The Challenges of Bipolar ‘Recovery’

Bipolar – the illness where yin and yang are most obvious in their places. I say this in a relatively relaxed sense, purely looking at the positives and negatives, and the ups and downs of the illness.

I want to share with you how I found the process of finding stability and recovery via doctors and therapists. I was in severe need of help due to my low mood but what I discovered along the way was A LOT more than just eliminating depression (which was all I was after).

When I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 Disorder I was 28 yrs old, but there had been chronic signs of this illness for the previous 10yrs. I’d learnt how to self-soothe early on, unfortunately, the self-soothing wasn’t a positive type of self-soothing. I took to drinking, smoking and having sex at the age 14, luckily these things distracted me enough to cope with the feelings I felt bubbling up inside of me. But by the age of 20, I had added drugs to that concoction. I gained validation from men and how much attention I got from them. I gave myself away under my own pretence of it ‘just being fun’, but actually in the hopes of being embraced with the love I so desperately needed.

My elevated hypomanic moods were (in my eyes) great. I could’ve happily lived with my elevated moods, but my lows were desperate and unbearable. It was fair to say my initial goal was to simply get myself out of the black hole and that was what I focused on, climbing my way out day by day.

When I was first medicated for bipolar, there was one thing that I don’t think I could’ve been ready for – the loss of the highs, because I was just so focused on getting rid of the lows. As time progressed on this journey I slowly started to recognise the loss of my highs too. The adjustment was challenging to say the least.

When I thought of my highs I linked them with partying and having fun, but when they were taken away from me I realised there was a lot more tied up in those highs. My impulsiveness which often led to some great adventures, my playful side, my creative thinking, my sex drive, my confidence and the biggest one – my proactive motivation.

I was a highly driven person, fueled by ambition and my hypomanic times were when I would really achieve.

The downsides to the hypomanic times are the risks I took and the times when I pushed the limits a little too far (or a lot too far!). For me, it was doing things that caused disharmony in my everyday relationships, things that got in the way of my job, and things that risked my health. I had little emotional regulation, I was aggressive and at times flippant, often hungover as I abused my body with substances; all of which made me a very unhappy soul.

Who knew there could be so much good and bad in an elevated mood.

It wasn’t something I noticed at the beginning of my recovery, as the stabilising of my mood meant I was pulled out of the black hole and this to me was a sheer relief. I focused on learning new skills for my emotional wellbeing and I reaped these rewards. But over time I noticed I was lacking my playful, adventurous, creative, and proactive self. My confidence was shattered and I began to mourn the loss of my past high moods.

This is often the point some people decide to stop taking their meds. The stability can feel so ‘blah’ compared with the extreme moods you become so used to.

I don’t know how long I expected this adjustment period to go on for, but I sure as heck didn’t expect it to last years.

I went sober at the same time of my diagnosis and the two things I spent years coming to grips with were the loss of the highs and everything that went with them, and fully accepting how uncomfortable I felt sober when others weren’t. I either felt like I was missing out or irked at them for having fun and being silly. I knew, in theory, I should still be able to have fun like them, but honestly, it took years to tap into this part of me again.

The reality is that these two things are MASSIVE lifestyle changes which require massive growth. The growth comes in the form of heaps of tiny opportunities to step into your new self, to be brave and continue regardless of how you are feeling.  All of these things together create positive changes for your wellbeing. The results are gradual but worth it!

I’m now 39 yrs old and 11yrs into this journey. I’ve learnt ways to regulate my emotions (and I’m still learning!), I’ve learnt I have everything inside of me that I need, I show myself the love I needed all that time ago, I’ve learnt what’s really important to me, how to take risks that stretch me in growth, I’ve learnt how to shrug off the remnants from my addictions (when they come knocking) I indulge myself every day in what makes me happy; no substances, just animals and the beach. I work to keep balance on my ‘Life Wheel’ and I nurture my most precious relationships, for this is where so much of my joy lives.

As challenging as it is in those first stages of finding stability, there is so much to hang on for. I totally get why some people stop treatment and revert to their old selves, but I would love to assure you that when you push through the tough bits you are rewarded by a new calmer way of life. I’m a fan of the saying ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’, and this couldn’t be truer in personal development and mental wellbeing.

For those awesome people out there trying to support someone through these challenges, the most helpful things for me were helping me find fun again, trying hard to understand how ‘blah’ life feels and getting me along to fun events. Joy is a great healer. Be patient and show understanding, the emotional rollercoaster makes it difficult for everyone, and finally, encourage them to attend regular therapy to keep learning new ways for their emotional wellbeing.

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