I’m happy. Not always. Not even every week. But my life has meaning, regardless of how ill or healthy I am in the moment. Because of this, on days when I feel normal, I am happy.
I’m from Texas. I’m on disability income because of bipolar, and I live in my hometown. I have a healthy sense of self, loving friends, a cat, a good psychiatrist, a great therapist, and parents who live nearby. I also have mixed-state episodes, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, psychotic episodes, dissociation, random pains and sometimes insomnia. Sometimes I also have suicidal ideation.
My life now, at 31, is better than it has ever been.
Episodes are awful (I’m heading into one right now, and I am not at all excited about it). My brain’s response to stress is to shut down completely, dissociate, hallucinate, panic, and cry. My body shakes and spasms, I get dizzy and lightheaded, and I have very uncomfortable physical sensations. Because of this, I do not hold up at all in the workplace. No one really appreciates that kind of behavior on the job. I was lucky enough to get granted disability, which lets me live with just enough money to get by. I can’t make any “fun” purchases, but I can pay for my rent, electricity, and Netflix. I save what I can to make occasional “major” purchases, like getting an eye exam for a contacts prescription, which is what I’m saving up for now. I do struggle sometimes. But I’m satisfied.
When I was 18 I was on top of the world. I graduated high school in the top 5% of my class, I had won several contests for classical singing, and I was accepted to a handful of colleges, including Oberlin Conservatory, which is world renowned for their undergraduate vocal program. I had tons of friends, and I had high self-esteem and a fun life. I went off to college at Oberlin and the fun intensified. There were so many interesting people and ideas that were brand new to me. I turned 19, and after a couple months, bipolar presented. All of those happy and wonderful things, bit by bit, were taken from me.
Between 19 and 30, I longed to go back to age 18. It was the happiest I’d ever been. When I turned 31, I shifted into the new “best” time in my life. I am happier now than I was at 18. My happiness is deeper and more fulfilling. My life is beautiful. But that is not the important part.
The important part is that I still have episodes. I still have depression. I still have severe psychosis, dissociation, anxiety, paranoia, and panic. I have to find my happiness in the time between episodes. I am so lucky that I get to have those times now; for years I did not. It took 11 years to find the right combination of medicine, and 4 years of weekly therapy to learn enough coping tools to not jump straight to suicidal ideation in episodes. But I did it. Now I’m here.
Not having a job is not the worst thing in the world. I used to feel guilty for accepting government help as well as the help of my family before I realized that societies and families exist for the purpose of us keeping each other safe and alive. That is the point of communities and social support systems. I would have died if I did not accept the help that was offered.
My work is keeping myself healthy. I have to exercise, eat well, stay on a sleep schedule, take all my medicine on time, shower, do laundry, go to all my appointments, and socialize with someone in person at least once a week. Those things take up every bit of my ability, and I can’t achieve all of them every day. If I’m depressed, for example, I can eat and sleep, and maybe shower. My overall goal is to do all those things when I am expected to, but it is important and healthy to lower your expectations of yourself when you’re struggling with mental illness symptoms. I do all the work I am able to do, and I adjust according to my current capabilities.
I’m glad to not have a job. I would be having episodes every day, and I don’t like that idea at all. I also like being able to determine my own priorities for how I spend my time. In the time between episodes, things can feel so wonderful, and I’m free to do things like write on Quora, go for walks, or work on my website. I am very sensitive to the moments when I feel okay or calm. I’m able to be grateful for a happy thought or feeling. I can pay close attention to the good. Mindfulness helps me tremendously with that.
Even though I can still feel miserable, I am at peace with my symptoms. I will probably have them for the rest of my life and will need to stay on top of my treatment. In all the healthy minutes, hours, or days I am granted, I am able to see how lucky I am. I’m living my own personal happily ever after, just with the addition of episodes of misery. When the episode goes away, my happiness comes back. My real life is beautiful. I often can’t see that in episodes. Sometimes I believe things are so bad that I should kill myself. But when the storm passes, I get my life back, and it’s still beautiful.
So yes, there are bipolar people who are still sick and have good lives. I can be happy, and then sick, and then happy again. My life’s work is staying alive, and I’m even starting to get good at it. This website is a byproduct of exactly that. It’s all about survival at first. Once you get past survival, it becomes about living. Here I am, happy. Here I am, living.