Dealing with the physical pain PLUS the “psychic pain” of bipolar can be difficult to do. But that doesn’t mean that you have to stop living your life as you want to.
A few years ago, I started long distance walking. I found that hitting the two- and three-hour mark was the only way my “bipolar brain” experienced the benefits of exercise. The shorter stuff, the 20-minute walk that supposedly raises serotonin? Never did anything for me. But the long distance? Wow! In order to train harder, I decided to start biking. I even contemplated giving up my car—where I am, in Portland, Oregon, it’s possible to bike and walk everywhere (as long as you don’t mind rain).
Unfortunately, the second time I rode a bike marked the end of my biking dreams. Due to a mechanical problem with my brakes, I hit a curb and my body flipped over the front of the bike at the perfect angle for the handle bars to twist and poke me in the pelvis, then I slammed onto the concrete. I was pretty stunned by the fall, but I actually laughed because it was exactly like the movies: the entire thing felt like it was in super slow-mo—including the way my body bounced when I hit the ground. After taking a minute to clear my head, I stood up. Wow, that was crazy! I thought to myself. I started to walk away and realized I was limping a bit, but I figured I’d be fine.
The reality? Hitting the handle bars had dislocated my pelvis. Landing on the concrete on my right hip had popped my pelvis back in … sort of. The limp I noticed was from my semi-dislocated pelvis, which I unknowingly walked around with until one day my wonderful osteopath said, “Julie, your hip is riding up on the right. Let me fix that.” Pull! Crack! Ouch, but pelvis back in place. I started physical therapy to rehab the damage to the muscles around the injury and—are you ready for this?—I pinched a nerve in my lower back. Let’s just say, I have not healed as I would have hoped.
I’ve spent the past year in severe pain. I was prescribed painkillers, but realizing that I wasn’t getting any better and not wanting to be dependent on the pain medication, I discontinued taking the meds —which meant dealing with increasing pain while trying to keep my act together in the real world. But I did it.
Experiencing this kind of pain has changed me. I understand what I call the “psychic pain” of bipolar disorder, but this? Words cannot begin to describe how physical pain can debilitate a person.
There was a moment not long ago when I was lying in bed feeling like my world was ending. Let’s face it: I only have so many internal resources, and if managing bipolar takes up 50 percent of my inner resources and dealing with physical pain takes up the rest, what, exactly, am left to work with for everything else? Who wants to live in a world of downswings and pain management? And then I felt strength begin to flow into me, the strength that comes sometimes when my life feels like it’s just too hard. It’s like a well with a false bottom: once you press a bit, you find that little something extra that is needed to get up, get out, and get on with your life. And that’s what I did.
Now, I make myself do things whether I’m in pain or not. I have a choice: I can have a memory of pain, or a memory of playing with my nephew (even though I’m in pain). Just like with depression, I can live my life despite what is happening in my body. I want memories of living life, not lying in bed.
I’m getting better. Surgery is scheduled, and I’ve found that people are very understanding about my work limitations related to the injury. The most important step? Dealing with the fact that once again, just like with my bipolar disorder, I’ve lost large sections of my life due to a medical issue. The bike accident was another curve ball, but it happened because I was out there doing things and reaching for goals and living my life. And nothing—not bipolar, not a bike accident, not whatever new curve balls might come my way—is going to stop me from doing all that, and more.
Printed as “Fast Talk: The Inner Wall of Strength,” Summer 2014
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
Selena Gomez is no stranger to navigating mental health challenges, from dealing with the emotional burden of lupus to her kidney transplant to bipolar’s depression and anxiety. She’s learned the power of self-care and having the right connections—and how to say “no.” On April 3, 2020, singer and actor Selena Gomez candidly revealed that she...
Times have been tough. But so are we. The end-of-year holidays can be difficult any year, and, this time around, they pose new challenges to our mood and well-being. Let’s not forget: Living with bipolar has taught us how to navigate through uncertainty. Here are the coping skills I’ve been relying on to remain stable...
Mood symptoms such as overspending, hypersexuality, anger attacks, and self-isolation hurt those around us. A simple apology is just the starting point of making things right. When Our Actions during Bipolar Mood Episodes Harm Others Olivia S. of Colorado got up one morning to unexpectedly find two of her four grown children in her living...
Many of us can remember it in perfect detail: the exact moment when we realized that we were living with bipolar disorder—and, in my case, not depression. Here I unravel my pre-diagnosis misconceptions, “mistakes,” and hypo/manic misadventures—and that pivotal moment of recognition. My Magic/Manic Moment of Metacognition … The Musical Who wants to open up...