Our most challenging periods of turmoil teach us the most valuable life lessons.
It has been sixteen years since I have been living with Bipolar Disorder. From the terrifying initial stages to the much calmer me today, it has been a cataclysmic journey. Along the way, I have grown immensely as an individual on multiple levels.
And have learnt some invaluable life lessons~ as they say, there is no better teacher than life.
1) I am not my illness
In the first year or so after diagnosis, my illness overwhelmed me. My entire thinking revolved around the monster that had me in its grip. Somehow, this became all consuming. I surrendered my identity to Bipolar Disorder. Experience taught me how to distance myself from the condition. Eventually, I did free myself from that mental prison. I was no more my illness, I had an identity independent of it.
2) There’s always someone whose suffering is much greater than mine
One bugbear of many a mental illness patient is self pity. While self compassion empowers, self pity weakens one’s resolve. It puts one in the victim frame of mind. Fortunately for me, my perspective was broader. I used to say to my Doctor that a Cancer patient’s suffering is far greater than mine. Even among my own community, I found that many were all at sea: in terms of coping, or financially or in managing relationships. Their hardships made me realise how blessed I was. At least, I was quite stable on these fronts. This taught me to be grateful for every moment of calmness I experienced. One has to just look around to realise how fortunate we are.
3) I have braved the worst of storms, the future holds no terrors for me.
The only constant about Bipolar Disorder is that there is no constant. We are at the mercy of mood swings of varying degrees of severity. Whenever I was doing well in my career and felt motivated and driven, a nagging thought bothered me no end. How long will this phase last until I slip back into depression? Yes, that had been my story: very short lasting Hypomanic episodes followed by years of Depression. And in depression, all my enthusiasm and fizz evaporated into thin air. With time, I learnt to be stoic about this. Haven’t I dealt with the worst horrors of psychosis and mania? Have I not survived severe depression before? I won’t let worries of the future ruin my present. With the changed attitude, I don’t feel anxious about what’s in store for me anymore.
4) Have faith in the journey~ we are incredibly resourceful.
Whenever I felt I was out of my depth and totally lost, I realised that I could draw out another power from my well of resources. Be it creativity, resilience, a philosophical approach, courage or some specific skill sets. Learning became my new thrust. I devoured many a self help book, attended training courses and sought mentoring from Gurus. The deeper the crisis, the greater the need to dig out a resource and more invaluable was the learning.
5) If Bipolar Disorder was a huge setback, it also blessed me in many ways!
I was quite a successful entrepreneur when the demon struck. However, until then I had not written anything of great artistic merit. Overnight, as it were, I discovered that I was a writer. My gift for writing creative and inspirational articles took the form of a Blog and later led to this, the first online Peer Support site for Bipolar Disorder in India. Then came my Book about my journey which was published globally. Writing is a mirror to my soul~ I began to understand myself better. I also picked up the art of photography, my connect with nature grew dramatically. I became more sensitive to the environment and my abstract thinking ability expanded. What God took with one hand, He gifted me many times over with another.
6) We are not alone
The overpowering feeling one has when the illness strikes is that of loneliness. I had withdrawn into a shell and felt I had to fend for myself on my own. This is a myopic view that the turmoil imposes on us. It is over time that we acknowledge how much others are contributing to our growth. From caregivers, family, our Doctors, mentors, colleagues and friends~ there are so many who rally around us during our crises, inspire and guide us.
7) My spiritual growth got fueled by this journey
My existential crisis made me look inward. There were so many unanswered questions… as if it were destined, I chanced upon a copy of The Bhagavad Gita. That was a life changing moment. Anybody who has read it would know what I mean. For a troubled soul, such a resource could not have come at a better time. Questions which pestered me got answered. I realised that I was a spiritual being and the suffering of the body was my Karma playing out. That the immortal spirit was the true seat of bliss gave new meaning to my life.
8) My outreach to my tribe made me an observer
The more vulnerable I felt, the more compassionate I became. Arrogance melted away. I had a distinct edge when communicating with those from my community.. I had the ringside view, had been there and had walked in their shoes. This made me more accessible and credible in their eyes. Along the way, the afflicted himself became the ‘caregiver’ for many.
9) Love is a Super Power
It is in a full blown crisis that one’s relationships are fully tested. What got rocked was my marriage. Over time, however, both of us came to terms with it. In fact, the initial storms may well have helped in strengthening our relationship. I love my wife and my daughter deeply. They add meaning and purpose to my life. Marriage is also about adjustment and sacrifice. From being self obsessed because of my inner turmoil, I learnt to give to the relationship. Love for my family anchors me now. I wonder if I would have understood what true commitment is if I had not been thus tested by Bipolar Disorder.
10) Whatever happens to us happens for a reason
Life’s ways are not mundane, I firmly believe. No occurrence is a coincidence~ it is all as intricately planned as a detailed script for a drama.
‘Through our suffering, we find meaning’ Viktor E Frankl
Was my suffering wasted? Not at all! I might sound immodest but I strongly felt at one time that ‘I was the Chosen One.’ That my suffering had a deeper purpose~ to test me and to empower me. In a way, it set me free.