This month marks five years living with Bipolar Disorder. On one hand, I can’t believe it’s been that long. I can still remember sitting in that physiatrist’s office, smelling that cinnamon candle, and hearing the diagnosis for the first time. On the other hand, I feel like I’ve had Bipolar disorder for a lot longer than that. I’ve been taking time to reflect on these past five years. Life is a lot more complicated than it once was. I’m a different person now. Life has forever been altered. All of that is true. But what else have I learned about myself?
- 1) I’m less resilient
I’m not saying this to put myself down, but this is my reality. My stamina to face certain aspects of depression has decreased. I don’t believe the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” In my experience, what hasn’t killed me has made me weaker. I just has. I now have to accept the restrictions that Bipolar has placed on my life. This means making time for a lot of self-care.
Weakness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I believe that Christ helps us in our weaknesses, and that He wants us to come to Him when we aren’t feeling resilient. I’m not as tough as I once was, and that’s okay.
- 2) I’m more resilient
Wait…didn’t I just say the opposite? Yes, I did. In other areas of my life, I am more resilient—especially in the long-term, when I look over the past five years as a whole. If you’d told me five years ago what would be in store for me, I don’t know if I would’ve believed you.
I go through ups and downs, and though I’m weak in the midst of them, I always seem to get through them. It’s not always pretty—actually, it never is— but I make it. When I’m especially struggling, it’s imperative that I remind myself: I will get through this. I have in the past and I will do so again.
- 3) I value my family and friends more than ever before
I rely on those closest to me. Sometimes, in the midst of even a mini episode, I just can’t get through life by myself. I feel completely helpless to do things on my own.
But I’m never alone. God has given me people in my life who constantly stand beside me and hold my hand.
I’ve met other people with mental illnesses. Some of them do not have supportive families, families who instead perpetuate shame and blame. I think that that is so sad. I can’t imagine dealing with mental illness without the support of my family. My appreciation for them has grown exponentially.
There’s a story in the Old Testament where the leader of the Israelites, Moses, must keep his arms raised over his head for the duration of a battle. As long as his arms are raised, his people will win. But how hard that would be! In the story, other people have to hold his arms up for him because he grows too weak. Working together, they win the battle.
There are people in my life who help me keep my arms raised. They help me win the “battle” with their support, keeping me standing when I feel too weak to go on.
- 4) I can be too hard on myself
Get it together, Anna. What’s wrong with you? You’re such a loser. Those are the kinds of thoughts that go through my head often. I feel impatient with myself for not being “normal.” I feel impatient when I am not feeling well, when healing takes longer than I think it should.
I am trying to learn to give myself grace. I am trying to quite the negative self-talk. It’s a work in progress, I can tell you that.
- 5) I’m beloved by God
Five years ago, I would’ve said that I knew this already. I would’ve quoted a few scripture verses and moved on. Over these last few years, though, this one has had to really sink in.
When I’m depressed, I feel unlovable. I feel like the scum of the earth and I loath myself. I get it into my head that other people loath me too—including God. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that that isn’t true. Do I always remember? No, I don’t. I have to have people—enter Rob—remind me that God loves me.
I like to think that God has a special place in his heart for people struggling with mental illness. He knows what it is like and His compassion is greater than I can even imagine. I don’t know what the next five years hold in store for me, but I hope that I can reside in the truth of His love whatever happens.