(January 20, 2009)

Someone who has bipolar disorder and hasn’t been able to work for awhile wrote:

“I personally feel discouragement, a loss of identity, and a lot of shame & guilt having been off work for this long.”

I can well remember similar feelings – actually throughout most of my adult life off and on. For many years I scoured the Help Wanted pages of the newspaper on a daily basis, hoping to find work I’d be able to do. I wanted to earn money. I wanted to feel I had some value. But the two or three times I tried to work at part time jobs, I couldn’t keep it up longer than two months. Always ended up in tears. The stress was just too great.

I was constantly trying to find something meaningful to do – something that would make me feel that my life had some value. With my photography I tried to earn money; I tried to become famous. Though I did earn a bit of money, and though I did receive a good reputation for my photography, neither of these were fulfilling in the long run. “Is that all there is?” I would repeatedly think to myself.

As I got older I gradually learned what was most important to me. Now I love what I’m doing and don’t feel I need to be rich or famous. I just want to help people with mental illness. I get a good feeling from doing so. I want to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. My life has become meaningful.

But it was a long road to get here. And, even now, there are times that I wish I could earn some real money, even though my husband supports the both of us well enough.

It IS tricky to find a life that is meaningful when bipolar keeps you from being able to make long term commitments. And I do still have trouble comfortably doing that. Episodes still come and I can’t trust how I’m going to be from month to month.

My book A Firm Place to Stand deals with a lot of these questions and the struggles I’ve had over the years. I found out that it IS possible to find a fulfilling life. It’s tricky, and it will take a lot of work, a lot of trial and error. A person needs to do a lot of searching to find out what is most important to her and where her talents lie.

The person who wrote also made the following comment:

“I’m wondering how can I actually feel OK about accepting this new life, and be at peace with it?”

It does start with accepting our disorder and the limitations it puts upon us. Yet I believe we can create a rich life, in spite of these limitations.