What are you afraid of? What are your limitations? What have you overcome? What makes you powerful? In short: Do you own your story? I am in the process of owning mine. Here is how I’ve made progress so far.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” —Brené Brown
I am big fan of Brené Brown and have read many of her books. I think to myself, “this is so powerful, if only I could use this in my life.” Struggling with bipolar disorder, I have been in the process of owning my own story. I say in the process because I am nowhere near where I would like, but I am much farther from where I started.
What Does It Mean to Own Your Own Story?
For me, like most things in my life, owning my own story comes in small victories, setbacks, and frustrations. Much of Brené Brown’s work centers around shame and vulnerability; I, too, find this at the core of my difficulties. In AA, it is suggested that we take a “fear inventory,” writing down everything we can think of that we fear. Going through that process was so revealing to me, but change didn’t happen overnight. It was too overwhelming and discouraging to try to work on everything all at once. Instead, I found myself slowly moving forward, backward, and then hopefully forward again in facing my fears and owning my own story.
My story includes coming out as a gay woman, dealing with my alcohol addiction, and accepting my diagnosis and life with bipolar disorder. All have been challenging in their unique ways.
Letting Go of Guilt and Shame
Owning my bipolar disorder involves letting go of the guilt and shame this diagnosis can bring. I need to repeat to myself and also hear from others: This disorder is not my fault. Sometimes I know this, but in a depressive episode, hearing that from a therapist can be extremely powerful. This is not to say I can’t help myself, but that I fundamentally did not cause this disorder.
Owning my story includes accepting I have limitations other people may not have. I refuse to define myself by these limitations or let it excuse my behavior, but my brain is different. Currently, I am unable to work full-time in my profession due to this illness. I am learning to accept this. I hate this and fight against it, but all I end up doing is fighting against myself and worsening my mental state.
I honor my talents and the abilities I do have control over. I am a more compassionate and understanding person because of bipolar disorder. I am tremendously aware of the power of self-care and do my best to implement good self-care. Like I said before, I am a work in progress. I struggle with anger, shame, and disappointment. My remedy is to lean on my support team. I am learning that asking for help is not actually a sign of weakness, but one of the bravest things I can do.
Transforming Shame into Power
I am owning the fact that I need disability assistance, and I quiet the feeling that people are judging me for “using the system.” Again, my support team and group of friends are always there to back me up and reassure me I am on the right path. I look at the evidence at how full-time work led to the emptying of my sick-leave account, my FMLA, and countless hospitalizations and other invasive procedures. I dealt with the shame of a boss telling me it would be better if I would just quit because I am “a burden to the team.” I live with these thoughts in my head and try to turn that shame into empowerment. This is not by any means an easy task, at all, and I would never recommend going at it alone.
Own Your Story, Own Your Life
My message is to myself and to everyone who has been diagnosed with bipolar. What would it look like to own your own story? Write down a fear inventory. Consult with your friends, your therapist, your doctors. Practice self-care. Remind yourself that this diagnosis is not your fault . . . but own the things you have power over. I would never choose to have bipolar, and if I had the chance, I would cure it for everyone. But even as medical progress is made to manage this disorder, there is no cure. So, own your life. Take back what you can control. Find freedom from shame and embarrassment, little steps at a time. Know that you deserve a happy, fulfilled life just as much as the person sitting next to you. Because you are worth it. I am worth it. We all are!
Laura Fisher attended The University of Montana where she received her B.A. in Biology in 2004 and Doctorate of Physical Therapy in 2007. She lived and worked in Seattle for six years as a physical therapist in a variety of treatment settings. She recently moved back to her hometown of Billings, Montana and lives with her two dogs and family nearby. Laura has lived with Bipolar 1 Disorder for 18 years. She enjoys her work in physical therapy, private caregiving, and dog sitting. Laura is the Volunteer Coordinator and Leadership Team member for the Rainbow Coffee House, a safe space for high-school aged LGBT high students to gather, drink coffee, and connect with community. Laura hopes to share her own experience with bipolar disorder to provide hope for those struggling with this illness.
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