Finding Hope: A Difficult but Vital Part of Life With Bipolar
Finding hope isn’t about medications or what doctors say. It’s about getting to know yourself and realizing that you can be yourself, just with bipolar.
When I was first struggling with bipolar mood swings, as a child, it felt like most people were constantly losing faith in me. With much difficulty, I seemed to bounce from one grade to the next. But, when I was a sophomore in high school, I fell apart in a very public way that nobody could seem to relate to. I couldn’t stay away from the counseling office and clung to the school’s social worker to make it through each day. Despite missing more classes than I actually attended, I excelled in high school. I tried to hang on to my core belief that if I could get to college, there might be a way to find some hope for my situation.
Each time I met with a psychiatrist, I felt a sliver of hope bubble within me. I suspected that I really had bipolar disorder and so did several of my classmates who watched my daily meltdowns at school. Two years after I really thought that I had lost my mind, I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (Type I). High school had become so painful because I felt like nobody understood me. I would have flickerings of hope and feel like a new doctor finally understood me. I was fighting two exceptionally challenging battles each day: experiencing mental health crises that became more painful and overwhelming each day and losing the hope that I would one day get better.
Hope dwindled for me as I got older. I spent many of my college years alternately withdrawing from my classes and stalking around the corridors of psychiatric hospitals. I tried so many medications and therapies that didn’t work for me—it doesn’t matter which ones—and I felt like I was more than just a little bit stuck: I had been consumed by this bipolar illness that I had never even asked for. My mood swings had spiraled out of control and I couldn’t sit still at a desk in a classroom or concentrate on any of my homework assignments. I felt like my mood episodes were lasting so much longer and that they were also harder to get out of. I suspected that I was only getting worse—and my doctors confirmed it.
I read everything about my bipolar diagnosis and realized that it described me so well. But it was still so hard to find hope when I struggled to find a single medication that made me feel significantly better and able to re-enter the real world. When I was able to attend college, I was surrounded by my classmates who didn’t have to struggle to read a textbook and were aspiring to medical and law school. I just aspired for mental health and to find a way to make sense of my bipolar symptoms so I could move on with my life already.
After seeing many doctors who couldn’t seem to help me, I finally found a psychiatrist who could. She worked very closely with me and treated me as a person and not merely a collection of brain cells she wanted to manipulate with her medications. I met with her weekly for several years and gradually regained all the hope I wanted to have for my life. It took me ten years to get my bachelor’s degree and with the support of my psychiatrist, I found myself enrolling in a master’s program. I had been given something that felt healthy to become absorbed in and felt I could focus on getting my assignments done for graduate school instead of being so focused on my bipolar symptoms that I couldn’t even live my own life.
I’m not sure if it was the medications or the therapy, but something was working to instill some more hope in my life. I was eating more healthily and losing weight and exercising. I kept meeting with this psychiatrist who helped me learn more about myself and all the ways I could cope with my illness before I let it overwhelm me. I was making lots of new friends in graduate school and talking with them about topics that didn’t revolve around all of my bipolar moods and experiences. I started thinking that it was entirely possible for me to have a career and a life and maybe even fall in love with someone who would be able to see me as a person beyond my bipolar illness.
Once I found and harnessed this sense of hope, I knew that I could continue to find new possibilities and adventures for my life. Finding hope for yourself doesn’t necessarily deal with the medications you swallow or other treatments that you might try. It’s about getting to really know yourself and realizing that you can get yourself back. Bipolar disorder can’t just be the end of the world, no matter how long we may struggle with it. And there are an infinite number of ways to find yourself in this universe; I did it by finding a stellar psychiatrist and persevering in my college education. Having a mental illness like bipolar disorder will help you appreciate everything about yourself, and every mood—whether it feels good or bad.