Over the last couple of weeks, a question keeps coming up: what is stability?
Life with a mental illness is hard, and we want it to get better. We want the suffering to end. We want to be the people we were before, before the brokenness, the depression, the confusion, and the hopelessness. We want to be ourselves, and we do not want our mental health to be an issue.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I wanted to find the right meds, get stable, and be better. I wanted it all to go away. I wanted to celebrate victory over bipolar, and be done with it. I wanted to be cured.
But I am not cured. I still have bipolar disorder. I will have bipolar disorder tomorrow and the day after. Even on my deathbed, I will have bipolar. I have taken my meds every day for the last 14 years, and over the years have found relative stability and the ability to live my life like a fairly normal person. But I am not cured.
This is evidenced by my sleep schedule, which I am fairly consistent with. Almost every night I am sleeping before 10 pm. As a grad student, I was the only person I knew who was going to bed early every night. I was the only student I knew never pulling all nighters. To maintain myself, I could not. Such is the cost of freedom sometimes.
Stability is a shaky conversation because it begs the question: am I cured? The answer is no. My sleep schedule testifies to that. I have to manage my life more than any other person I know precisely because I am not cured. However, I do experience a surprisingly stable life.
When I was diagnosed, I wanted to be normal because all I knew of stability was what I felt like before I was diagnosed. I wanted to be what I was before. Now, though, I realize that stability is not like a light switch. We are not stable or unstable. Stability is like a dimmer switch. Sometimes the lights are all the way off, and we are completely unstable, and sometimes the lights are on full blast and we feel as stable a possible. But most of the time, the light glows brightly, but not quite fully. Sometimes it dims, but most of the time in my life, I am living at 95%.
I say this because many of the people I have talked to want 100% all of the time, and if they are not going to experience 100%, then it is not good enough. Life to them is all or nothing. I have experienced being unmedicated, and have experienced being medicated. The truth of the matter is that unmedicated the lights are very dim, and I experience life at about 5% of my potential. When I am medicated, the lights are significantly brighter, allowing me to experience life at 90-95%.
I have a friend who is paralyzed from the waist down. What is his life since he is never going to be able to be 100% again? With an all or nothing mindset, his life is over. But he still lives his life. He still enjoys friendships. He still enjoys life. In his case, he may be living at 50%. It begs the question: can I live an abundant life at less than 100%?
I know that 90-95% is not 100%, but I also know that 90-95% is far greater than 5%. Because of this, I have come to learn to give my 90-95% a chance. I may not be living at 100%, but if this is good. I still experience my life in amazing ways. I still went to school. I still have an amazing wife.
I will never be completely cured. I will never be who I was before. However, I have come to understand that bipolar is not a life sentence. Instead of complaining because I have to go to bed at 10pm, or because I have to be careful about my diet, that I have to take pills, or I have to manage my lifestyle, I have the opportunity to empower other people to be fully themselves.
To being myself even though I have type 1 rapid cycling bipolar disorder, more than I ever thought possible, even at 90-95%. I may not be cured, but I am still fully myself.