Everyone wants to be happy. For most people, it is one of their top goals. When you live with a mental illness like bipolar disorder, the quest for happiness seems that much harder.
No one can wave a magic wand and make you happy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could? Instead, happiness usually takes some work.
You may be thinking, “Somedays I barely have the energy to breathe, and now you want me to work at something?”
You can relax. It’s the type of work you can do while sitting in front of the TV or while lying in bed.
While this post is written by someone with bipolar disorder, the ideas found in it can be applied to any illness, impediment, or disability.
Did you hear about the blind mountain climber?
Do you view bipolar disorder or another condition as a disability or a challenge? Not sure what I mean? To help you understand, let’s consider the experience of Erik Weihenmayer.
If you’ve never heard of Erik Weihenmayer, it’s worth your time to learn a little about him. Erik is a blind mountain climber.
Yes, that’s correct – blind – mountain – climber. It’s not a typo.
The story gets better. He was the first blind person to ever reach the Mount Everest summit, accomplishing his goal on May 25, 2001. Mount Everest was the climax to a 13-year trek that took him to the top of the Seven Summits or the highest peak on each of the seven continents. Only 150 climbers in total have ever conquered all Seven Summits. Erik is one of them.
You can read Erik’s first-hand account in his book, Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther than the Eye Can See: My Story (March 26, 2002). The read is well worth your time, as are his other two books.
Superhero or Ordinary Man?
Is Erik Weihenmayer a superhero? From what he has written, the stories about him, and the interviews he’s done, he seems to be a rather modest and humble man. Still, to me, he is a bit of a superhero. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn a valuable lesson from him.
Erik was not born blind. As a youth, he was diagnosed with retinoschisis which completely took his sight from him by his early teens. Yet, he was determined not to be sidelined because of his disability.
In high school, he competed as a top-notch wrestler. He next chose to pursue a teaching degree. Frequently, he was told that he could not do things, but Erik refused to be dissuaded.
In time, he was to go to work for the Phoenix Country Day School. Some of the parents did not think that a blind man would be able to effectively teach or control a room full of teenagers. He was not discouraged, and other parents with vision came to his side to give him the chance. Far exceeding expectations, he became one of the most beloved teachers at the school.
His penchant for adventure really took off after he ascended Denali in 1995. That trip reaffirmed his fervent belief that he could do anything, and he hasn’t stopped since.
The biggest key to Erik’s success? He has never looked at his blindness as a disability. Instead, he chose to view it as just another challenge that was standing between him and his goal.
Bipolar Disorder Symptom Checklist
Bipolar Disorder: Disability or Challenge?
What about you? As you sit there right now reading this post, how do you view your impediment? Is bipolar a crippling disability or a hurdle that can be conquered? Do you think of chronic illness as a roadblock or a speed bump?
A fascinating thing happens when you start looking at your condition from a different perspective. It’s as if the situation completely changes. Darkness dissipates and happiness is possible.
Now, think of Erik again for a moment. As an adventurous child, you are told that you will lose your sight before you reach adulthood. You will likely never drive a car. If you marry, you will probably never see your spouse’s face. The same goes for any children and grandchildren you might have.
If there was ever a reason to feel defeated and unhappy, that would definitely be one. There’s no doubt that Erik Weihenmayer did and does have days where he deals with depression because of these facts. Most days, though, he is out there living his life. Adventure awaits, and he is not staying home.
Are they really limitations?
This post in no way downplays any situation you may be living with including bipolar disorder. For many people, having bipolar means it is difficult or impossible to hold down a job or maintain healthy relationships.
Personally, I have been pretty lucky. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there was about a year where I couldn’t work. We went through about 30 medications before we found the right cocktail that would allow me to live a healthy and productive life. I was certainly feeling defeated during that time, and happiness was a real challenge.
Then a few years ago, I started getting frequent cases of “the flu.” After years of tests, I was diagnosed with Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF). The FMF was another gut-punch to be sure.
Yet, experiences like Erik’s help keep me positive and happy. There are things I will never be able to do because of FMF and bipolar disorder. However, I choose to look at the things I can. Right now, I am able to support myself by working from home as a freelancer. The ability to provide for myself and my needs gives me tremendous validation and self-worth.
There are no mountain peaks in my future, but there are many things I can do. Changing my perspective and then learning to keep it positive is the biggest strength I have.
If there are things you cannot do or cannot do anymore, that’s okay. It sucks, so it’s okay to grieve the loss of those things. However, grief never has to be forever. When the time is right, get up and move forward. What can you do? Concentrate on those things, and set new goals.
What mountain will you climb?
The success in May of 2001 was not the end of Erik Weihenmayer’s story. He went on to form the No Barriers movement. Their motto is, “What’s Within You Is Stronger Than What’s In Your Way.”
In September 2014, Erik pursued another adventure feat. He kayaked through the Grand Canyon, traveling the complete 277-miles of the Colorado River. And he’s not done. He continues to plan new adventures.
What’s your mountain? If you look at your bipolar disorder or situation as not a disability, what can you accomplish?
For me, I started this blog earlier this year. I’m trying to be a force for good amongst mental illness advocacy and awareness, working hard to support myself, and planning to write a book in the near future. By no means am I healthy, but most days I am happy.
Please encourage us all by sharing your plans in the comments section below. You have the ability to be happier and to do more. Don’t limit yourself. You have more strength than you realize.
Just so you know, I too face difficult and dark days from time to time. For proof, consider this dark poem I wrote on one of my darkest days: The End – A Poem From Rock Bottom.
Until next time, keep fighting.