Acceptance of Bipolar Disorder is a Process
I remember the day, or rather, the night, about 13 years ago when I discovered I had bipolar disorder. I did exactly what I tell people not to do: I went online and diagnosed myself. In my case, I happened to be right.
I remember the extreme pain, fear and shame I felt at realizing I had a mental illness. I remember the indignation I felt at the idea that I would have to take medication for the rest of my life. Mostly though, I remember the tears. I remember the candy apple-red face stained with hundreds of tears. That’s what I remember the most.
But that was 13 years ago and a lot has happened since. One thing I have learned though is that I didn’t accept my mental illness that night. Nor the next. I didn’t truly accept my mental illness for years.
Acceptance of a Mental Illness is a Process
Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most. – Mark Twain
The diagnosis of a mental illness is a loss. No, it’s not the loss of your mind, but it’s a loss. It’s a loss of your understanding of who you are. It’s a loss of how you see yourself. It’s a loss of control. It’s a loss of many things depending on the impact of your personal illness.
And losses beget grief. Or losses beget grieving, and grieving is a process.
As many therapists would tell you, grieving involves denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, not necessarily in that order and I would say all these things are present when trying to accept a mental illness.
Denial – I’m not sick. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m fine.
Anger – Fuck this illness; fuck the doctors; fuck the medication; and fuck you too.
Bargaining – if I just go to therapy I won’t be sick any more.
Depression – I’m sick; I’ll always be sick; what’s the point?
Acceptance – OK, I’m sick. Now what?
It can take years to work through these stages. It’s easy to get stuck in any one of them, usually until life completely falls apart and it becomes apparent that being constantly angry, or in denial isn’t a sensible way to live.
Acceptance Isn’t a Finite Destination
And even once getting to acceptance, it’s easy to slip back into the other stages as other losses from the disorder become apparent. Perhaps the day you realize that you’re not going to be a mother because you can’t get off of meds long enough to carry a child you fall into anger for a while – and rightfully so.
Even today I wake some days mad at bipolar. As if that would help me in some way. As if that were rational. As if that were reasonable. But then, I reserve the right to be unreasonable at times.
Acceptance, then, is an everyday choice.
Yes, I accept that I have an illness, that I must take meds and I must do certain things to ensure my wellness; now what’s for breakfast?
And it’s actually not an easy choice to make. But I don’t care for any of the alternatives.