Finding Hope: A Difficult but Vital Part of Life With Bipolar

Last Updated: 20 May 2019

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.

About the author
Elizabeth Drucker is a writer living in Chicago. She has a BA in Sociology from the University of Arizona and a Masters degree in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis (ELPA) from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
  1. Well I am very happy for you Elizabeth. But the more I allow myself to be “myself”, the less people want to be around me. It’s all about being “normal” & having a smile pasted on your face & answering, “yeah, I’m fine” when people ask ” how ya doing ?”. They really don’t want to know. I am so sick of having to fight for everything, including my mental health. No one understands, even my family when I have tried to “explain” some of my behavior as being part of Bipolar 2. They see it as just another excuse. And, I am very proactive about my mental health by reading all the articles, watching the videos, keeping my Shrink appointments & taking my scheduled medication. I am as good as I can be, and it just is never enough. I share my diagnosis with VERY FEW people, because even the people who do know don’t “get it”.

  2. Diane, I feel I may have the same fate as your son. We will see. I struggle daily with symptoms. NAMI is a wonderful awesome organization that is helping me!! I highly recommend those looking for more help and support. I am still newly diagnosed, only been a year bp 1. I pray for all of us for hope and for the best..

  3. Finding at least one person that can accept and support us until we can do that for ourselves seems to be a key element for moving through this mystery. Personally I have done much better by not thinking that the ” right drug” was going to fix me. My condition is far more complex than what I was told was a chemical imbalance. Being led into my pain was resisted for years but that was what was needed and resisting that kept me stuck. It has been a long way to get to acceptance but worth it. I can’t control the wind but have learned to trim my sails and life does not come with security and safety. It can be a wild ride into the unknown but that is what we are given so more hugs and less drugs seems to be the direction that works best for me. We each find our own way no matter what it takes.

  4. This blog gives me HOPE! I am a mom and main caregiver to my adult daughter with BP2. I have responded to many of these posts mentioning that my daughter has been receiving consistent Ketamine infusions for the past few years. I believe it has been a god-send for her. It appears to be ‘repairing’ her brain in many ways. She is now calm and logical, can read and learn again, and has not had a severe depression in a very long time. She is able to work now and is happy in her job. These are HUGE improvements. She also takes mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety meds, anti-depressants, and supplements daily. She is meds compliant and luckily she believes in the restorative properties of Ketamine and is willing to keep up with it no matter what. She has hope that she will live a “normal” life with her Bipolar……. we did not have hope a few years ago. We do now. Thanks again for your stories and comments.

  5. It took me a long time to finish my college degree like 10 years. I got pregnant when I was 27, a single mother. Then went on to a masters level paralegal. All this when I was not stable.
    Yes I’ve only been well enough to work this past year and I am seeing part time work through the Bureau of vocational Rehabilitation which helps people with disabilities get work through counseling and other services

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