By Karl Shallowhorn
The “Why Me?” of Bipolar Disorder
Having lived with bipolar disorder for the past 30 years I know what it’s like to be without hope. I recall many days when I was consumed with an overwhelming sense of dread and fear of the future, when I was bogged down by the question, “Why me?”
Bipolar turned my life upside-down. Mania flipped me into delusions that had me first thinking I was the devil and then Jesus. I spent an entire summer in un-remitting depression, resulting in a psychiatric hospital stay complete with a series of ECT treatments. In fact, I was institutionalized eight times in as many years.
Moments of optimism
There were times, however, when I was able to look beyond my hopeless state and feel a sense of optimism. When I attended my first 12-step meeting for substance abuse, a young woman was collecting her 30-day “clean time” key tag. She was expressing a sense of frustration, but instead I heard the message that it is possible to live a life without illicit drugs.
If she was able to stop using despite the anger she was experiencing, maybe I could recover from my addiction and bipolar disorder as well. That was the message that I most needed to hear. It gave me hope.
Hope & Recovery
Hope has been an essential part of my recovery from mental illness and addiction. You see, that’s where it all begins. Hope is the starting point. Even when things got tough, I have been able to cling onto this essential element that keeps me moving forward.
When my symptoms stabilized and I returned to school in 1990 after many years’ lapse, I was uncertain if I could do the work. I had enrolled, ironically, in an Abnormal Psychology class. I remember getting my first exam back with a score of 97.5 percent. That was enough to buoy my outlook. “I can do this!” I told myself.
Managing bipolar & addiction
Managing my bipolar and addiction made that success possible. There’s a saying I love: “Lost dreams awaken. New possibilities arise.” That was so true for me as I brought my disorders under control.
Of course, I haven’t done it alone. I have had the support of many: family, friends, counselors, and doctors. When I look back, I realize I have gotten “hope shots” from so many. My wife of nearly 17 years, Suzy, has been a consistent supporter. Whenever I’m having a bad day, Suzy has a way of injecting me with a sense of realistic inspiration that helps me let go of whatever ill feelings I am experiencing.
In today’s society there are many who want to extinguish the spark of hope, namely in the guise of stigma. Mental illness is still used as a tool to pigeonhole individuals who mostly are not to blame for their condition. But, in the end, hope prevails.
Hope can be shared!
At 12-step meetings and in my work as a mental health counselor, I see signs of hope every day. I am so privileged to be a witness to so many people who are facing the future with a sense of courage and strength.
One of my clients, whom I’ll call Warren, has a lengthy criminal history as well as mental health and addiction diagnoses. It could be said that Warren has all the cards stacked against him. Yet he has continued to face his situation head-on, stabilize his illness and remain drug-free. There are a lot of Warrens out there who take on their own challenges of recovery with perseverance and conviction.
It would be great if hope could be bottled and distributed. Unfortunately, it can’t. However, hope can be shared. It’s infectious. Recovery is possible. There’s proof of this every day, all around us. Don’t feed into the stigma and negative messages. Stay positive. Keep hope alive.
Karl Shallowhorn is the author of Working on Wellness: A Practical Guide to Mental Health. He has been living with bipolar disorder since 1981 and is also a recovering addict. He is a regular blogger for the bpHope Blog.