[Story by Matthew Schmitz. Article on the website of The Mighty.]
[Yesterday, Thursday 30 March, was world bipolar awareness day. Here is Matthew’s personal story.]
The fight to find peace and happiness can be an elusive battle in the bipolar II brain. However, I often times find myself battling the stigma of bipolar disorder. I choose to look at the positive side of bipolar instead of the negative side of bipolar. So let me give a quick background of myself, and then I will talk about the positive side of bipolar.
I come from a good family with great parents. Truly my parents’ marriage and love for each other is something I admire and want. I had some tough things happen to me in a private school that forever shaped who I was. I excelled at school and then went to university and did well there while I was racing skiing. This is when I really started to see my bipolar manifest in hindsight. Keep in mind I wasn’t diagnosed until 36. At the time I had no idea what it was, but I saw the highs and lows. When I was high I was doing really well at everything, but when I was low, I wanted out of this life.
As the story goes, I turned to alcohol t numb the pain. That didn’t last long and I found myself willingly checking into rehab at the age of 27, and 12 years later I am still sober. Once I got out of rehab I felt like I had a new lease on life. I got married at a few years later and had kids. In the meantime, I was a VP of a large company and travelling and doing grad school. I felt I had a great life, but I struggled tremendously with my moods. I struggled to feel enough and battled the imposter living inside of me. My wife and I battled. We both were struggling.
I was finally diagnosed with bipolar II at 36. I went through a divorce and was struggling to find my way out of the darkness. Talk about not feeling enough. At the point, I had taken a C-level position with a large company and was trying to work through my medications. Thank God for a great psychiatrist. I battled hard and came out the other end even better. Again, none of that was possible without an amazing psychiatrist and the willingness to see her on an extremely consistent basis. She definitely saved my life and continues to be an important role in my life.
Three and a half years later, I am thriving and doing well. I am thriving with my company. I love being a dad to my two boys and have a working relationship with my ex-wife. I met someone who is truly the greatest woman I know. She is kind and loves me for me. When I am low she sits there and tells me this will pass and that I am more than enough. She truly is my deepest friend and greatest confidant. She lets me love her well. She truly gets life and I am so fortunate to belong to her.
So here is what I believe is so good about bipolar:
- Who else can have 50 thoughts in his head at once and somehow manage to recognise each one of those thoughts and discern which thoughts to listen to and which ones to discard?
- Who can feel at the levels that we do? Not too many people can see life how we see it. No judgement values on others. We see the highs, and during those times the colours are brighter and more vivid. We see the lows and the darkness, too. However, those highs and lows we can share with other people and somehow enhance their world.
- We are more empathetic than most because of the darkness we face. We can be there for others in their dark moments because we know what it’s like to be alone in our dark moments. We wouldn’t wish those dark moments on our worst enemies.
- Our brains work at lightning speed to disseminate information quickly – sometimes too quickly but I would rather have the quickness than nothing at all.
- Our capacity to love someone else is huge because of our illness. We can love others extremely deeply and who they love that is not the norm.
- We are super passionate people who can light up a room quickly and get others out of their dark places.
- We can brainstorm ideas like nobody’s business because of our brains.
These are just a few things that bipolar brings to us and to the world. It sucks having the stigma of bipolar, but I for one don’t care anymore about what the world thinks of me. All of us who have bipolar are touched with something others do not have, and instead of diving into what the world thinks of us, I think we should all band together and realise we really do have the ability to have a positive impact on the world. I implore all of us to change our minds and to try to be grateful for our bipolar.
Don’t get me wrong, I know bipolar may have wrecked our relationships, work lives and personal lives. It can be awful, and please don’t think I am Pollyanna. I know the darkness of this bipolar disorder, but I want to put a positive light on this illness and change the perception of who we are. We are all “touched by fire”, but that fire is what changes the world we live in. Let’s embrace each other and our illness. Let’s fight the good fight together and change the stigma of bipolar. I leave you with two quotes by Steve Jobs.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”