Can I live a good life with bipolar disorder?

Catherine Reynolds, Mental Health America

When you first get diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the idea that you can actually be happy and live a good life with may seem out of reach. It is not easy and it takes time –but it is possible.

Here are three ways to start living a better life with bipolar disorder.

  1. Don’t let it define you.
    Take a second and think about the way you talk about yourself. When you talk to others about your illness, what words do you use? You hear lots of people with bipolar disorder say things like “I am bipolar” or “I am bipolar and …”   Well let’s be clear: you are strong, you are worthy of love, and you are capable of recovery; you are not bipolar, you have bipolar disorder. Bipolar is not an adjective; it does not define you. It is merely something you have, just like you have high blood pressure. You do not hear cancer patients say things like “I am cancer” or “I am cancerous” –they have cancer. Whether you realize it or not, that language affects you. We don’t realize how much impact words have. When we use this kind of language to talk about ourselves, we are giving so much power to a disease that doesn’t deserve it. Making this small change can help you in the subtlest of ways. You get to take back the power, take back control. It might not seem like much, but if you start changing the way you speak, you’ll see.
     
  2. Learn from your experience.
    The more experience someone has with something, the better they usually are at dealing with it. Treat every experience you have as a learning one. If you have made a lot of progress and then have an episode, don’t think of it as taking a step back. Try and think of it as the next foot forward. For example, if you are hospitalized, try not to think about it as a disruption of your progress but rather a lesson about what triggers you to get to that stage. Think of it as having a toolbox, and each time something happens, take something from the experience and put in your toolbox for the next time you feel something coming over you. It’s important to equip yourself with information and tools to manage your symptoms if and when they return. You can’t always predict when these shifts in mood will happen, but you can predict how you will react.
     
  3. Never compare yourself to others.
     “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  When you start comparing yourself to other people, you start going down a slippery slope. It may make you feel like your progress isn’t as exciting or important as it is. Obviously, big victories and breakthroughs are important but you can’t expect those every day. Recovery is made up of little, daily victories that should be celebrated. If the hardest thing you did today was get out of bed, then take pride in that. Each day is an accomplishment. It can be easy to compare what we are going through with other people’s experiences—especially in the age of social media. People say things like “They have had it worse… what do you have to be sad about?” While it is important to keep perspective, this kind of thinking often shames people into feeling like whatever they are going through isn’t “hard” enough or “sad” enough to be taken seriously. People feel stupid for feeling a certain way when “so many people have it worse than them.” This can prevent them from talking about their problems and getting help. If you are a feeling a certain way, regardless of the circumstances that brought you there, you are entitled to feel that way. Everyone’s progress is valid, everyone’s pain is valid, everyone’s feelings are valid. Your experience is valid.

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