Hope For People with Bipolar Illness

Vincent Willem van Gogh
Self-portrait, 1887

There is hope for people with bipolar illness. Many famous artists, such as Vincent Van Gogh, lived with manic-depression without the benefits of our current state of knowledge. Living with that disorder, now named bipolar illness, presents challenges beyond most people’s comprehension. Most mental illness, we now know, comes from early childhood trauma, as I describe in a previous blog (https://www.gordongrose.com/where-mental-illness/). But some disorders, like bipolar illness, derives from a strong genetic component.

To anyone diagnosed with bipolar illness, however, these questions confront them daily: How do I live with this? Where can I find ways to get through today without allowing my symptoms to develop, intensify, or dominate my life? How do I support myself, my family, and remain productive? How can I make the most of a poor (at best) genetic inheritance?

Although I do not have bipolar illness, I have worked professionally with people who do. And one of my family members is diagnosed with bipolar illness. Let me, therefore, venture to put myself in your shoes.

Finding Hope through Facing My Sadness

Facing sadness can in the end result in hope. Like any grief, my diagnosis represents huge loss. Although I’m relieved I can name it, I also live under a cloud, a handicap as real as any limp. Like any loss, therefore, I must give up pretending I’m normal. I need to allow myself to feel sad, and to let down my defenses. Denial allows me to minimize my disability, expect too much of myself, and shun medications because of their side-effects. Meds also prevent my mania, which I enjoy. Self-aggrandizement allows me to talk circles around others, work without sleep, and fosters my narcissistic sense of superiority. But when my mania fails, I crash: “What’s the use of living?” But there is hope for people with bipolar illness.

My first challenge, then: face my sadness. I do have an illness that hampers my functioning. I feel sad; I need to mourn. 

Finding Hope Through Taking Charge

Hope also derives from taking charge. Moving from my position as a victim of genetics or of circumstances to an agent of change, decision, and choice represents my greatest asset as a person. So can I learn to work within my limits? How do I make the best of a difficult situation? Can I find strength I never knew I had: in God, in a Higher Power, in counselors, and/or in social support? How can I mobilize a team to sustain me: medical practitioners, friends, professional colleagues, neighbors, family? None of us lives life alone, but my living with bipolar illness makes dependence on the good will, and concrete support of others all the more necessary.

Finding Hope to Go On

 How can I find hope to go on? To persevere daily under a cloud of uncertainty? We can also find hope by observing how others dealt with the illness. Others have been where I am now, I tell myself. I’m not the first, nor the only person living with bipolar disorder. How do they cope? In what ways can I draw on their experience, failures and successes to teach me what to avoid, and what to pursue?

Are you living with bipolar illness? How do you face your sadness, take charge of your health, and mobilize the resources that give you hope?

[Note: A earlier version of this article first appeared at http://www.bipolarhappens.com/bhblog/gordon-grose-tragedy-transformed/ My thanks to Julie Fast for her invitation to write a guest blog. If you are diagnosed with bipolar illness, I urge you to visit her site and take advantage of her extensive writing and self-help resources. Another resource: Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness, by Katherine Greene-McCreight, Brazos, 2006. The author is an ordained Episcopal Priest and is diagnosed with bipolar illness. Picture: en.wikipedia.org No attempt to avoid copyright intended]

About Gordon Grose

Gordon Grose loves most to write, speak, and preach on the message of hope from the book of Job. Using drama, video, and PowerPoint, he has preached and presented this message of hope to churches around the country. Grose pastored three congregations 25 years, then served 12 years as a pastoral counselor in a Portland, Oregon counseling clinic. He now serves with Good Samaritan Counseling Services, Beaverton, OR. A graduate of Wheaton College (IL), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Brandeis University, and Boston University, he comes from a rich and varied background in theological and counseling training. In 2015, Gordon published Tragedy Transformed: How Job's Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours, a book about turning to Job for hope after tragedy. If you have experienced life challenges or personal tragedy, visit his Transforming Tragedy (gordongrose.com) blog to learn more. TragedyTransformed.com provides a sample of Gordon's speaking as well as an opportunity to purchase copies of his book.
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