It’s Complicated: Living With Bipolar Disorder

I am bipolar. I am divorced. Those two statements are not synonymous. They are also not lines I use to introduce myself to new people. Eventually, once we have unraveled the threads connecting the bonds of friendship, I decide to mention my present and my past. As much as I have struggled to accept these titles, I know that others are struggling far worse with far little success. In an attempt to provide some solace to those who identify, and in an attempt to shed part of this necessary skin that keeps me stagnant, I have this to offer.

  1. You are first, second, third, and last you.

Even though you have a mental illness, even if you feel incredibly misunderstood, you still can hold fast to the uniqueness and oneness of you. There is not a soul alive who possesses all the fascinating qualities you do. As bipolar disorder swings like a pendulum from mania to depression, I receive incredible insight when I am most down. I see the world through the most transparent lenses, and while they are clouded with doubt, they provide truth in my world. That’s so important, finding meaning in every mood, no matter what it is. Embrace what you feel and are experiencing in this moment. It cannot be recreated again; it’s special because you are.

  1. Love fleets, but love frees.

I have a difficult time maintaining friendships and relationships. I sometimes compare my initial offering in these unions to the brilliance of a firework, lighting up the darkest night sky, then crackling, fizzling, and fading, leaving a trail of smoke. People are immediately attracted to my intensity, often proclaiming it is the first such experience, but within weeks, sometimes years, it is no more; it cannot sustain. In every person I meet I see parts of myself, and when I see the ugliness I’ve despised the most, I push them away because I see that within me that hurts the most. In the pain, though, there is healing. When we unravel, we must rebuild. We’re stronger in preparation for the next person.

  1. Society doesn’t “get us” and it may never really, but don’t give up on people.

My ex-husband once said that I couldn’t keep friends. Despite knowing that I am bipolar, he couldn’t grapple with the symptoms. I asked myself, why? I still do. I find that certain personality types “get it.” And others do not. I do observe that friends and lovers alike earnestly try to understand. As for the rest of those who occupy the space around us, it is a toss-up. Depending on their level of exposure to mental illness, they may have the ability to offer compassion and patience—absolutely necessary to help those who suffer. Yet, for some reason, people haven’t picked up on the fact that mental illness is no different than physical illness. In fact, it is often more elusive and annoyingly difficult to treat. The science of treating mental disorders becomes a game of trial and error, and no matter how skilled or knowledgeable the “experts,” we often submit to the problematic symptoms. Until we stop using “bipolar” as a second name for “crazy,” we haven’t progressed. We certainly cannot begin to understand the complexities.

There is hope. Hope never fails us when we need help the most. As long as we are willing to listen, to ourselves, and the gentle words of those around us, we can find a cure. Even if it is an everyday cure, a walk from hour to hour, until we cross the threshold between day and night and fade into dreams of a different life, one in which the pain provides insight and the joy provides relief.

Saira Khan spends most of her spare time entertaining her sassy doberman, Devi. She earned her BFA in Creative Writing and her MA in English, and just feels happy coining new words like it’s always a thing.