Three years ago, I checked myself into the emergency psychiatric unit. In the three weeks leading up to that hospital visit, I went through cycles of agitation, moments of paranoia that the helicopters overhead were coming for me, and had several epiphanies. The notes I scribbled on my discoveries were simply gibberish. It was the second major manic episode I’ve had as a person with bipolar disorder.
In the long period or hours my rational and calm self would resurface, I would brace myself for the next mood swing and try to think reassuring thoughts like, “One day this will make a great story.” “Life changes come from upheavals like this.”
It took my psychiatrist and me months of tinkering with my meds to stabilize me and stop the racing, irrational thoughts. I slowly recovered. In the months, now years since, I have devoured self-help books and podcasts to teach myself how to regain my self-confidence and disrupt negative patterns that contributed to that mental health breakdown.
I’ve taken several personality tests to help me assess how to manage stress, workloads, my interpersonal communication style, my love languages and more. But I still have spirals of anxiety, where I feel immobilized by fear. But I still struggle to work out regularly, eat well, and all the other things doctors recommend to regulate my mood.
In the months of this major episode, I clung to the idea that a breakthrough would come from all that pain. The ephemeral and “look on the bright side” idea that I’d be a changed woman who relished life and lived the way I dreamed I’d live.
My breakthrough just never came.
Granted, I have achieved major milestones in rebuilding my life. A steady job where I feel valued. Paid off credit cards and even accumulated savings. The ability to not endure but actually enjoy social gatherings.
But in all of the consumption of “self-help” materials, I’ve discovered that there may not be life-changing lightning bolts for all of us. Our culture has an obsession with transformation and achievement stories. A plot with a resolution. A happily ever after ending. Or a tragedy held up as a lesson. But my life reveals the more boring, and perhaps common, story. That I will be confronted with the ups and downs of mental health for the rest of my life. That I have not fundamentally changed my nature although I have set up mechanisms for creating better habits.
I wake up and I am still me.
The daily task of loving myself, my loved ones and my community continues. I’ll keep reading the amazing words of thoughtful authors and psychologists. They have given me layers of help but not transformation. There may be a point, hopefully not for decades to come, that I have to return to a psych unit. My hope is that, if it does happen, it won’t be in the spirit of failure.
While my breakthrough never came, my life story continues.
Elizabeth is passionate about developing the leadership of grassroots communities. She is a nonprofit professional who loves singing and lives in Riverside, CA.