Life recently dealt me a series of hard blows, triggering rapid-cycling depressive and hypomanic episodes. Bipolar brought me my knees, then flat on the mat. Then, at last, came a hard-fought epiphany on bipolar and genuine acceptance.
“In the clearing stands a boxer And a fighter by his trade And he carries the reminders Of every glove that laid him down Or cut him till he cried out In his anger and his shame ‘I am leaving, I am leaving’ But the fighter still remains” —“The Boxer,” Simon & Garfunkel
Pride, Shame, & Stepping into the Ring with Bipolar
Since I was a little girl, my mom has said this song reminds her of me. A fighter. A kid who battled anything and everything simply to be herself. To find approval. To be heard. To get up every time I was hurt, to battle yet again. I spent decades with my hands in fists. All of this long before we learned I have bipolar. I have continued, with a certain pride, to wage the war for stability and acknowledgment. I sometimes hummed the tune, “The Boxer,” reminding myself of my strength and power. My fists remained.
But I may have been wrong.
I’ve written of events of the last few years that for anyone, including those without mental illness, might bring them to their knees: serious accidents, devastating illnesses, ended relationships, numerous expected and sudden deaths, psychic and physical pain … my gig is to just fight through. Because I have bipolar.
Many of my blogs also address how those of us with mental illness may be better prepared, in some ways, to handle stress and problems—simply because we have learned to fight. In some cases, it’s through bipolar treatment that we’ve learned better coping and management skills for the hard times. Our fists may serve us well now and then.
Yet, there is a certain hubris, or pride, to it, too.
When boxers enter the ring—despite having the fitness, passing the weigh-in, wearing the gloves, and being ready to fight—they must face the opponent. In our case, the formidable adversary is immense, punches hard, and, ultimately, cannot be defeated, only possibly controlled.
Yet, somehow, we just keep punching. And punching. And punching … until the exhaustion is so great that we collapse in tears, frustration, fists now on the mat, not knowing whether rage or acquiescence will end the day. Our pride is squashed, but we turn to it still, because it’s what we have to push away the shame.
From Hubris to Hospitalization Pleas & Humility
This winter finally did have me on my knees, begging for relief. One more nasty event that sent my brain into sticky-oatmeal and chaos. I then was prostrate on the hardwood floor, spread out like an X, unmoving, having fallen there from my position, sobbing, the tears soaking my temples as they fell.
The depression was causing devastating thoughts I could no longer command. I was truly horrified this time.
For months, I questioned life, living, loss. I barely moved. The anxiety caused panic in even taking out the dog.
And whip-snap! Then came the rapid-cycling into hypomania, and my sudden bouncy need to online shop for things that never arrived, to make projects no one has need for, and to eschew kindness for snottiness and irritation.
But that day I found myself literally on the floor, broken and sobbing, something changed.
I got humble.
What I saw is that in the greater scheme of things, my ego has been getting in the way of stuff for decades.
My belief that somehow little ol’ me, alone, is special enough to win over a brain disease that takes into the ring millions of others for the fight over their whole existence, is, well, arrogant.
I’m only a person, a woman. I’m no more extraordinary than the next. I just have serious mental illness that I can only try to manage though the coping skills, treatment, and—hopefully—the support and care of others.
Figuring out that I really am infinitesimally small compared to the gigantic rival of bipolar disorder and its sick power has released me, in some ways, from its entanglement.
True Acceptance of Bipolar Disorder
Another thing my mom has always noted about me is that I never shut up. From birth, she says, I’ve been shouting from the rooftops about the unfairness of life, the battles that must be waged, the injustices that must be rectified.
When it came to the fight with mental illness, I was at the ready.
I became a writer on bipolar with this mindset, and to help others in the war. I’m not negating that. I now simply believe there are different ways to do it.
Beth Brownsberger Mader was diagnosed in 2004, at age 38, with bipolar II disorder and C-PTSD, after living with symptoms and misdiagnoses for over 30 years. In 2007, she suffered a traumatic brain injury, compounding bipolar recovery challenges that she continues to work on today. Since these diagnoses, Beth has written extensively about bipolar, its connection to PTSD, physical illness, disability, and ways to develop coping skills and maintain hope. She also writes about bipolar/brain disorders and family, marriage, relationships, loss, and grief. Beth finds the outdoors to be her connection to her deepest healing skills, where the metaphors for life, love, compassion, and empathy are revealed, and how her bipolar and other challenges are faced head-on with perseverance and determination. Beth served as a contributing editor/featured columnist for bp Magazine from 2007 until 2016, and as a bphope blogger from 2011 until 2016. She returned to blogging for bphope in 2019. Beth continues to work on her unpublished memoir, Savender. She holds a BA from Colorado College and an MFA from the University of Denver. Beth lives in Colorado with her husband, Blake, and her service dog, Butter. Check out Beth’s blog at bessiebandaidrinkiewater.
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