So you’ve just learned that you are bipolar. If you’re like me, things in your outer world have unraveled and you now find yourself with a new diagnosis and (hopefully) a helpful psychiatrist.
I’m going to list the ‘awarenesses’ that helped me understand how my new brain works in the hopes that these will help speed up your own recovery. I want to tell you first that I now love my bipolar brain and would never trade the experience of being bipolar. Yes, the next few years will likely be tough as you clean up the messes you may have made in the past and learn how to function in a way that makes you happy in the future. Please be encouraged. It will get better!
DENIAL IS NOT AN OPTION
It is such a shock to find out the person you thought you were is actually a disorder! I couldn’t even utter the word ‘bipolar’ for the first year after diagnosis, so embarrassing, and for a while I stupidly thought I could keep my same methods for coping that I’d always employed. This was not a helpful point of view for my healing.
The reality is, the quicker you digest the fact that this is happening, the sooner you can kick it’s ass. You are going to need to be very present and aware of the fluctuations in your head. Know that there are meds to deal with all the pain associated with this disorder, but your psychiatrist will only be as good at helping you get the right meds as you are at explaining what is happening in your head. So pay attention.
YOU’RE NOT CRAZY
Bipolar Disorder is a physical illness. It happens in your brain, not your imagination. It is the result of chemistry, not incompetence, immaturity or any personal deficit on your part. This has happened to you, not because of you.
Dr. Forster once explained to me that I should view my new diagnosis the same way a new diabetic might view theirs. That is, this disorder will change your life and you will be required to manage it and keep it in check, but it does not fundamentally change who you are. It is just a ‘thing’ you need to deal with.
YOU > BRAIN
Before you can enjoy your brain, you have to own it. Right now, it owns you. Your current chemistry likely plays havoc with your perception of reality, your level of sensitivity and your ability to let things go. Learn as much as you can about the disorder. Take advantage of support groups, books by other sufferers of bipolar disorder, TED talks about mental health, etc. The more you know about how this works the sooner you can control it. You will be able to control it with these 3 things:
- Taking medication under the supervision of your psychiatrist (this will help control the mood swings associated with bipolar disorder so you can live a normal life)
- Removing harmful things from you routine (like alcohol or other substances you might have used to self medicate).
- Adding in some new things to your daily routine (like mood charting, exercise, healthy nutrition and regular sleep.)
THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU
You’re going to hear a lot of frankly stupid stuff from the people around you because they do not understand what you are dealing with. People will say things like “you need to have a better attitude” or “when I’m depressed I just go for a run!” as if what you are suffering from is something you have created. This will get annoying.
Sometimes just getting yourself out of bed in the morning will require more positive attitude than any normal brained person could possibly fathom. Instead of reacting to the ignorance of those around you, simply know that most people live in a mood range of 4-6 on a scale of 1-10. You live from 1-10, which means most people will have no idea about the depths of your sorrow or the heights of your joy. Ideally you will learn how to function in the 4-6 range too, which will make daily life easier, and you can do so without giving up the vibrant way of experiencing the world that bipolar brains enjoy.
Good luck with your journey!