Acceptance came hard for me. I don’t mean the diagnosis. After a full-blown manic break, complete with psychotic delusions, I knew something was terribly wrong. It only took four months, until the next hypomania began, for me to accept that the “something” fit the bipolar description. Given the extreme highs and lows and rapid cycling from one to the other, I had plenty of opportunity to affirm the diagnosis, and plenty of reason to use it to explain what I was going through to myself and others.
That’s not the kind of acceptance that came hard for me. I realize some people balk at accepting the diagnosis and even spend years explaining away their moods and behaviors in other ways. I didn’t have that kind of difficulty. My difficulties can be summed up by my reaction to a poster I saw on the first psych ward I was ever admitted to, during the very first manic break I’d ever had. The poster said:
The Brain Can Get Sick Too
With utter clarity, as if it were happening right now, I can hear the thought that went through my head: The brain can get sick too? Oh. Then the brain can get well.
You get pneumonia. You get over it. The thought was so clear, you might just as well have equated it to something like there’s 24 hours in a day. The brain can get sick. The brain can get better. I fully well expected to get “over” manic-depression.
For ten years, I expected, without a shadow of a doubt, to get over manic-depression. My life fell apart. I lost custody of my young children. A second marriage fell apart. I gave up my academic career. All losses I could barely endure, save for the conviction that I would get over bipolar and then painstakingly rebuild a new life. I accepted “the brain can get sick” but would not, could not accept that sometimes the brain does not get better.
I entered therapy and over the course of several years, did some exceptionally powerful work. Still, I could not give up the conviction that I was going to get “over” this maddening affliction. In the beginning, on that first psych ward, faith in God had nothing to do with my conviction. However, as I made strides in managing the condition and began participating in a faith community, I became even more resistant to doing the “psychologically healthy thing,” (i.e., surrender my objections and find the peace that lies beyond “true” acceptance. ) No! My peace comes in Jesus Christ, and nothing is too difficult for God to do!! “Acceptance” felt like “giving up,” “giving in,” and denying the power of God.
Eventually, God showed me that I was fighting over the turf of “tomorrow.” I was fighting for a tomorrow where my brain got well, where I got over manic-depression, where my life would start anew. In earlier years, I fought for tomorrow because today was otherwise unbearable. I fought with desperation. Sometimes with blind desperation.
Now, however, my life is much better. I’ve gained great stability and satisfaction, and through Christ have come to see possibilities where none existed before. So, finally, as a believing person with faith in God, acceptance has come to look like this for me: I accept that today I have real and definite limits, and I am determined to live responsibly within those limits. However, my limits may be different tomorrow or in the future.”
Acceptance isn’t an option. We must accept where we are and the limits we are dealing with. Yet, we must also accept the existence of a God who cares about individuals on a personal basis, a God who touches our lives in response to heartfelt prayers, a God who owns “tomorrow” and a God who is enough for “today.” Living well with a bipolar condition means accepting all of it. God + bipolar = hope.