The Heroism of Everyday Life with Bipolar Disorder
It is very easy to become disappointed with ourselves when we have bipolar disorder. After all, we often won’t accomplish as much as other people. Moreover, we often develop grand plans while hypomanic, only to find that we cannot carry them out. This level of disappointment can really affect our overall happiness, as it makes us feel like we are not what we should be.
However, I want to suggest a different way of looking at it. If we look at our accomplishments not relative to a standard that society or we have set up for ourselves, but relative to our actual challenges, people with bipolar disorder actually accomplish quite a bit. In fact, just the process of going through everyday life can be a heroic endeavor.
DepressionPerhaps the case where we see this heroism most clearly is in our experience of depression. When people are depressed, they will often have a symptom called “psychomotor retardation.” Basically, this means our energy level drops right down to very low, and we often find it difficult to perform even the most basic tasks.
I remember the other day, I was in the elevator, and I thought, “Ugh. I’m going to have to push that button to get upstairs.” I stared at the button for a few seconds, and finally pressed it, motivated by the thought that once I got upstairs, I could lie down. My thought at the time was, “I’m so lazy, I can’t even push a button.”
But let’s think about it another way for a moment. When we are depressed, we don’t have a lot of energy. Yet, we are often able to perform tasks that require Herculean effort. Even little things like eating, brushing our teeth or answering the phone become tasks that take as much effort as it would take to spend hours at work on a normal day.
Then, why not see it that way? When we accomplish little things while depressed, we actually are accomplishing quite a bit. We are overcoming an obstacle and mustering up a large amount of effort to accomplish that task.
Living our day to day lives, especially when depressed, can often be a struggle. This is why our living it is so impressive. By being proud of ourselves for fighting the struggles that we face on a day-to-day basis, I’ve realized that there is actually quite a bit to be proud of, even in an ordinary day.
Changing Our LivesThere is another sense in which being bipolar gives us the opportunity to be heroic. Because the illness can disrupt our moods so much, we need to develop ourselves as people in order to live lives that are not completely ruled by the condition.
But note what this does. We can’t simply sit back and watch our lives go by, resting on our talents or complacently accepting everything that comes our way. Instead, we actually need to develop as people. We learn more about ourselves as the years go by.
Now imagine there was a person who didn’t have bipolar disorder. She treats every day as an opportunity to learn more about herself and to become better person. She often learns new skills to live a better life, and she often thinks about how to improve her relationships with others. She spends her time learning about the human condition and trying to put what she learns into practice.
She would be a rare and impressive person. However, that’s just what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder. Living with a mood disorder pushes us into a constant process of self-development where we learn more and more about ourselves, develop new ways of dealing with the world, and develop insight into our condition that will hopefully help us in the future. This process may be a struggle, with a lot of setbacks on the way, but that only makes it more impressive.
So people with bipolar disorder are heroic in a second way. We need to take our lives by the horns and figure out how to live them. Sure, this comes from the necessity that comes from having a mental illness, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. We can be proud of our self-examination and development.
We Have a Lot To Be Proud of
We then have a lot that we can be proud of. While we might not be the person that we might otherwise have been, we are people who fight a heroic struggle almost every day. We are people who examine our own lives, and find strategies to be better. No matter how things might appear from the outside, these are things that make our lives heroic.