When I started this blog over five years ago I was in the beginning stages of my recovery journey. Well, not really the beginning, as I had gotten ill many times and resumed a relatively normal life. But the last time I had a major set-back it was a doozy. Filled with life changing experiences including a brush with almost dying in the wilderness.
A lot has changed in five years. I’ve successfully learned how to manage bipolar disorder, helped coach many family members whose loved ones live with mental illness, spoken and/or trained over 12,000 people. Honed my skills as a mental health advocate and learned how to manage a nonprofit organization.
None of this would have been possible without a focus on my mental health. Here are three things that were game changers for me.
1) Embracing grief.
It may seem strange to think about having a diagnosis of mental illness causing grief. But it’s not just getting passed the self-stigma and learning to accept I was going to have to deal with a chronic health problem. It was also grieving for the hopes and dreams that were lost or had to change because I now had limitations I never had to consider before.
Grief was also about dealing with the loss of relationships and friendships that were no longer viable for one reason or another, but very often as a result of having a mental illness. Loss is loss. Sometimes even more painful when those we love leave our lives and grow distant because we are no longer the person we once were.
Grief fuels depression and depression makes grief more painful. Living with frequently long episodes of bipolar depression I managed to have a double whammy of emotional pain.
When I didn’t know I was grieving I sort of just trudged along. After I realized it was grief, I became empowered to allow myself to process the many stages of grief. There’s something interesting which happens when we acknowledge reality. It’s very freeing and empowering to look truth in the eye and give in to the flowing stream. I learned you can fight many things but you cannot deny griefs purpose.
2) Paying attention to thoughts.
My mind is my best friend and my worst enemy. When not stable I can’t keep up with the many grand ideas given to me during mania. I learned medications that slowed me down actually helped me to harness the power of my creativity without it being a run away train.
In this process of healing and understanding how bipolar symptoms manifested in myself I began to pay very close attention to my thoughts. I ask the question what am I telling myself? This simple question continues to allow me to understand where my energy is going. If my thoughts are not positive about myself or they are constantly negative it’s my cue depression may be lurking in the shadows. I fight my thoughts when I’m depressed because I know depression tells us lies.
With my illness at times a symptom can be paranoia. I learned to question this line of thinking. I search for facts to disprove my paranoia and I acknowledge when that paranoia is based in reality and serves me well as a warning system.
Learning to differentiate between healthy thoughts and those not serving me well helps me approach my days in a positive manner and gives me hope.
3) Having a sense of purpose.
For years I was searching for my sense of purpose. Something which really inspired me, made me want to get out of bed in the morning. Making a difference in people’s life in a positive way was my simple answer to how I could have a sense of purpose.
In the short term my sense of purpose was less prophetic and more practical. Having a job served my short term sense of purpose. A place to go where I was expected to show up on time and contribute something. Feeling needed, wanted, and accepted was an important step on my journey.
Eventually I found work and passion aligned. There’s a saying about how we can make our mess our message. I’ve done that with teaching other people about mental health and mental illness. I’ve done that by sharing my story in many different formats, including my memoir “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor.” (Available on Amazon)
Mixing passion and purpose motivates me even on my worst days. I’ve never once missed a commitment in over four years. And honestly I’ve had plenty of bad days struggling with depression, but I managed to get myself out of bed and see through what I said I would do.
This is why finding a sense of purpose is important to everyone. We all need a reason to get up in the morning and put our feet on the floor, whether you have a mental illness or not. But from experience, having an illness makes this even more important.
This life journey I’ve had I would not wish on anyone, though I’ve had a remarkable ride in many ways. But the hard lessons were tough to get through. And of course the mental illness – biggest and most difficult challenge. However, if your journey is similar to mine or something I say rings true to you-know you are not alone. And I assure you if you don’t give up you will have happiness, opportunity, prosperity and empowerment to live the life you desire. That’s what hope means to me.
Here’s to five more years of blogging…