I Discovered My Power and Recovered Myself- A Bipolar Recovery Tale
Recovery in mental health is not what you normally think of when you hear the word “recovery”. Because in mental health it is not about returning to something, returning to a state of “normal” or returning to a place you have been previously. It does not work like that. There is no RE about it.
It is more a process of discovery, a process of uncovering.
Because with Bipolar there is no returning, only moving forward with a new found strength, hope, awareness, and courage. Things that are discovered within you. Uncovered within you.
I can say that I am recovered. I am recovered in the sense that I have been beaten down by Bipolar a number of times. And I have risen again and again. But the last time I rose, I rose with this potent little thing we call “acceptance”.
And I rose with power.
Recovery does not mean that it is over. Bipolar is not an episodic illness. Bipolar is an all the time brain condition. The fight is daily even in between the bad flare ups (episodes). But I have been mostly free of the black torment and voltaic agony of Bipolar for two whole years.
I had to fight for the acceptance, a lot of acceptance. Acceptance that there was a problem with me, acceptance that it really was Bipolar, acceptance that it wasn’t something I could “beat on my own” but that I needed the meds. This whole process isn’t necessarily linear. I bopped all around and back and forth and in and out and feel like I made it to the end a couple of times only to be thrown back. But it did finally happen for real. And it was the acceptance that led me to recovery.
When you look at your life, back through the people, places, events, words. thoughts, glowing trees, sunbursts, accidents, tears, and deep thoughts, you find a shiny thread or threads. A chain. Some events stand out glowing with a kind of intensity, unable to be forgotten. They are the moments that wake up something inside that hitherto-fore was sleeping or hiding.
I remember that thud of realization. I had on a navy blue V-neck T-shirt with a white cami underneath. I was standing by the laundry hamper in the narrow hallway in my small apartment, brain like a Ben Hur chariot race, heart like a popcorn popper, electric blood.
“I don’t understand it, I felt like I was really depressed but then I felt fine, I keep having these painful over the top BLINGS of Happiness, but I am not happy with anything, I’m so uncomfortable, I can’t do anything, I hate everything. Everything is painfully beautiful and I CAN’T STAND IT, I can’t stop talking, I can’t be alone, but I am afraid to go anywhere, afraid to call anyone because no one likes me, what is this horrible electric jolting in chest, I feel like my heart is just going to burn right out and I will fall over dead.”
The insidious pervasive feeling that I was “losing it”. The thumping drum beat off in the woods, the realization that something was “wrong”. And that the only thing that could be wrong was…well…me.
I called therapists and I fought through the messed up system to my diagnosis and was tortured by medication for about nine months. Cleared it all out. Said “never again”, said “the meds make me feel worse so I am just going to have to figure this out without them…”
Fast forward and sped through a mania that I never noticed until the very last moments. The blistering crash, being trapped in that crash. Unable to process the extent to which everything had just changed. Not just a rug pulled out from under me but as if I was abducted and taken to an entirely different planet and then had the rug pulled out from under me.
My mind was truly blown by my brain. And seething with shame and embarrassment and disappointment and shock I picked that Bipolar diagnosis back up, dusted it off and stared at it. I still couldn’t believe it but I needed a reason for this. It seemed like I had one but I just couldn’t believe it the whole way through. I don’t know why I couldn’t really believe it….
Except that I do. The typical articles and explanations of Bipolar aren’t the REAL Bipolar. It can be very easy to disqualify yourself using the DSM, using WEBMD and books and other articles about Bipolar. This is why I started my website, to help shine a light on the real Bipolar, the living breathing Bipolar. The Bipolar we ACTUALLY experience.
But the beginning of that crash shoved me back up in front of the diagnosis and dared me to ignore it again at my peril.
Fast forward again just a few months this time, body on the couch. Unable to move. Unable to think. As if my brain was short circuiting and taking my whole body out with it. Confusing. Terrifying. Chilling.
I had no choice but to realize that this was not some little emotional issue that I “should” be able to “handle”. There was something happening in my brain and I could not stop it. I could not stop it no matter what I put in its way. I realized that whatever this thing was in my brain, it did not care about me and it would not hesitate to take me all the way out…
I got out my white flag and begged for the meds.
And as often happens to us, I did not feel mature and responsible and empowered for taking this step to take care of myself. Rather, I felt like a woman in labor who feels like she is “giving up” and asking for the epidural. Like I had lost some “toughness” competition. A failure. A weak person. Not as good as the people who “succeed” without help. But at least I was too traumatized by the pain to care.
I was lucky to find the right meds for me and they rather quickly stopped the hell that I was in and have kept me sane and safe and stable and loving my life. Bipolar is daily and nothing is perfect but I am on top if it now. I don’t feel like a failure. I feel like a badass warrior. And my personal opinion is that the decision to take the risks of medication and just go for it in the name of hope and happiness and life is a brave brave decision.
That could be the end of this but there is one more component to this “recovery” story…
Phone to ear, hearing a friend’s voice say “I just have a hard time having any hope for you.” The immediate internal shattering, heart broken like smashed glass, hang up, tears and tears, painful aching loneliness, two thirty in the morning sign in online and say to the Bipolar community…
“guys…guess what just happened…”
And then held in it. Supported. Compassion and encouragement and warmth and a welcome outrage on my behalf.
And the most important thing of all to our Bipolar hearts…UNDERSTANDING.
If understanding was a medication it would probably be the only one we need.
It was this incoming dose of pure understanding and compassion that truly started the “recovery” process in my broken heart, my broken mind.
Of course it wasn’t over. It still isn’t I suppose. Bipolar is like diamonds…FOREVER.
But now I have hands to hold. Now I have people who say “ME TOO” and “I KNOW” instead of “um ok” and “thanks for sharing”. I have people who get it. People who understand. No more trying to explain and describe my home planet to people who have never and will never sit there.
This is why I started my blog and this is why I call it Bipolar First Bipolar Together. Because we need each other. We need to hear each other’s stories and know each other’s pain. We need the encouragement and advice that we can only get from people who know what we are going through. We need each other to be honest and stand up and say… “Me too”.
This is how we recover our own individual self and this is how we will “recover” our whole community. Someday.
I once realized something was wrong with me. Now I know that there is something different in my brain that does amazing things and yet sometimes causes malfunctions. Now I know that there is nothing “broken” about me. My brain isn’t broken. It isn’t disordered but differently ordered.
I once sighed and picked up my diagnosis with resentment and shame. Now I don’t mind wearing it like a little dress I slip over my head and twirl around in. And I am proud to say “I both HAVE Bipolar Disorder and I AM Bipolar”. Proud because of the amazing compassion of the bipolar/mental illness community. And proud of what I have overcome.
I once felt shame and frustration for not being able to “manage” without medication. Now I feel grateful that I live in an age, time, and place where there is something that can help me be myself and love my life. And while it still feels weird to have to pop pills in order to have myself and love my life, I feel no shame.
I once felt completely alone, floating in the darkness of outer space, not tethered to anything, no one who understood me.
Now the majority of the people I interact with on a daily basis are bipolar! And I not only belong but I am putting my voice and my story out into the world with the pure intention of reaching another heart. I am using my “recovery” to help others “recover”.
And that sure feels like a recovery to me.
Peace Love Light and Stigma Fight!