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Grateful for Bipolar Disorder

This week we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States. Family, food, and gratitude mark this special time of year. It’s a time when I check in with myself, with my mind and my spirituality. It’s a time when I ask what I’m grateful for, and most importantly, it’s a time when I intentionally foster gratitude for all that I have. 

When it comes to my bipolar disorder, there is nothing in life it doesn’t touch. There is no person close to me unaffected. Not a day goes by that I don’t consciously appraise my mood. Each time I take my medication I am reminded that my life is markedly different from many of my fellows, and in order to stay stable I need medical assistance. So when it comes time to give thanks, I have to ask myself, am I grateful for bipolar disorder? To adequately answer the question, I have to first tell you where I’m coming from. 

I had never experienced a more shocking or life-changing event than the day I went psychotic for the first time. I was eighteen years old, off to college, and away from my family. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was totally consumed by girls, and fraternities, and the next opportunity to party. When I suddenly lost touch with reality and believed I was the Second Coming of Christ, I didn’t know the first thing about bipolar disorder. All I knew about mental illness was what I saw on the news or in horror movies. I had no idea it could happen to me. 

That was twelve years ago, and I’m thirty now. Today I have an incredible wife, two young boys who I adore more than anything, and a support system that has stood the test of time. I’m sober, clean from all substances for eight years and counting. I get to work as a life coach for people in recovery, just like me. Though I still have my ups and downs from time to time, I am stable. By all measures, I have a beautiful and worthwhile life. 

When it comes to giving thanks, I could start with my parents, how they never abandoned me in my times of mania and depression. I could look to my friends, how they stood by me and saw past my troubles. I could thank my wife, for being my partner through the highs and lows, and for allowing me the space and support to live a life of recovery. I could turn to my children and the inspiration they give me to pursue heath even when it’s uncomfortable or challenging. 

Like I already said, there’s nothing bipolar disorder doesn’t touch in my life. So the real question about whether or not I’m grateful for bipolar disorder is this: Am I grateful for my life today? Do I respect the man that I’ve become? Am I proud of my recovery? For these questions and more, the answer is absolutely yes. 

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my life changed forever. My priorities needed to shift. I had to be more conscious and aware of how I treated my body and how I thought about the world. I had to challenge beliefs and ideas that didn’t serve me. I had to address destructive behaviors that some never have to face. I naturally cultivated empathy and compassion for those in need of mental health care. If I don’t do those things, I’m not who I am today. 

Now don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t wish bipolar disorder on anyone. There are many days I wish I didn’t have it. But if I didn’t have bipolar disorder, I wouldn’t have the rest of my life. Bipolar disorder has forced me to grow in ways I never imagined. It made me rise up and allow myself to be transformed, not because I wanted it, but because my life depended on it. Sometimes our transformation depends on our challenges, and we can’t have one without the other. 

Chris Cole is the author of The Body of Chris: A Memoir of Obsession, Addiction, and Madness, and he’s a life coach for people in recovery. Read the rest of his posts for IBPF here

Comments

Bipolar disorder has affected every part of my life. I also have high and low days. Unfortunately, I wasn't given a chance to raise my kid's my family thought they were helping I have been told if they if they could go back and change things they would. I have told them that. That was the way it should have been. I have learned a lot about me and where I am going I no longer look back to the past. I will always have Bipolar disorder and I have to live with it. Thank you for your wonderful story of inspiration. I believe that it came at just the right time. It was like you wrote this just for me .

This is truly an example, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2, three years ago, and I'm trying to cope with it. Since mid October I haven't been able to go to work due to multiple visits to the hospital, I'm trying to survive a big episode of mix mania and severe depression. Thanks for sharing your story.

That's wonderful for you that you have found a wife and have kids and lead a fulfilling life. However, in my experience, the things I want so much for my life is to have a partner and kids. And men aren't as willing to take on a bipolar spouse as women are. Stigma has severely impacted my life, my relationships and being 41, do I have kids as a single mom with bipolar and little family support? I pray that your life continues to be rosy, but stories like this leave me with a lump in my throat.

I completely agree with you..thank you for bringing up the positive courageous Ness of having the illness..I felt very grateful and whole today and at peace...you're right about transforming ...thank you

Great stuff Chris. I feel the same way about my Bipolar 1.

I completely agree with you..thank you for bringing up the positive courageous Ness of having the illness..I felt very grateful and whole today and at peace...you're right about transforming ...thank you

I never would have thought the way you do about having bipolar disorder, so thank you so much for sharing your perspective. Our struggles do indeed make us the people we become and we can choose to embrace them or fight them. I can't undo being bipolar and it's something I have to live with everyday. But, I'm beginning to be proud of it rather than shamed. Reading your story really boosted my positive thoughts. Thank you!

It's new to me and very tough everyday.

I have been fighting with the fact that I want off my medication. Reading this has reminded me that I am doing alot better and the new me is better than the old. Thank you so much

Thank you Chris, it is so nice to hear a positive bipolar story. I had my first rather explosive episode in 2011. It took me a few years, but once I let go of self stigmatizing and accepted it and was open to taking medication I have come a long way.
You are right, it is the challenges that make us. If it wasn't for bipolar I would be forced into being the balanced person I have become. I now have routines for sleep, exercise and self reflection that I never had before. Strangly my bipolar now is a source of strength as much as a burden. It gives me the courage to be true to myself.
And I have a supporting male partner who helps me through.

Made me cry. After an astonishing array of positive changes and personal growth over the last year and 1/2 after having embraced medication for my bipolar condition, I have struggled to reconcile the "pre-bipolar" me with the "post-bipolar" me I see today, wondering who this new person is and if I can be confident of the changes I have made in my life and my approach to it. You've put my mind at ease with your beautiful view on how the bipolar condition changes a person for the better, and how embracing change brings gratitude for it. Thank you!

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