Can a Person with Bipolar Disorder be Happy?

I am not happy. People who know me well, know this about me. Sure, I act happy, because what choice do I have considering societal norms, but happy I am not.

So the question is, can a person with bipolar disorder by happy?

Happiness

I am not an expert in happiness. I am more an expert in pain and suffering. However, if happiness is simply the other side of the coin, then I suppose I know it well. It’s the thing that I strive for but rarely ever reach.

I have what’s known as anhedonia. This is a fancy medical term for an inability to feel pleasure. I suppose pleasure isn’t the same thing as happiness but I think that pleasure is required for happiness to exist. Although, I could be wrong about that.

People with Bipolar Disorder and Happiness

However, I am hardly a stunning example of all people with bipolar. I am but one person with bipolar disorder and my story is but one of many. And I must say, very loudly, for all to hear:

Yes, it is possible to have bipolar disorder and be happy.

In fact, I have been happy in the past when my meds have been good (which apparently is a small act of god). When things align and before tolerance sets in, I am, in fact, a happy person. And, actually, if I were to characterize myself, my “normal,” un-bipolar self, I would say that I am a happy person. Really. Pain and suffering and sadness and despair are just threads in the horrific blanket the disease throws on top of me. It’s not really me at all.

Can a Person with Bipolar be Happy?And knowing that it’s not really me means that I know that I can get back to happiness, and I believe that all people with bipolar disorder can get there, whether they are familiar with that place or not. It may take a lot of work, therapy, lifestyle changes, medication and so on, but I believe happiness is out there no matter what your illness, mental or otherwise.

And, believe it or not, there are walking and talking examples of happy bipolar people. In fact, I happen to know one of the bounciest people ever and she happens to have bipolar disorder. It happens. Things work out. Life gets better. Sometimes you win the fight.

But until you exemplify that happy bipolar person, try to remember it’s out there. Happiness is waiting for you. I believe happiness, when life is viewed appropriately, is our natural state. And that means that we all can have it. Maybe just not right now.

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About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

Leave a Reply

  1. Oooh Natasha I needed you today. I had been looking for several days & what I needed to hear was that happiness was possible – again. I’m bipolar, have been through terrorizing manic experiences, catatonic crippling depression & now in a depression in a void, in the depths of despair & hopelessness. I’ve been suicidal, police came to the house with ambulance and fire truck, the whole thing. I’ve been feeling like there’s no reason for me to live. What do I do? Really? I search & search how to find some relief from feeling like my life is over.
    All I wanted to know was that happiness was possible again. You gave me that. Thank you! I can take a deep breath tonight, smile & know there is so much goodness & happiness to look forward to.

  2. I have only been happy a few times in my life. Most of the time I dwell in depression. Mania gives me a slight feeling of a type of happiness as opposed to the depression which leads to thoughts of suicide.

  3. Pingback: Can a Person with Bipolar Disorder be Happy? | Bipolar Burble Blog | Natasha Tracy | Big Red Carpet Nursing

  4. I think a lot depends on how we define the word happy. According to the accepted definitions, I will never be a bright and happy shiny person. But since I have insight into the dark abyss into which our human brains can plunge, my definition may be a little different. Yes, I think happiness is a relative thing. And those of us who live with a disease like this probably have a different perspective on such definitions. There are days when I’m content. And I think my level of contentment may rise above some people’s definition of happiness.

  5. I was just talking to a fellow sufferer about this!. We both feel that underneath our illnesses we are happy people who have learned what is important in life and have a vast appreciation of being alive. It is greatly amusing to us that most folks can’t understand how one can struggle with depression and still be happy in general.
    Perspective is so important for folks with BP. While I can still get caught up in my depression I have a knowledge now that this is all just wacky chemistry and that It will pass. As I have aged ,I have lost of my hypomanic “highs” which I used to believe were examples of happiness. We , who have experienced mania, have a distorted few of what happiness is. Normal folks do not live in a state of bliss!!! Sometimes I think we are born with unrealistic expectations due to our mood disorder. We have seen paradise. Every day life can feel dull to us.

  6. My road to happiness has been a troubled one. I was operating with BP for years without knowing it and to be honest, I fear the only moments I was TRULY happy were manic episodes. I hope that is not that case. I am finally on meds and they seem to be working for the most part. I don’t have many friends. Sadly, I ran off most of the people that cared about me, including my ex-wife. Most of the time I try to manage my thoughts the best I can. I try to dampen the ever recurring thoughts of the terrible things I did when I was manic. Sometimes, I miss the mania, but I have to convince myself that mania is dangerous. I want to be happy, badly. On the meds, my mania had not returned, but neither has any thrills in life. Everything is flat. My artistic side is very quiet and I miss it. Despite all of this, I look forward to finally being happy soon. This was a well written article. I never respond to articles, but I felt compelled to respond this time.

  7. Sure happiness is possible. I hate to think it was easier when I was in the dark about my bp condition. Now, I question whether whatever brings me joy is even real or a manifestation of hypomania. Yes, I am still in this stage. The people I have known (sadly, now past-tense) use to say that I have an infectious enthusiasm, and find something joyful in the most mundane things. Now, I wonder…Where it comes from shouldn’t matter, but now I think its just crazy thoughts and the joy dissipates. It’s like realizing the feast before you is just cardboard. I miss noticing the scent in the air as the seasons change. The color of different times. If I do feel anything, i just stay mum. Safer that way. And I can enjoy it for just a moment. Reality – at least how it is defined by the self proclaimed realists is rather non-descript. They can’t even describe it with any true conviction. It’s like they’re reading passages from a book. Or maybe they heard it on Oprah.

  8. I have bipolar 2 and although it is suppose to be considered the less severe bipolar it has affected me in ways that I can’t describe…..but yet I still have found happiness. I am married to a wonderful man who is caring and understanding, I have a 14 year old son that understands the disorder and has attended some of my doctors appts with me so he could get an understanding of what I go thru on a daily basis. I find having a routine that you follow everyday is a great way to help regulate your symptoms, it has helped me a great deal, I go to bed every night at the same time I wake up at the same time and go on with my day as I have it planned out. I never deviate from my outline….if I do it throws my bipolar out of wack. I am a happy person most of the time I have my days (we all do) but if you have a support system and a pkan for your days I think happiness is easy to achieve.

  9. Happy takes work. Many people have things to overcome. We, as a group, can give ourselves permission to be unhappy, because we are bipolar. We can also do the work, put the disease down and fight everyday for our right to the happiness experienced by anyone else.

  10. We all have a capacity for happiness. We have a RIGHT to be happy and that is my quest. I was diagnosed 30 years ago and struggle every day. Julie Fast is one of my heroes, in this and I don’t remember the context, but she made a statement something like…….we are strong, very strong, we get up everyday and deal with bipolar. (my addition would be, try and lift and carry that every day). The point is…..its a struggle and just like alcoholics, we backslide. Doesn’t mean a thing. Get up and do it again. Get it right this time. There is happiness our there, even for us.

  11. Hi all,

    After my first diagnosis over 10yrs ago and whilst visiting my GP, he asked how I was. ‘Happy’ was my response with a big smile on my face, and his reaction was ‘just watch that, happiness is your problem’. I understand what his objective was but his comments cut a whole in my heart. Since then, and after many visits to psychiatrists and multiple amounts of medication, I felt I no longer deserved to be happy again. So with the help of a new GP, family and friends, I reduced the medication slowly ( which most of you know has the worst side affects), and my only regular tablet is one to regulate my sleep patterns. I also researched natural therapies and now cannot tollerate gluten, simple sugars, alcohol and processed foods. I was amazed. I have felt so much more calmer on a regular basis and can now recognise when Im about to head into a manic state, so I take a few deep breaths before I escalate, calm myslelf down and everything seems to go back to normal. Now my next goal is to feel free being ‘Happy’ . Im doing this with the help of a psychologist, and am now retraining my friends/family on how to recognise if I am too high. They ground me with words I have ‘ given them’ so I dont get too hyper or angry when they think Im getting too austentatious.
    Ive now been this way for 3 years and only just started to do the things in my life that make me happy, but I know if I have their support, they will help me find a regular ‘happy’ routine without living in fear of escalating, or staying in bed for days.

    I will always have bipolar so now its about living with this ‘feature’ and finding the happiness that we all deserve. Hoping you all find the same balance in your life or loved ones lives. Oh and unlimitted (balanced) Happiness :)

    Vanessa

    • I was diagnosed with Manic Depression back in my 30’s……..I am now 56. I went thru all the medication hell, all the different types they think may help , until I just took a gun to my head and shot myself.
      Luckily,I survived. ………………….that was when I was 44. I found the right doctor finally after all thse years. I’m talkin, years of hell and being told I was the worst case they’ve (the docs) have ever seen. I’m happy now , except for the fact that my boyfriend of 2 years left me in Octoberr for uncertain reasons. That blew me away, and ended up in the hospital for the 11th time . I’m ok now. I ‘m going to write a book of my life and the hell I went thru since I was a child. Hopefully, this book will help others when they think suicide is the only answer.

  12. I’m a 56 year old woman, that has suffered all her life with misery. Being brought catholic and going to a catholic schools in 1960’s., nuns then, would mistrest, physically abuse, mentally abuse, and of course those days they got away with it. I needless to say, I’m no longer catholic, just christian like, I was molested as a child at a very young ageby my father.
    In grade school, i was bullied, and whatever else makes a miserable childhood.

    at the age of 32, married….I lost two babies thru ectopic pregnancies, and that brought the worse in me , I was diagnosed then as a manic depressive, that was long ago.
    Since then, I’ve shot myself, had 9 shock treatments and spent 10 different long term stays at mental wards. I found happiness when i turned 50 and found the right meds for me.

    Now, it’s bad again…………I refuse to tell anyone, because all they’ll do is put me away again and I DON”T want that. I pray…..that’s all right,now I pray!!

    • OMGOSH JULIA, you have the same life that I did. 2 ectopic pregnancies, 9 shock treatments, hospitized 11 times and a 3 suicide attempts, the last one being a gun to my head. I survived. What happened that you are bad again, please, let me know. My father also molested me as a child. I’m 56 now and just getting over my boyfriend leaving me 3 months ago for uncertain reasons.

  13. It’s been about 8 years since I was diagnosed as bipolar. Some days it seems the more learn about it, the less I understand. Perhaps the bipolar experience is something akin to snowflakes, so individualized that no two of us live it the same way.

    I don’t feel like I have a “normal,” un-bipolar self and an illness. I just have me, and the way I am is (I’m told) bipolar. I’ve been fortunate enough to see some very good medical practitioners, I take the meds they’ve recommended that seem to help me get things done and so it goes…

    Am I happy? The answer would depend on when you ask. There are moments each day when I laugh, or when I notice something so beautiful it stops me in my tracks or when I lose myself in some art project to the point where happy or sad don’t even exist, really.

    There are other moments when I am so lonely it hurts. There are times when I could care less. There are times when I just don’t want to think anymore, or when I can’t stop remembering something stupid or horrible that happened years ago.

    My bipolar experience is about noticing things with a speed and vividity that people who aren’t bipolar don’t seem to share. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes, it’s really, really not.

    I don’t think happy is a state of being. I think it’s a moment.

    For what it’s worth,
    d

  14. My meds work for me, my life is working out on so many levels – I’m happy, haven’t been this happy in quite some time but since the right cocktail of meds for me have been found things just fall in place day by day. It is possible to be happy and live with bipolar.

  15. A book that helped me understand happiness and has helped me improve my happiness is “Stumbling on Happiness”. A smart and funny book by a prominent Harvard psychologist, which uses groundbreaking research and (often hilarious) anecdotes to show us why we’re so lousy at predicting what will make us happy – and what we can do about it.

    I recommend it to everyone especially us with bipolar. What I learned reading the book helps me through those lows that, despite the benefits of medication I still experience although less severe than before.

  16. Being Dysthymic as well as BP, I’m not sure I know what normal happiness is. Until I was diagnosed and told about Dysthymic Disorder, I thought everyone felt a miserable as me!

    Now, I will settle for those happy breaks in the cloud as consolation prizes for the rest of the time trying not to frantically search for happiness nor wallow in the sadness but try (and try!) not to judge my feelings as being happy or sad but accept they just “are”.

  17. Hi Natasha!
    Yes! I have to believe that I can be happy and show my happy self to everyone that meets me, but I am not happy. Having a bipolar attitude and personality change. I will see and feel it. People in society see different of me. They see me as “normal” and “happy” and they tell me “they wish they have what I have” a “smile” and “happy” all the time. What? It surprises me to hear this, only if they knew the real “Bipolar” me.
    Thank you for this post!

  18. I have major depression , anxiety/panic attacks . I’m not trying to say that I know what people with bipolar go through , because I don’t . But the thing I feel we all have in common is coping with mental illness and trying to be happy . I was never happy as a kid , but I wasn’t exactly sad . I went through life all these years thinking it was normal to have to fake feeling happy , excited when good things happened . Things changed for me when I went through a life altering event . I had a full blown major depression episode . I can’t put into words the pain it caused . I had lucked out finding the right medication after 2 tries , and assumed all would be good . Five years later I had another major episode and things for me went from bad to worse . It was determined that for reasons unknown my medication stopped working for me . Since that time I have tried several other medications . And during this time found out I am so sensitive to medications , to avoid side effects I have to take a dose so low it doesn’t help me . During this time the Dr. I worked with for years gave up on me . Saying he couldn’t help me . I am working with a new Dr. he gave me his word that he won’t give up on me . The medication I am on is not working . So another will have to be tried . I have spent the last 2 years trying to find the right medication . Sometimes I want to give up trying to find the right one because of the time involved . What I did learn from my new Dr . is that I have dysthymia and have probably had it all my life . Now that I have had major episodes it’s a possibility of me bouncing between dysthymia and major depression long term . I don’t know if and when I will find the right medication . But i believe because I keep trying even when I don’t want to , or know why I keep trying there is happiness in me waiting to come out .

  19. When I saw the title I knew this was going to be a tough one for me. And it was.

    Looking back over my life I can honestly say I remember very few instances of being truly happy. There are moments but they are rare and fleeting. But most of the time I’ve ranged between disaffected and miserable. I think at some point in my youth I fell into the trap of believing I didn’t deserve it or that there was no hope of ever being happy anyway so why bother trying.

    I’m working on it through therapy and medication. I’m trying to focus on the few things that do make me happy – even for a fleeting moment – and think about ways to make those last. I’m also looking at the things that don’t make me happy and culling those things out of my life. It’s gut wrenching but I feel I have to do it.

    And Natasha – don’t take what I said about this post being tough personally. It was tough in a good way.

    • Hi David,

      Rightly or wrongly, I take it as a compliment when people say it’s tough. It’s tough for me too. I teared up while writing it so it’s not surprising when other people have a reaction when reading it.

      It’s great to hear you’re working on it. It’s all any of us can do and I believe that it works.

      Good thoughts for you.

      – Natasha Tracy

  20. Except when I’m having an episode of some sort (like right now, getting somewhat hypomanic – which for me is snarly, grouchy, touchy and nasty) I feel I’m a happy person. I’m grateful for all that I have in my life, and especially the people. Like Joanne, I have gone from well-off and ridin’ high to quite poor and fully disabled, but I could have lost so much more . . . and I didn’t!

  21. Of course we can be happy…..for a time. The inevitability that m y cycles end in the gray shroud of depression . I sometimes have a couple of years of “stability” really enjoying the good times. However, at the back of my mind, I fear that being too happy, may signal an impending round of mania.

  22. Yes, you are absolutely right. People suffering from bipolar disorder can be happy, but it’s a lot easier if we understand what happiness really is. It is not just feeling pleasure. There’s a branch of psychology that studies happiness and human character strengths called Positive Psychology. According to Martin Seligman (the “father” of positive psychology), happiness is made up of three elements. The first is pleasure, but the other two are “flow” (when you get lost in an engaging activity, like writing) and meaning (such as helping other people with bipolar), You clearly have two of the three much of the time. You can read more about this at the UPenn website: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/newsletter.aspx?id=1533

    My story is currently featured on the DBSA website (www.dbsalliance.org). In it I contrast my situation ten years ago (before I was diagnosed and before I became 100% disabled) and list all the ways in which my life has become less pleasant (divorce, going through menopause, 85% drop in income, worsening of my disorder, years of failed attempts with medication treatment, etc.,) and then explain that despite all this my life is so good that all my friends and family are jealous. And yes, I am “happy.”

    It is critical to realize that one can build a life with some measure of pleasure, engagement, and meaning without waiting for meds to “work.” This sort of recovery can, in fact, be a treatment in itself.

    • To me, it took 50 yrs, to find any kind of what they call happiness. I wasn’t diagnosed with severe bipolar until my early 30’s. When I turned 51, I finally found the right doctor with the meds. I’m happy now, except that I have to take so many pills, it literally, chokes me at times.
      I have found something , that relates, but not is shock treatsment, which I had also.
      It’s a stimulator, I believe ,, it’s called the Fisher-Wallace stimulator, which I will discuss with my doctor when I see him in April, 2013. I want to try this device which is suppose to help the pain that comes with depression also,.

      I’m glad the doctor I have now, has found the right meds for me, but there is just too many that I have to take and they come with side affects as most meds do.

      If anyone has tried the stimulator, please, please let me know how it went for you ok?

  23. So beautiful and well put. “Threads in the blanket the disease throws on top of you” – I love that image. Thank you for your blog and for making me feel less alone.