Why I’m feeling grateful for having a mental illness

It sounds strange to say that I’m thankful for bipolar disorder and it has taken me a long time to get this far.  Until recently I would have gladly used magic to turn it off but now I think I would perhaps just turn it down.

This change of heart is down to the way I’ve been able to accept that bipolar disorder, as debilitating and chaotic as it is for me, is actually more manageable if I accept it.  Once acceptance happens it is easier to be open minded to solutions.

Some years ago I was discussing meditation with my consultant as I had practised it on and off for quite some time and he mentioned mindfulness.  I dismissed it out of hand as cranky new age nonsense and refused to try it.  A few days later a mindfulness CD arrived in the post and I felt I had no choice but to try it.  I’ve been hypnophobic all my life and, combined with bipolar disorder, it has had a serious effect on my life.  Though mindfulness is not a relaxation technique (it is a way of allowing you to focus on the here and now) it initially helped me to relax so that I could sleep soundly for the first time in a long time.  It lessened my anxiety about what may happen and what had happened and I have continued to use it since.

From there it was a short step to reading books that opened my mind to other ideas and discovering (probably later than most) that bad things are less likely to happen than I thought.  Not that life is not a struggle.  It still is.  I have had to learn to be positive.  A friend tells me I’m neither a glass half full nor a glass half empty person, I’m more of a what happened to the glass and have you got a cloth so I can wipe up that mess kind of person.  It’s a challenge.

One way I’ve been taught to become more positive is by listing the good things that happen in a day, writing them down and, when someone asks me about my day, talking about them first.  It’s a challenge somedays but there is always one good thing.  A couple of days ago, in the midst of bleakness and darkness, it was my guinea pig who fell asleep on my knee.  By talking about that first the bad things became a little smaller, a little easier to handle.  So you can imagine how grateful I am to that person and grateful I have bipolar disorder otherwise he may never have needed to help me.

Even though I haven’t been able to work and support myself for a long time I’ve had lots of opportunities to do media interviews about mental illness.  One or two have gone wrong and the support from the people who set them up has been less than adequate which does make me wonder if mental health charities are the tail wagging the dog, but, on the whole the media work has been great.  I’ve written two articles that were published in widely read newspapers, I’ve appeared on local and national radio (including a major London radio station), I’ve appeared on television several times and quoted on the BBC website.  A local website did an article about me on World Mental Health Day last year.  Each time I do something someone will approach me in the street and tell me about their experience.  One woman had never told anyone about her post natal depression and was going to talk to her husband.  It was 22 years after the event but she did it.  Had I not had bipolar disorder those people who feel that I’ve reached out to them may not have felt the relief that someone else understands.  How could I not be grateful for bipolar disorder for allowing me to do that?

I’ve recently recorded an interview for a website soon to be relaunched.  I could sit in front of the camera and say that, in spite of all that bipolar disorder has taken away from me, I have an amazing life.  I write and I take photos.  I believe that I’d be good at either anyway but the bipolar disorder somehow gives me that courage to push my boundaries further and turns me from good into very good.  How could I not be grateful for that?

I’d like my friends and family to suffer less from the consequences of my illness.  I’d like to spend more time feeling well and less time living in a mind that resembles a moebius tape.  It may never happen unless I hit on the right medication that stills my mind just enough.  I talk each day about how it feels like to wake up never knowing how you’re feeling or if you’ll be feeling like that at the end of the day but I also I talk at my amazing life and cannot feel anything but gratitude for having that life to live.

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