I’ve recently completed a memoir called BrainStorm: My Journey from Brutality to Blessing with Bipolar II. As I was putting the finishing touches on the manuscript, I found myself in doubt. Was it really safe to “come out” of the Bipolar closet, shout my truth, risk the judgement of others? It was at this point that my brilliant editor and friend Dr. Jennifer Margulis gave me the assignment to write this: “I am Bipolar and a better person because of it.” What I discovered through that writing, gave me the freedom and pride to finally say “yes” to telling you my story.
Here is the truth: the disease that almost robbed me of my life has also blessed me.
My Bipolar II brain has made me a better person. I am not saying that to be a Pollyanna. No, no, no. It took me 250 pages of a memoir to describe the sheer brutality of living with a broken brain, the demon that stalks hour by hour, the sadistic torturer who used to govern my nights and make my days feel like a bottomless Hell.
In some ways having Bipolar II is like being a warrior.
Some soldiers don’t come back. Others return with Post Traumatic Stress that they will never recover from. Some imagine suicide, and tragically many go through with it. But then there are some who emerge from the horror and brutality of their experience with a new layer of depth and compassion and sense of service. These are the survivors, the ones who are able to counsel those who suffer as they have. Because in their bones, in their cells, they know what that feels like. They’ve been there. They can serve.
I am a veteran of my own internal wars, a survivor of inner trauma.
This is what it feels like for me. I bear the wounds of battle. I am grateful to be alive to tell the tale. Bipolar II has made me a better person. It has taught me fearlessness, gratitude, discipline, and compassion and the ability to share all of these with you. I think these unique times require us to find the blessings. Not in a fake, “hide my pain” kind of way, but in a real soul-searching, accepting and welcoming way that recognizes we don’t want to go through these painful moments, but they happen. We can rise above them. Let’s look at some of the ways we do that.
Imagine you wake up every day with an excruciating, immobilizing headache. Your limbs are too heavy to raise you up from your bed. The winds are whipping, freezing, icy rain. You are cold, hungry and thirsty, but there is no food or water to be found. You are chilled to your core. Now imagine all that lifts. Your headache is gone. Your limbs are loose and agile. The sun is out. There’s a balmy, gentle breeze. You have fresh ample water to drink. And organic greens from your garden to nourish you. That’s the difference I’m trying to describe.
What happens when you’ve emerged from that wind-whipping storm and into the bird-chirping spring? Gratitude in abundance.
Gratitude like a flowing stream. Gratitude that warms your heart and overflows to those around you. Colleagues have been surprised at my good cheer in these Covid times, (mindful that this is colored by my extreme privilege to live free and safe, with food and water and a family that I love). Why so happy? It’s then that I kind of have to come out of the Bipolar closet and explain, try to explain, how this Covid is a walk in the park compared to what my brain has done to me. My brain, free and clear? It’s a glorious day. This gratitude, perhaps like the virus, seems to be highly contagious. And that’s a good thing. An antidepressant, a mood lifter, a force that re-orients us to the mystery, wonder and awe of creation. No wonder perhaps that so many spiritual practices begin the day with thanks. An abundance of gratitude born of Bipolar II. Did I ever think I’d say “thank you” for that?
If it was an AA meeting, I’m told I’d begin the meeting, “I’m Sara and I’m an alcoholic.” Even if forty years sober, it’s still spoken in the present tense. Well that’s how it is for me, “I’m Sara and I have a Bipolar II brain.” That I know—though it took me many decades to accept—is and will be true till the day I leave this planet. I live with a healthy respect for my Bipolar Brain. It takes a lot of work, and discipline, to keep myself mentally healthy.
People who don’t know my whole story will often remark, “you’re so disciplined. How do you do it?” My response: “If you knew what was on the other side of this, you’d be too.”
To stay disciplined I follow:
- Diet disciplines
- Exercise disciplines
- Sleep and hygiene disciplines
- Quality darkness and body working
- Supplements and medication disciplines
I believe I’ve learned to do this without the rigidity that was once there, but I am vigilant none-the-less. How does this help me be a better leader? Well yup, leading by example. Whatever your challenge – physical, emotional, spiritual—I’ve probably got a tried and true and simple practice to help you transform it.
There but for the grace of G-d go I. Absolutely. I will never judge you sitting on the cold concrete in front of our local market with your homeless sign and cup out. I’m pretty sure you’ve got some variation on the brain I have. It’s not your fault. Our US government is Neanderthal cruel in dealing with you. And if it hadn’t been for my supportive family and good medicine, I could be right where you are. This goes for pretty much any addiction that leads to self-harm. I’m not going to judge you. You are safe with me.
We are under attack right now. COVID-19, the reality of the pandemic (and that it doesn’t magically change as we dance our way into the new year), and the extreme emotional challenges we face are not to be dismissed. A fearless, disciplined, grateful and compassionate guide on a journey to the core of what it means to be human, you have here with me. You have the power to be that person, too.
Download the full Guide to Mental Health In a Covid-19 World on my resources page here.