When’s the last time you did a reality check to gain proper perspective and appreciate the true nature of your life with bipolar disorder?
By Stephen Propst
You really can’t talk about bipolar disorder without mentioning mood swings, which can be ever-changing. But there are some realities that remain relatively constant. While I may not always be able to control my moods, I have learned that routinely doing a reality check is key to maintaining wellness.
Indeed, it’s essential for me to acknowledge the implications of bipolar, both intellectually and emotionally. That means coming to grips with it—from my head to my heart. Here are six realizations I’ve reckoned with over the years, and I try to regularly reinforce them in my mind:
You can’t see it.
“But you don’t look like you’re sick.” How many times have I heard that? It’s difficult to accept something that’s not visible, and it’s hard to embrace something not easily explained. When you take a look at the DSM you realize how complex merely diagnosing the disorder can be. Even doctors rely, at least in part, on a checklist of subjective criteria that are sometimes difficult to discern.
This is no casserole condition.
There are many situations people face, like having a serious heart condition, that move others to send cards, offer compassion, and make casseroles. Sadly, there is too often too little consideration for people dealing with the ups and downs of mania and depression. Genuine symptoms, like impulsivity or agitation, are often discounted as being intentional, inappropriate behaviors. When people fall prey to such misperceptions about bipolar, they tend to distance themselves from those dealing with it.
Not everyone gets it.
It’s one thing when others don’t wrap their arms around you with sympathy, but it’s worse when they deny the legitimacy of an illness. Constantly hearing comments like “It’s just in your head” gets old. In reality, bipolar is in your head—in your brain. It is not a personality defect; it’s a real illness, just like diabetes or cancer, that can improve with treatment. Getting a diagnosis is taxing enough; having people then question its validity makes matters worse.
The disorder is pervasive.
Living with bipolar has affected me emotionally, behaviorally, psychologically, vocationally, relationally, economically, socially, physically … you get the picture. Though I’ve tried my best to not let it define me, there is no denying how devastating it can be. I’ve had to establish new expectations when it comes to everything in my life, from pursuing an ongoing career to having a family of my own.
Time doesn’t heal all.
I’ve lived with bipolar now for almost 30 years. One thing is for sure: it’s still hard! I may have become more adept at dealing with it, but that doesn’t make it easy. I still struggle with suicidal ideation on an ongoing basis. In fact, I recently had a friend succumb to suicide, one of the toughest realties of all. Though I’ve known far too many individuals who have faced a similar fate, her death really hit home. It made me realize that I’m still vulnerable and that I must remain vigilant.
The focus has to be on managing it.
Some conditions can be cured. At present, bipolar is unfortunately not one of them. I hope that will change—and soon! Meanwhile, instead of beating myself up over my efforts to battle it, I simply try to stay balanced and do my best to manage it, one day at a time. I have to regularly remind myself that all of this is not “just in my head.” It’s my reality!
When was the last time you did a reality check to help you gain proper perspective and appreciate the true nature of what you’re facing? Having the right mindset can help you maintain your sanity and sustain your recovery for many years to come.
Printed as “Mind Over Mood: Reality Check,” Fall 2016
via bpHope – bp Magazine Community