In my experience, the word stability gets thrown around a lot as something to strive for. However, is it fair to people living with Bipolar Disorder to apply that word to their illness? Most of the time I see people speak on stability, they are lamenting on how they feel as if they will never get to that point. The power of that word makes them feel powerless in that moment because society has presented an impossible goal: to live without symptoms, to live without episodes.
“You are being overemotional. You’ve been on meds for four years. Why haven’t you stabilized yet?”
“You can’t go to this event because of your Bipolar Disorder? It’s like you’re never stable enough for anything!”
These people are all applying their own definitions of the word stable onto us as Bipolar Disorder patients. But is that really fair? Is it fair to have stability, which is often equated with success, defined for us rather than by us? Those around us consider reaching a point that is frankly unattainable as successfully treating Bipolar Disorder. There will always be the possibility of another episode being triggered, and that is okay.
I made it from early 2014 through mid 2017 without having any major episodes relating to my Bipolar Disorder. My doctor called it stability. I called it neutrality. Either way, we were obviously both happy that I had gotten to that point. In 2017, my insurance changed, and the new company would not cover Fanapt, which I had been on since 2014 and had worked wonders for me. Back onto the med merry-go-round I went, and that triggered a massive depressive episode that lasted for nearly eight months. My point is that we’re all one move away from something triggering an episode, and that is okay. I don’t consider my treatment or loss of “stability” as a failure. Rather, it was a time in my life that was mostly good. I have good memories, and I met some great people. I wouldn’t call it a success. It just was.
The question we as people living with Bipolar Disorder must ask ourselves, in my opinion, is ‘what does stability mean to me?’ What makes you feel successful and good independent of your episodes and treatment? I myself have many answers to this question because I have been answering it since that downward spiral in 2017. As dark as it can be sometimes, I can usually point out at least one thing in my life that brings me even a miniscule amount of joy. Whether I’m manic or depressed or even neutral, the list is extremely helpful in providing me relief when the symptoms are just too much to handle.
- Cooking for people
- Reading a good fantasy book
- Doing puzzles
- Playing and listening to music
- Scaring my cats with my didgeridoo
- Skating/playing hockey
- Nutella (I’m serious. I have a problem.)
Those are a few of the examples I have. Since meeting my wife, I have at least a dozen more that involve her. When I am living in dark times, I do anything I can to find some light to hold onto. In those moments, I’m not striving for what they call stability. I’m striving for relief. To me, them saying I am stable equates to saying I’m cured. There’s always the possibility another episode; it’s just a matter of how long it’ll take to get to it. Bipolar Disorder is a chronic illness. To minimize that by implying that if a person would just work that much harder, they’d be fine. We fight battles that most people could never dream of.
So here is my proposal:
Rather than letting society, your loved ones, and anyone in between define the word stability, come up with that definition for yourself. Try it out for a few weeks, and see if it’s not just a little bit easier to feel grounded. The definition doesn’t have to be fixed either. Sometimes, my definition of stability is something like “if I can just go for a one mile walk today, I’ll have succeeded.” Sometimes it’s being able to sit down without distractions for 30 minutes and have a chat with my wife about anything whether it has to do with the Bipolar or not. Sometimes it’s both going to work and doing the dishes. It’s fluid, and for me, it is much easier to feel like I’m succeeding in fighting back against this illness.
I accept that barring some major advancements in the treatment of chronic mental illnesses, I will always have another episode at some point. I haven’t made peace with it yet, but I’ve accepted it. Accepting it has made it easier to wake up every day and define what stability and success will mean for me that day. Some days are going to be bad. Some days there won’t be any small wins to celebrate to make me feel better. But in reframing my mind in this way, I have minimized those days and have found that there really is always something, however small, that can bring me joy and light in the darkest of places.