"People can battle cancer and lose. We understand that. It was beyond their control. When people lose their battle with mental illness, it gets swept under the rug. That, or they get blamed for being selfish not to consider how the decision to end their life would impact others. Worse still, their battle gets whitewashed with spiritual altruisms. " ~ Where Rivers Go
Like 2,000,000 other Americans, I have Bipolar.
Like many hearing that diagnosis for the first time, I denied it. In fact, I agreed wholeheartedly with friends and co-workers who encouraged me by saying something like, "No way. There's nothing wrong with you. You seem to me like the most sane person I know."
Unfortunately, they didn't live with me. Friends and co-workers saw the side I wanted them to see. I worked overtime to project an image of being "the smartest guy in the room," the "go to guy" for answers to complex problems, a spiritual giant and a capable decision maker. A leader of men.
Unfortunately, years of trying to maintain that image left me despairing, angry and exhausted.
Those who really knew me, my wife and children, got the part of me on the other side of the facade. My wife, God bless her, is the most understanding, patient, and tolerant person I know. Unfortunately, dealing with wild emotional swings that went from explosive anger, to unquenchable despair, to boundless energy, left her exhausted as well. After a series of decisions that left me unemployed and at risk for losing everything, she gave me the ultimatum:
Get help or plan on living alone.
Thankfully, I decided to get help. Thanks to some amazing mental health professionals, the support of my family, and effective medications, I have found peace. For the first time in my life, I have a general understanding of what "normal" is like. Do I still struggle? Of course ...but instead of being convinced I was normal and everyone else was crazy, I now understand I have a mental disability. Armed with that understanding, I am convinced my survival depends on the strength of a caring community.
Shortly after my diagnosis, I started a Bipolar Community on Google+. As of this writing, that community has grown to over 1100 members. Offline, I have left "institutional religion" preferring instead to form deep and meaningful relationships with friends who care enough for me to tell me the truth when I need to hear it. In turn, they give me the freedom to tell them exactly how I feel.
To know others, as I would want them to know me, means dropping the charade of over achievement. My goal now is to live my life openly and honestly. My writing is a vehicle for this process. It is my self-therapy.
If you have found your way here, you too may be looking for a caring community. While I might not be able to personally provide that, I am committed to providing resources I hope point you in the right direction.