When mania resulted in hospitalization and a bipolar diagnosis, I struggled with my career, faith, parenting, and more. I wanted answers. But I needed a new purpose.
New Struggles & Hard Realizations After Hospitalization for Bipolar
I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until I was 35 years old, in May 2006. I had struggled with depressive episodes throughout my life, but I tended to think that my fast-paced, hard-charging approach to my everyday life, to my career as a freelance writer, and to my role as a mom to three girls under the age of 10 was “normal” behavior.
Realizing that my baseline, when I was firing on all cylinders, was actually hypomania was a huge jolt to me.
Realizing that the energy I had used to push through writing my first novel, during the last four months of late 2005, was almost certainly mania confused me to no end.
After being hospitalized and medicated for my manic episode in May 2006, I started to “come down” from the mania, and I realized that my pace of life was no longer sustainable.
Frustration & Fogginess
My writing suffered first. Finding topics to write about was still easy but, for the first time in my life, sitting down and actually doing the work of writing was hard for me. I could not think through the seeming dream-like state the medications put me in.
I slept long and hard at night and had a horrendous time getting up in the morning to prepare my children for the day at school.
I tried to keep my youngest, a two-year-old, at home with me, as she had been since birth. But I felt like I was dragging myself around, overmedicated and under-motivated. Eventually, my fogginess got to the point that, to keep my daughter safe, I felt that it was necessary to put her in full-time daycare.
I gave up my career.
My inner life radically changed.
I had been raised as a churchgoer in the Christian faith community, and, since the age of 10, I had referred to myself as “becoming a Christian.” But now I was angry at my God for handing me this cross to bear.
My argument with God was very simple: I had “followed the rules” all my life. I never drank, never smoked, didn’t use drugs, didn’t sleep around, didn’t gamble, didn’t cuss out loud. And I did well in school, I had worked to support myself since I was 19 years old, I went to church, I sang the songs, and I gave money to the church as I had been taught. Why had my God let this disease come on me?
My prayers to be healed felt like they were bouncing off the ceiling and crashing at my feet.
When I started expressing some of these ideas, I was pointed to the biblical story of Job—a man who followed after God and whom God allowed Satan to test, to see if he loved God for real or if he did just because God had blessed him. Satan took all of Job’s children, his flocks, his fields, his wealth, and even his physical health. Job’s wife, seeing her husband suffering so much, suggested that he would be better off cursing God and invoking his wrath in order to die, rather than to live in the condition he was in.
The parallels to my own situation were obvious. But I didn’t want to hear that.
I wanted reasons.
I wanted to know if I had done something to bring this disease on me. I prayed for forgiveness for whatever I had done. I apologized to people I knew I had hurt in the past. I made restitution as best as I could. But it seemed that nothing could bring back the person I thought was “me.”
My husband put up with a lot of my questioning, my lassitude, and my inability to organize the home as I had previously been able to do. But the only answers I got from medical professionals were to stay on my medication, stay in counseling, and just do the best that I could for myself.
Finally, after years of fighting this out, I gave up.
I stopped looking for reasons.
I accepted that my bipolar was a medical disease and not a sign of moral failure, as I had been taught all of my life that illness was.
I also realized I had to find a purpose for my life that was different from the one I had envisioned. People can find a purpose in life for their bipolar disorder without doing so through a faith community, but that is where I felt led to begin. I tried several avenues to find this purpose:
I volunteered at a local food pantry, handing out food to the poor people in my community. For a while, I volunteered at a state-run museum. I joined a prayer ministry in my church. Many people find a great deal of satisfaction knowing that they are helping to feed, educate, or otherwise support other people. These efforts do not necessarily need to be grounded in a faith community—many secular nonprofits, both local and national, exist to help.
When I was younger and in graduate school, I had worked as a teacher. I was an instructor at a community college, first, then at a local Christian college. Shifting careers or going back to a career if stable enough to do so can be a particularly purposeful step to take in finding out how to contribute to society. Eventually, in my case, the stress became too much, even working part-time instead of full-time.
After my stints with teaching, I decided to fulfill a long-dormant dream and go back to school and obtain another degree. Pursuing education can help with advancing your current career goals, investing in a hobby, or completely changing your employment path. And the effort does not necessarily need to result in a degree—taking a few local, community-based classes can allow you to learn a new skill, find a new mission, or simply give you a reason to get up in the morning.
What I discovered about myself was that I needed to combine all of these elements together and, through my skills with writing and educating, show other people with bipolar that hope could be found.
I came to that realization through my faith tradition and through many counseling sessions. I decided I would spend my time writing and speaking about mental health, mental health education, and mental health advocacy within and outside my faith community.
Finding purpose for my bipolar has not cured me. Instead, it has helped me to cope with my situation and provided an outlet for my intellect, my writing, and my life experience—all of which I felt I had lost to the diagnosis.
I encourage you to ask yourself this: What is the purpose of your “bipolar life”?
Julie Whitehead lives and writes from Mississippi. A reporter for the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, she writes on topics concerning mental health, mental health education, and mental health advocacy. Julie was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in her midthirties in 2006. She blogs about her experiences and daily life with bipolar at the site Day by Day. She has a bachelor’s degree in communication, with a journalism emphasis, and a master’s degree in English, both from Mississippi State University. In August 2021, she completed her MFA in creative nonfiction from Mississippi University for Women. Julie can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
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