It has taken well over a decade.
In the beginning ours was an abusive relationship. Bipolar 1 Disorder entered my world by clubbing me over the head and dragging me away from myself and my life. There was no informed consent. No polite knocking at my door and asking ‘Are you ok with this invasion? Are you ok with me setting up camp in your head for the rest of your life?’
That first time, it committed horrendous crimes. It stole my most prized possession. All my control. It obliterated my reality, snatched me away from my husband and baby, sped me up and then poured concrete over me. I was convinced it would kill me…
But it didn’t.
When I finally kicked and screamed my way free, I sat panting on the other side of it, scraping all remnants of it out of my brain and off my skin, I vowed never to let anything do that to me again. This was the first and last time. I knew better now.
I knew nothing.
When my doctor told me it was unlikely that this would be my last encounter with it, I nodded but didn’t believe him.
It came, not immediately but in roughly two-year intervals again and again and again. When the early signs of those first recurrences nudged and poked and then slapped me in the face, I turned my back and raged ‘No, no , no this can’t be happening again!’
My denial fed the power it had over me to super levels.
I tried to fight it with sheer will and my bare hands grabbing at the invisibility of it. It laughed and continued to snatch my sanity, drop kicking me into hospital sometimes for months at a time.
In the face of this illness my denial was a house built of dandelion seeds.
Eventually a sliver of acceptance crept in. But only while I was sick. The moment I regained myself after each episode, I ran back into the arms of my previous life. Working and doing and being who I was before all of this. Driven by a need to prove to the world: ‘See I live with this illness and can still do it all!’
I can…but there is a cost.
In 2015 it broke me. It locked me in a torture chamber and made it clear that it was going nowhere. I sped into a brick wall, lost my reality, lost my living brain, had to have it shocked back into a feeble beginning again and again.
I limped away finally understanding that we were shackled together for the rest of my life.
I told my psychiatrist: ‘I don’t know what to do, I can’t keep doing this!’
He paused, then said:
‘Perhaps you have to learn to take this illness as seriously when you are well as when you are unwell.’
He was right.
By then I had learnt to pay lip service to my management of this illness when I was well by diligently taking my medication, living relatively healthily, taking care of sleep etc, But I had not mentally accepted that I live with Bipolar 1 Disorder every day, whether I am well or not. I had made the easy, obvious choices, the choices that have become second nature, like exercising and taking my medications.
But it has taken much longer and been harder to make the longer-term decisions that are just as much a part of looking after myself. Decisions like how to work and what is worth pursuing and weighing up the price I might pay for stress. Things I had the luxury of never considering before.
Fighting acceptance hasn’t served me well. Denial can damage me easily as much as the illness itself.
I have learnt acceptance is not giving up. Acceptance also doesn’t mean that the next time I get sick I will feel nothing but saintly calm. The unfairness of being yanked away from my life with no notice will still sting and ache.
I no longer leave this disorder behind in the rear vision mirror after each episode. It stays in my peripheral vision. But, the less I fight it, the milder the rope burn from being tethered to it.
It doesn’t define who I am, but I no longer expend energy proving it is not part of me. Because it always will be.
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