One of my first posts about my own personal experience with mental illness was titled ‘Bipolar and my Identity’. I wrote it about 18 months ago and it told the story of my diagnosis and the identity crisis that followed. I read it back recently and I realised just how much has changed in regards to my relationship with Bipolar. So I thought I might share that with you all.
I find it easier to seperate myself from my Bipolar now. I have a much better understanding of my symptoms and can get a sense of when I start to feel like something is not right easier. Tracking my moods has been immensely helpful in this regard. By being able to see visually how something like my hours spent sleeping is starting to change I am empowered to ride the wave and be ready for changes in my moods, or even better catch them in their tracks.
Another thing I would also say that has been useful in re-stablishing my sense of identity has been my experience of stability. If you have been following the Extra Ounce for a while you might know that I experienced 8 monthes of stability from June last year. This gave me time to really get in touch with what in the world ‘normal’ looks like for me. This then helped me to gain a better understanding of what my ‘not normal’ looks like and I was better able to demarcate between the two. In the past, I so rarely got to experience periods of stability that I genuinly could not have told you what stability would feel like. Now I know for sure and I know I want to stay there as long as possible.
I used to suffer a lot of guilt surrounding my diagnosis and my resulting behaviour. As a Psychology student I felt like a complete moron for not catching it sooner. I would reflect on how much time I spent unwell and hurting those around me and how easily that could have been avoided if I had just been more aware of myself. Now I realise that it is unfair of me to blame myself for this. That is just too much responsibility to take on. And in regards to my specific behaviours, especially while manic, I have learned to take responsibility and ownership for my mistakes without torturing myself for them. I feel like I am a lot more forgiving of myself and more willing to ask for forgiveness as well.
I also find myself less resentful of my Bipolar than I was in the past. In Stephen Fry’s documentary the Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, he asks people with Bipolar that if there was a button that could switch off their Bipolar, would they press it. I used to think that was the stupidest question I had ever heard. I was shocked at how many people said they would choose to live with Bipolar voluntarily. I couldn’t imagine a world where I wasn’t constantly boxing with my Bipolar. But now, I’m not so sure if I would press the button. I have learned so much from living with this illness and I feel I have come out of the depths of darkness and madness touched by something special. Kay Redfield Jamieson refers to it as being ‘touched by fire’. I don’t know if I would go that far but I definitley feel I have a unique perspective of the world that only comes from experiencing the upmost extremes of human emotion. And I don’t think I would trade that in for anything.
And the fact is that my Bipolar is a part of me, whether I like it or not. So I need to learn to accept that. Last year I got a tattoo of a moon phase because I heard this great phrase ‘Like the moon, I have phases’. And I realised that I was like the moon. That regardless of what phase I am in, I am still me. There is no ‘manic Jess’ ‘hypomanic Jess’ or ‘depressed Jess’. I may look different of act different but there is always just Jess. And regardless of what phase I am in I am still me, still beautiful and still deserving of love and support. I look down at that moon phase tattoo everyday and it serves as a constant reminder of my own strength and my own ability to love, respect and accept myself.
I don’t think me and my Bipolar will ever be the best of friends, but I think we are happy to be room mates in the same brain now. We’ve come a long way.