How a reality television star can teach you to be happy with mental illness.
If you’ve been following Speaking Bipolar for any length of time, you know I’m a bit of a TV addict. One of my favorite things to watch is America’s Got Talent.
Generally, there isn’t any content on America’s Got Talent to help you learn how to be happy with mental illness. However, in season 16 episode 2, one act touched me so deeply that it inspired this post.
The last act of the night was a beautiful young woman who calls herself Nightbirde when she sings. She’s immediately captivating as soon as you see her, but her story and her original song will take your breath away.
Note: There’s a link to her performance at the bottom of this post.
I know little about Nightbirde, AKA Jane Marczewski, but she shared in her interview how she’s actively fighting cancer. In fact, the cancer is in several vital organs, and she has only about a 2% chance of survival. If that isn’t enough to make you root for her, her attitude will soon win you over.
After her lovely song, “It’s Okay,” she made the statement that inspired post, “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” There’s a world of wisdom in those 14 words.
Now before anyone thinks those words are toxic positivity coming your way, I want you to think with an open mind about what she’s saying.
It’s true, if you’re living with bipolar or even your garden-variety depression, happy thoughts can’t change your world, at least not on the worst days. If bipolar depression brings you to your darkest places, there’s no wishful thinking that’s going to drag you out of it. Depression is not a choice.
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However, I want you to take Nightbirde’s words in the way I heard them. Since I can’t read her mind, I can’t say for sure what she meant.
Choosing to be happy isn’t saying that every day will be wonderful. Instead, it’s choosing what you’re going to focus on each day.
Bipolar disorder will blur your vision a lot of days, but on the better days you have some control over what you choose to focus on. Nightbirde focuses on what she can do, and her attitude is inspiring. In that sense, she is choosing happiness, and so can you.
Nightbirde knows her chances for survival are low. In her after interview she said that, “at least two percent isn’t zero percent.” That two percent is still a chance. She chooses to believe she’ll win her fight.
Truth be told, none of us know if we have a tomorrow. Any of us could go to sleep tonight and not wake up in the morning. Accidents and sudden catastrophic health events can take our life in an instant. Since that’s the reality we live with, it’s important to create as much positive as possible. It’s the only way to be happy with mental illness.
You’ve read a lot of words here about gratitude, so I won’t turn this into another gratitude post. If you want to read one, here’s a good one to read.
Instead, take some time over the next few days to think about your conscious thoughts. Are you devastated by your mental illness, or are you focused on the empathy it’s given you? Are you thinking about how much of your life chronic illness has stolen, or do you realize the wisdom you now have that could help others?
Learning the Lesson
Mental illness sucks. Adding a physical chronic illness makes it even worse.
Trust me, there have been lots of days I’ve stayed in bed all day. In fact, not long after I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I spent about five months in bed. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t leave the house. For weeks, I didn’t even take a shower. I know that’s disgusting, and it grosses me out to think about it, but there was no caring for myself in those excruciating days.
When the darkness finally dissipated, my mom talked me into going out into the world with her. We went to the grocery store and ran into one of my friends.
It had been many weeks since I’d shaved or had a haircut, and my weight had changed dramatically. When we saw my friend at the store, he didn’t even recognize me. I took his shock as another reason to feel devastated because of what mental illness was stealing from me.
As time passed, however, I realized I could use my experience to help others. My path to recovery would have been less crushing if I’d known I wasn’t the only one. Yet, the men I knew who struggled with their mental health chose not to talk about it. Instead, mental illness remained a forbidden subject, and I had to travel much of my journey alone. It made it harder to be happy with mental illness.
My mental illness downfall was harder to hide. You can’t stop working for five months without people noticing. You can’t stop showing up for daily life without red warning signs declaring something is seriously wrong. And when your weight changes 40 pounds in six months, it forces even the oblivious to take notice.
All of those facts added to the challenge of living again once my mental health stabilized.
But then an amazing thing happened. Someone I thought was the picture of mental health came to me one afternoon and told me how brave he thought I was.
That I might be brave seemed idiotic. In the end, the only reason I got the help I needed was because I plummeted to such a low point that I had to be confined to a psychiatric hospital. Had that fateful evening gone any differently, I wouldn’t have survived it. Thankfully, loving friends came to my rescue and placed me where I couldn’t hurt myself.
For my friend to tell me I was a brave for that experience was ludicrous. I wasn’t brave. I was a zoo animal that was forced to medicate.
My friend next told me he’d been secretly coping with depression for years. He spent too many days thinking about ending it all, but didn’t feel like he could talk to anyone. He thought my willingness to talk about my mental health was amazing. My example encouraged him to seek the help he needed.
It was then that my attitude toward my illness started to change. I chose to look for the positives of having bipolar disorder. I was learning to be happy with mental illness.
Also Read: The Inspiration You Need To Never Give Up
Now you may be thinking, “Positives? What positives?”
The thing is, the overactive mind that comes with bipolar disorder has some benefits. For one, creativity seems to come easier to those of us with bipolar. In addition, we often feel things deeper. Something about the intense way we feel emotions makes us more conscious of what others are feeling. It’s a type of empathy that’s impossible to explain unless you experience it.
In addition, living every day with bipolar helps you realize what you see on the outside is no reflection of what’s going on inside. Laughing or crying doesn’t clearly show anything about what a person’s really feeling. Knowing the chaos of thoughts flying through my brain made me want to look deeper into those around me. I became more invested in what they were really thinking and feeling. It made me a better friend.
Being Happy by Fighting On
In time, I learned I could be happy with mental illness. It was a choice I could make. No, not every day, but on a lot of days. I could choose what focused on. The racing thoughts could devastate me, or I could be grateful for the flowers outside my bedroom window. I could feel jailed because of social anxiety, or I could share my experience and help others to find validation for the fears they were secretly hiding. This shift of focus shaped me as a person and ultimately led to this blog.
You can make the same choice. You won’t be successful every day. Some days are so dark that no light can penetrate the gloom. Fortunately, those days are the minority. So, on the better days choose to be happy. This choice can make all the difference.
If you’ve not already seen it, I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch the video below. Let Nightbirde’s song and words inspire you. If you’re feeling a little lost right now, her song will remind you that you’re not alone. And that’s okay. It’s a journey to learn to be happy with mental illness. This video may be the best thing you watch today.
Until next time, keep fighting.