I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1990. The illness was overwhelming but I was relieved to know it had a name. However I soon surrendered to the power of the illness. I was ‘bipolar’. I considered myself weak and sick. For years all I could think of was what I had lost. I often thought of suicide but I couldn’t put my family and friends through that grief and I knew God would be very disappointed since He had given me the gift of life.
About three years ago my counselor pointed out that feeling deeply can actually be a gift. I began to wonder what life would be like if I didn’t consider myself sick. I started wondering if I could take back what I had lost. Eventually I saw that I’m not mentally ill all of the time; just when I have an episode. In my personal journey of recovery I have learned
- that my identity does not lie in illness nor wellness but in simply being human
- that change is gradual and that some things cannot be changed for now
- to be more of a listener than an adviser
- to have more empathy than I had ever had for others’ challenges
I am overcoming my fear of feeling good as a symptom of the mania escalating again. I am also trying to release anger at mental health practitioners for not always having all the right answers and sometimes making big mistakes. I still work hard to overcome my personal pride by not being ashamed to admit I need help sometimes.
The Bible says that soon God will wipe away every tear so I keep that hope uppermost in my mind. In the meantime when I feel my mood changing too far either way I go through a checklist:
* food and water
* spiritual routine
* reaching out for help
* helping others
* correct what I can and move on.
I have been a volunteer minister for over 40 years and I have a lot of support from my family and friends. I go to my congregation meetings twice weekly. I see the nurse practitioner to monitor my medication and for now I go to a therapist weekly. I have a recovery coach of my own to help me maintain my wellness. I also attend and facilitate meetings of DBSA Tucson.
When I took steps to defy the identity of being sick good things started happening. I am proud to say I received my state certification to be a peer support specialist and I am a life coach. I accept now that I am vulnerable to mental illness but I will never again let a diagnosis define me.
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