Why you shouldn’t compare yourself with anyone else.
“I am bipolar.”
No other words cause more backlash than when I post a social media post with those three words. I don’t know why the phrase makes people so angry, but after being raked over the coals a dozen times, I’m using them less often.
As I’ve written before, to say, “I’m bipolar,” doesn’t bother me. I believe everyone should be able to label themselves however they want. But I also don’t want to rustle feathers unnecessarily. Since I don’t have a strong attachment, I’m willing to let the phrase go or change it to, “I have bipolar.”
Every person experiences mental illness in a unique way. Your journey with bipolar disorder may be vastly different from mine. Unfortunately, we live in a world that loves labels. People want to throw a name at something and then believe everyone bearing the label is the same.
But people are different—every single one of them.
The Compare Game
In the early days of my journey with bipolar disorder, I played the compare game a lot.
I saw other people with bipolar who were working full time or had happy, healthy relationships. When I looked at what was missing from my life, I felt like a loser. My mind told me there had to be a winner in the compare game, and my name never fit in the slot.
As often happens with the compare game, I was comparing the start of my book to the middle of theirs. The people I watched had already gone through the rough parts. Their past bumps and bruises taught them to manage their mental illness.
I was just starting to take baby steps.
The Dark Days
I try my best each week to share both the good and bad parts of having a mental illness.
My goal is to help you see both sides of bipolar. You get a glimpse of what’s happening in my head and see how it affects my daily life. However, please don’t ever think that just because I can do something that you should be able to do it as well.
Yes, I occasionally add the “if I can do this, so can you,” phrase into my stories, but maybe I shouldn’t.
Here’s the truth: you may be unable to work for a while. There will be times when healthy relationships are outside your grasp. Substance abuse may be a hurdle you trip over repeatedly. I’ve been in all of those places before and may be again.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the spring of 1995 after a cataclysmic crash. After a few months, I went back to work. Things went well for a while before they exploded in bipolar splendor. Most of 1998 was a nightmare, and several times that year I slipped dangerously close to giving up. I chased friends and family away and nearly walked away from my faith.
During 1998, I gained 50 pounds, drank like a sailor on leave, and teetered between being with my friends 24/7 and not seeing anyone for weeks at a time. For several months, work was impossible.
As the darkness held me hostage, I blocked my scariest thoughts behind a lying mouth. I turned my house into a man cave, complete with blankets covering the windows. I never went outside unless I needed groceries or liquor.
When I ventured in public, I either went early morning or late at night. In the store, I loaded my shopping cart as full as I could so I could go weeks without returning. Being out in public was physically painful, like a vampire caught out in the sun. Everything was done with haste so I could return to the comfort of my dungeon.
There Will Be Hard Times
Part of having bipolar disorder includes having hard times. The worst times are often at the beginning of your journey, but horrific times can pop up without warning.
Honestly, I’m struggling as I write this post. I’m paying the price for pushing myself too hard to get through our busy season at work. The push always leads to a crash, yet each year I do it. Life sometimes requires more of us than we should do, and then mental illness demands a price.
This isn’t my first time behind the wheel, so I know what I need to do next. Rest, self-care, gratitude, journaling—all the things I tell you to do each week. Those things work, and with some effort, I’ll get back to me.
The road feels longer this year, and maybe that’s because I’m a year older. I try to rest but see little improvement in how I feel. Still, things are a bit better, so I know I’m going in the right direction.
Just as you shouldn’t compare yourself with others, you may not want to compare yourself to the version of you in the past. They were younger, so it’s okay if it takes more time now for you to recover.
If you feel you’re failing in an area because someone else is doing better than you, stop beating yourself up. Just staying alive is all you can do some days, and that’s okay. Trust me, I know how painfully true that is.
A Piece of the Story
My friends never knew the horror show playing in my mind during the worst times. Likely, there’s a book full of untold stories in the person you’re comparing yourself to. And even if they are doing better than you, it doesn’t change what you’re accomplishing. Your wins are your wins, regardless if anyone is ahead of you on the path.
Try to improve as you can. It’s okay if it’s just one percent a day. Some days you won’t move forward at all, but that’s alright, too.
Life is hard, and that’s especially true with bipolar disorder. So if now is a tough time for you, accept it for what it is: bipolar wreaking havoc on your life. But then please remember that things can and will get better.
Tough times eventually end—for you and for me. You’ll find the route back to the life you want. Take the time you need to recover, for this is your journey, and no two journeys are the same.
As soon as you can, get back to work. Get up, move forward, and live your life. Your journey with bipolar may differ from mine, but we both can succeed.
Together, let’s keep fighting.
Until next time, keep fighting.