You may find it surprising, but I’m actually thankful for my bipolar diagnosis. My dad—who struggled with bipolar disorder his whole life—died by suicide when I was 24. Four years after I lost him, I experienced my first major depression. I had a delayed reaction to his death because it was so traumatic for me. That was when I myself was diagnosed bipolar.
At the time, the diagnosis was terrifying. It felt like a death sentence. I just kept asking myself, “Will I end up dying by suicide too?”
My whole life, I’d struggled with inexplicable impulsivity, racing thoughts, irritability, and tumultuous relationships. I’d always known something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t until I had a psychological evaluation, underwent therapy and found the right mood-stabilizing medication that I was able to find answers. I finally had a name for the tornado that had been raging in my head for as long as I could remember. My bipolar diagnosis has ultimately made me stronger.
I understand my behavior.
From sleeping with strangers to getting arrested for shoplifting, I struggled with erratic, destructive behaviors for years. I’m not saying my bipolar disorder was an excuse, but it’s given me an explanation as to why I compulsively made so many mistakes that hurt myself and those around me.
I have peace of mind.
I used to lay in bed at night, trying to fall asleep but unable to because of the repetitive, disruptive thoughts racing around in my buzzing mind. The hardest part about it was not knowing why this obsessive voice in my head would not shut up. Now I know not to panic, it’s just my illness talking, and I can reach out for help if I need it.
I can forgive myself.
Before I was diagnosed, I used to beat myself up if I couldn’t finish a task. Now that I’m armed with an accurate diagnosis, I know that some days may be harder than others, and that’s okay. Not every day has to be a huge success. When my energy has been zapped, I let myself off the hook. Part of accepting my diagnosis has been understanding that I have unique needs that require compassion for myself and my mental health.
I forgave my dad.
My dad was often depressed and distant. He’d skip my piano recitals and lock himself in his room for days. I was the little girl with daddy issues—I craved his attention and felt unloved. For years, I was angry at him for ignoring and then abandoning me. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with the same illness that I was able to understand my dad’s behavior wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t his either. I understand him now through the lens of my diagnosis, and I forgive him.
I’ve learned that I’m resilient
Bipolar disorder isn’t an easy illness to have. I’ve been too manic to think straight, too depressed to get out of bed and everywhere in between. But because I’ve made it through so much, I know I’m a strong, resilient person. If I can survive the extreme highs and lows of manic and depressive episodes, I’m confident I can make it through anything.
A bipolar diagnosis is nothing to fear. With the right treatment, you can live a happy, healthy life. I’m living proof: I haven’t just survived, I’ve thrived. Through my diagnosis, I’ve gained insight, wisdom and ultimately, inner peace. This Thanksgiving, try accepting your diagnosis as something to be grateful for. The first step in the bipolar recovery journey is understanding.