As I walked the road of recovery, I began to realise how Bipolar Disorder actually graced my life. Here I share my blessings with you.
1) Empathy: Commonly referred to as ‘putting yourself into another’s shoes’, empathy is a classic bipolar gift. Since I have experienced the full range of human emotions, from the depressive lows to the manic highs – I can imagine being in the shoes of another who is low, high, or anything in between. Similarly, my thoughts have mirrored my expansive feelings, and so if a person’s thoughts are racing, for example, then I can usually relate to or imagine their reality.
2) Creativity: When bipolar started to surface, I took up the pen to write. I journaled my thoughts and feelings, and it became clear that my mind had plenty to say. I wrote down an experience of meditation: a perfect picture of kind eyes gazing upon me, like a womb of love encircling me. Moreover, I blogged, wrote short stories, and dabbled in novel writing. And I imagine connecting with brave people who live out this condition with great dignity.
3) Authenticity: People with bipolar have entered the depths of their souls and have journeyed through to the other side. They are people who can say, “We’ve been there and done that, and we’ll do it again tomorrow”. What’s more, I am the same person in public as I am in private. There’s no point in me pretending that I’m low when I’m high or vice versa. And I have genuine friendships and relationships, truly worth their weight in gold.
4) Contentment: It was through my recovery that I made a fundamental shift towards beauty and light. Psychotherapy, for example, led me to become my own therapist. I began to practice assertiveness through my circumstances: with my housemates, family, friends, and the general public. I now have enough tools and inner resources to continue on my journey. If I turn away from beauty and light, I will always strive to return home, to this territory of contentment.
5) Mentally healthy: I can think of three contributing factors. First, medicine helps bring about a balance of my thoughts, emotions, and feelings, thereby enabling me to ‘catch up’ with others. Second, therapy resolved a lot of internal and external conflict which gives me an ‘edge’ over others. Third, my lifestyle is now full of good habits – meditation in the morning; pacing of work tasks; outdoor exercise; unwinding at night with a book…and socialising is becoming a regular thing too.
6) Emotional intelligence: Measured by EQ, emotional intelligence is about connecting me (self) with others (social). Bipolar stirred me to make this change: for instance, my connections became like interconnected strings which linked to my instructor and to a roomful of colleagues, as I made a presentation. I have gained the ability to influence my world for the greater good. Generally, I can see beyond my ego and let go. And the more I develop self and social, the higher my EQ!
7) Resilience: This blessing is about being adaptable and flexible to what life throws at me, and I continue to stand strong in the face of depressive and manic tendencies. Supportive relationships help build my resilience – I turn to my grandmother’s encouraging presence; I sit with my colleagues at lunch; and I drink tea with my friend. Visualising what I heartfelt want also helps – I imagine using all of my talents in a fruitful career; I imagine married life and the great love and meaning that this brings.
8) Humility: A precious gift that relieves me of any perfectionistic pressures. It enables me to let go the reigns of control and to cooperate with the spirit of the world. I am moved to write, so I write. Humility is also knowing that I am held by love. I ponder that I do not need to do anything for this to take place. I am right just the way I am. So it’s ok to feel powerless. It’s ok to be the small man.
9) Hope: I am a bit perplexed by my future but hope comes in saying ‘Yes’ with my hands open. I want to work every minute and every day in order to serve and praise, in all that I say and do. In hope, there is a constant wealth that moves me, that guides me, that inspires me. Sure, it can diminish, for example when I am low. But I always seem to find a reason to keep my chin up.
10) Wisdom: I have learned to listen to thoughts and feelings that are grounded, rather than ones that are impulsive. In this way, I remain pointed in the right direction and my decisions bear fruit for now and the future. My morning meditation practice leads to this tangible sense of groundedness – something I can tap into throughout my day – talking to people, working on my tasks, walking with a fresh breeze in my face, even running.
Photo thanks to my friend Brendan McManus SJ