though depression is awful beyond words, our life is truly made more colorful because of the intensity bipolar gives to things in our life and the perspective it forces on us.

Happy holiday!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Nanci,
Hope you have a Happy Easter. And again, thank you for your comments.
We are definitely more than our illness! It's just finding a way to "control it" so it's not so debilitating during the bad times.


Danielle Says Hello said...

It may be just my perception, but I believe what you wrote here could apply to all persons, whether they have a diagnosis of bipolar or not. It is the cycle of life. It ebbs and flows in much the way you described here. It has been much the same for me also. I believe not so much that our illness has brought us to this point of authentication but our age and experiences. Just a thought.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Danielle,
I agree that it does represent life's ebbs and flows. But I also think that being bipolar--at least for me--has sped up the process. I felt that I had my first "mid-life" crisis in my twenties. I had to deal with major career set-backs in my early forties because the medication made me so sick, and my illness exacerbated other problems.

I also feel that I'll be far more able to deal with the natural aging process because of what I've experienced. That remains to be seen!


Paula Joy said...

I just came across your blog and I have enjoyed and been encouraged by what I have read so far. I was just diagnosed in Dec as being bipolar and have much to learn and need support. I lok forward to reading through your blog and sharing more with you. You are welcome to read my blog as well.

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. said...

Dear Susan,

I like the sentence "to become the person one has always been"! It applies to everybody - not only to bipolar people. It's a long struggle to become that person - but certainly worth it.

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Alexa,
I couldn't agree more. Thanks for your comment.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Paula,
Thanks for your comment. I'm on vacation but I'll read your blog when I return.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for speaking out, reaching out, and being vulnerable. I will be reading your book soon. I have hope now that I know that you have been on similar journey and are committed to finding the joy even if only for a moment.

I look forward to becoming engaged in the movement for Bipolar Wellness. One day at a time is so very difficult for me.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you so much for your comment. It's made my day. One day at a time is all that any of us can hope for. This illness requires a heroic effort --and hopefully if we focus on wellness rather than illness--we'll have a fighting chance!