Today You Are You

By Sara AnnFebruary 14, 2016

I’m a happy person. In fact, I’ve been told that I am just about the happiest damned person you’ll ever meet. It’s more common for a friend to notice me in ecstasy than in despair, which is why so many people find it a shock when I tell them that I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

At the time I was diagnosed, I was being swallowed by depression. I was sleeping days away, staying up all night, and breaking down into tears whenever I stopped to take a breath. I was making irrational decisions about my education and friendships, drinking too much, behaving impulsively, and spiraling into the clichéd-but-all-too-real abyss that depression proffers.

At first, my diagnosis was a relief. It meant help. It meant I wasn’t losing my mind. It meant things were going to get better – and they did. Therapy and medication cleared the dark clouds that had smothered my sunny disposition, and I was myself again. The smile was back on my face, the spring back in my step. However, though I seemed fine and was certainly reaching a much more balanced chemical state, I was coming to grips with this new part of my identity.

It might not sound like a huge deal, but when you’ve spent your entire life living in the shadow of a mood-altering illness you didn’t even know you had, it can alter your perspective significantly. I’d always chalked my bouts of melancholy and euphoria up to my intense personality. Over the years, I’d come to embrace it. I fancied myself someone who was deeply sensitive, wildly fun, both confident and insecure, and energetic to a fault. This persona had dragged me through untenable highs and crashing lows, but up until that year of my diagnosis, I’d never given it too much thought.

Upon receiving my diagnosis, however, I began to question everything. Was I sad because I had a reason to be sad or was it just those gaps in my serotonin? Was I happy because I was happy or was it a sign of an impending bout of mania?

Bipolar disorder is a fickle illness to deal with because it can be difficult to distinguish where depression ends and mania begins. For me, it was extremely hard to accept this; in recognizing my illness, I had to acknowledge that my moods (specifically the joyous ones) might not be truly organic. Rather, it could all just be a side effect of this dysfunction with my brain. Even worse? In order to dispel my depression, I might lose part of that euphoria I so loved about myself.

The next few years brought different rounds of medications, new doctors, and a growing library of self-help books. Those years also brought about the determination of my major, the building of life-giving friendships, and my personal growth as an adult. Though my moods were the same, albeit less extreme than that first horrible year, I continued to struggle with where my bipolar disorder ended and my true self began.

It’s a difficult question to answer, and it’s one that I may never be sure of. But with the help of loved ones, I’ve come to realize that this question is ultimately irrelevant. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying that, with the complications of diagnosis and medication, I may not be authentically me; but at the end of the day, who else could I be? While it’s true that I rely on medication, I’m still the person I’ve always been. I still cry over a holiday commercial or hug someone too tightly when they tell me good news about themselves. I’m just as likely to be found meditating on a sad book than I am to be downright beaming over the sound of someone else’s laughter. The difference between these occurrences and those that happened pre-diagnosis is that this is what I choose. I am the way I am not because of my illness but because of my spirit.

One of Dr. Seuss’ most well known quotes is, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” It’s been a journey (admittedly one that is ongoing) to accept the reality of my diagnosis and how it impacts the person I am. However, this simple reminder is one that pushes me to embrace the qualities that make me who I am rather than question their origins. I am sad. I am happy. I am myself. At the end of the day, bipolar disorder or not, that’s all there is and that’s all that matters.

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Comments (14)

  1. Darquetta

    Wrote this same piece but used depression. Thank you for the reminder

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  2. Stacey

    Thank you for sharing this. This past year I was diagnosed with bipolar II, and I’ve had very, very similar questions, curiosities and concern. I’m learning that BPII can be difficult to diagnose and realize as the hypomania isn’t perhaps extreme – but now it makes me look back and wonder “Was that great, jubilant moment me – or this illness?” I’ve also been trying to integrate it into a whole picture of me. As you, process is on going. I appreciate people who share stories, like you. I’ve had trouble finding real life stories for people with BPII, more for BPI and lots of technical stuff – but your article about a real person, real questions helps the most. Thank you

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  3. Brandi

    I think this found me right where I needed it. Thank you.

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  4. Kathi

    Thank you for this post!

    Reply  |  
  5. Aysu

    your story is beautiful and i felt the power of your words in my heart. i hope you know that as much you spread this love and hope, you are loved and appreciated. you are destined for greatness.

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  6. MunchKim

    What a beautiful way to put such a difficult thing. I’ve been through this so many times with those I love. Each of them going off meds at one point or another (sometimes repeatedly ) because, ” I don’t feel like me anymore,” or ” I hate feeling numb.” It’s not numb, you’re finally starting to build up the levels in your body, with the medication used to replace what is missing, to a useful and helpful amount. It’s weird to feel that way when you’ve never been able to really figure out how to feel in the first place. You just have to push through then you find a happy medium. I always say that no matter what medicine is doing, you’re still in there. You are you! You are still talented and beautiful, full of all things amazing! It’s true that you will find moments that make you feel like you’ve lost a best friend and you can’t be creative anymore. The truth is, you’re kicking out your greatest enemy in this life and you just need to learn how to be creative in a different way, it’s still in there, I promise.

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  7. Amy

    I was just diagnosed yesterday and I’m both relieved and scared. Thank you for this piece, it’s comforting to know that others are having the same struggle with identity.

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  8. Tabitha

    Thank you for this. It’s always a tad easier knowing I’m not the only one who feels this way in the universe!

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  9. Caity

    Wow, this really left me inspired. I’m always so focused on changing myself to be someone that others will approve of instead of just being myself.

    Reply  |  
  10. Terrence Glackin

    And you matter most to you, and then to all who love you.

    Reply  |  
  11. hannah pearl

    seriously an amazing article, can really relate to everything you said

    Reply  |  
  12. Salima

    I really liked this article. I feel that this will help me better understand my dad. Thank you.

    Reply  |  
  13. Nicki

    Love! I feel like you got inside of my head a little when you were writing this.
    Thank you

    Reply  |  
  14. Maria

    I have tears streaming down my face. I just told a dear friend of mine last night of these exact struggles within me since my diagnosis a couple of years ago, and we discussed how no one in my life could possibly understand the depths of these feelings and the daily struggle I am going through. I have a very loving support network, but they can’t know. Then I opened this and was like… wow- someone really *knows*. Thank you for sharing this. I needed it desperately.

    Reply  |  
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