Everyone says that acceptance is key to stability, but what does that mean? With much reflection, I realize that accepting my bipolar is not about approval or resignation. It’s more about recognition.
“Acceptance is the answer to ALL my problems today…. Unless I accept my life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.” —Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., “Acceptance Was the Answer,” chap. 16, p. 417
Recently at an AA meeting, I received the word acceptance on
a chip to meditate upon. This got my mind thinking. What is acceptance? Do I
have it? What do I need to accept in my life that I have not?
Bipolar disorder hit me hard as something I need to work on. Accepting my diagnosis of bipolar disorder is a monumental task. How can I accept the fact that I struggle with bouts of severe depression and mania? It seems unfair and unacceptable to me that I or anyone should have to struggle with this disorder.
What Acceptance Means to Me
Is it true that acceptance is the answer? Do I need to accept life
on life’s terms and focus on changing my attitude? Maybe. Is it easy to do, or
do I even know how? I’m not sure. It sounds like a good idea, but how
do I accept my diagnosis? Let’s start with what acceptance really means, to me.
Acceptance is NOT approval. It is not resignation. I would not
choose to have bipolar disorder, and that will never change. But I do recognize
that I have my limits, and when I respect them, my life seems easier: My
attitude is different, and I treat myself with more respect, compassion, and
When I accept that the darkness of depression is part of my world,
I am able to withstand my symptoms more easily when they hit. I seem to have
more perspective and recognize my depression as temporary. Sometimes depression
lasts longer and is more frequent than I wish, but it is temporary.
When I am struggling with depression, I hate my job. I criticize
my body and my mood. I dislike the apartment I live in and often even the city,
too. I have a pattern of changing my situation in hopes of changing my mental
state. I change jobs. I end relationships. I move. I sometimes even move to a
different city. I have found that none of that—NONE of that—eases my
My therapist wisely told me, “It’s not the job you hate.” At the
time, I was suffering from depression with suicidal thoughts and did not
understand what she meant. I thought she was wrong. If only I had a better job,
more money, a significant other. If only … then I would be happy. But I have
found through experience that she is absolutely right. Changing my
circumstances does not change the fact that I have bipolar disorder and suffer
from its symptoms.
What I Have Learned
What would it look like if I accepted the fact that I have bipolar
disorder? That I am unable to work full-time and often struggle with severe
symptoms and chronic suicidal thoughts? Would I be happier? Would I be more
patient and kinder to myself during episodes? I think so.
What I have learned during my recovery in AA is that acceptance is
part of the answer. It does make things easier. I have found more happiness
when I accepted my alcoholism. I want to find that acceptance with my bipolar
disorder. I want to find more ease and peace of mind. So, my challenge to
myself, and to you, is to look for ways of accepting bipolar disorder. And
remembering that acceptance is not approval.
I am taking it one step at a time. One day at a time, I’m trying
to view my bipolar disorder in a different way. I now realize that my therapist
was right. It is NOT my job that is the problem. My outside circumstances do
not determine my inner happiness. They cannot.
I want to learn how to take back my control over this disorder and
find a happiness that right now only seems fleeting. Acceptance may be the
answer, so I want to try it on and see how it fits in my life.
Laura Fisher attended the University of Montana, where she received her BA 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, where she lives with her two dogs and family nearby. Laura has lived with bipolar I disorder for 19 years. She is currently working as a Peer Support Specialist. Laura also enjoys her work in physical therapy, private caregiving, writing, and dog sitting. Laura hopes to share her own experience with bipolar disorder to provide hope for those struggling with this illness.
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