I Have Bipolar Disorder and I’m Happy

Here’s How I Got From Diagnosis to Happiness

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Photo by Fernando Brasil on Unsplash

It’s been a long journey. And it isn’t over yet.

Throughout my twenties, I had experienced depression. Then in 2013, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (Type 1).

It took me years to get to where I am now — happy. I don’t mean that I didn’t experience any happiness before now; I did. It’s just that these days I’m consistently happy, on an almost daily basis.

So how did I get here? And if you’re struggling with a mental illness or simply with being unhappy, how can you get to a happy place?

The best way I know how to answer that is to share my experience with you. Tons of people live with mental illness. It’s so common, so there’s really no excuse for our culture to stigmatize it anymore. (Not that there ever was a valid excuse.)

In this story, I will talk about three phases of my recovery journey to illustrate what’s possible. This is, of course, my experience and isn’t meant to be definitive of a “mental health experience”. Take it or leave it. My feelings won’t be hurt.

Phase I: Acceptance and Acute Symptom Management

Accepting my diagnosis was hard at first. I had so many questions, and the answers took time to discover. Questions like, “Is this really an accurate diagnosis?” and “How come I didn’t see this coming?”

Through outpatient treatment and CBT and other therapies, I learned to live with my diagnosis. When I was diagnosed, I was terrified. I assumed it would change my life and more specifically, that it would change me.

Would I be able to work?

Would I be able to support myself financially and emotionally?

These were the types of questions that ran through my mind, and I was in a panic to learn the answers.

So, I did what any grad school student might do. I studied different therapeutic approaches. I read books. I went to therapy. I asked questions. And eventually, as Rumi says, I lived into the answers.

I explored Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). I found both types of therapy to be immensely helpful in managing acute symptoms of depression and anxiety, including panic attacks.

The creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Marsha M. Linehan, Ph.D., says that DBT is about helping patients create a “life worth living.” It was designed specifically for suicidal patients and while I’ve never been suicidal, it’s helped me learn skills that enable me to design life the way I want it to be.

During the first few years after my diagnosis, I continued to have good days and bad days. But I was slowly and deliberately learning how to piece my life back together.

Phase II: Broader Lifestyle Changes and Ongoing Therapy

I’ve been in therapy for seven years. Over that time, I’ve put into practice some lifestyle changes that have been shown to be beneficial for people with Bipolar Disorder.

For example, my daily routines now include things like:

  • Mindfulness, through meditation and prayer
  • Exercise
  • Social connection
  • Journaling and reflection
  • Reading

These activities help me feel in control of my day. My routine is structured and flexible. If I skip my morning exercise, for example, I don’t beat myself up for it. I simply make a choice and I trust my choices. I tell myself that I’m doing the best I can, and that’s good enough.

Phase III: Today — Creating the Life I Desire

I almost ended therapy this year because I was feeling better than I had in years. I thought my therapy work was over. But then I realized that I still wasn’t happy, not overall.

So, I went back to therapy. And I told my therapist that I really want to be happy on a daily basis. I even asked her if she thought that was a reasonable expectation. She responded with an emphatic, “yes, Amy!”

Now, I talk to my therapist every few weeks about my limiting beliefs — those repeating thoughts that sabotage my efforts to be successful and happy. Lately, I’ve been focused on developing my wealth consciousness. I work hard enough. And I do what I love. So, I figure it’s time to bring in the money.

My therapist and I are working on changing limiting beliefs like “it’s hard to make money” into new, empowering beliefs like “it’s easy for me to make money doing what I love.” In my experience, it takes lots of reflection and a willingness to change to transform my limiting beliefs into empowering ones.

And it is totally worth the effort.

I’m pursuing my dream career now, as a professional writer. I love my life. I love what I get to do every day. And I truly believe now that the money will follow. I’m not worried about money right now. I’m practicing my faith in the future, in the universe, and in myself.

And it feels really good.

So there you have it. An expression of where I’ve been, emotionally and psychologically, over the past seven years. I started out in a place of darkness and confusion and now I’m experiencing the light of clarity. Wherever you are on your journey, I have compassion for you.

One thing I know for sure is that we’re all in this together.

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