I’ve been in recovery from bipolar disorder for seven years and have been stable for almost four of them. Here are the 30 biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way.
(Disclaimer: These are things that have worked for me, but everyone is different, so they may not work for you. That’s OK! Find your own lessons and flourish.)
1. Self-care is not always bubble baths and watching Netflix.
Sometimes it’s forcing yourself to sit at Dunkin’ Donuts on your computer for half an hour, instead of lying in a dark room all day, buried under the covers.
2. Having a slip-up is not equivalent to being back at square one.
That mindset might sabotage you.
3. When you’re having a really bad day, be extra kind to others.
I know it makes me feel better knowing I’ve made someone else’s day better — especially when mine has sucked.
4. Do not, do not, do not be afraid of distancing yourself from your diagnosis.
5. It’s OK not to be “the sick girl.“
People will still love you when you’re healthy.
6. Depression is not poetic or glamorous or any of the other things social media may try to tell you.
It’s just depressing. Period.
7. It’s OK to be afraid of recovery. But be brave.
When all you know is sadness, sometimes being happy is terrifying. Facing the scariest things in life can be the most worthwhile.
8. Be authentically yourself.
You’ll make better friends and be prouder of who you are.
9. Stop using massive amounts of self-deprecating humor.
If all you do is joke about how much life sucks and hating yourself, how are you supposed to start believing otherwise? I know it can be funny and a great coping skill, but it can also be beyond harmful, even if you don’t feel it in the moment.
10. If you don’t have anything you like about yourself, make something.
I used to hate who I was. Then, I started striving to be kind to everyone, because if I was kind, I’d have something to like about myself. Continuously focusing on self-growth has made me really proud of who I am now.
11. Drinking water and exercising won’t cure you, but it can help.
As much as I hate to admit it.
12. Go to your appointments. Take your meds. Reach out to your support system when you’re struggling.
Even if you hate it, that’s how you get better. Take. Care. Of. Your. Health.
13. Recognize at least one thing that’s beautiful about the world each day.
It can be as small as appreciating how nice the woman at McDonald’s was that day or as big as recognizing how mighty the universe is. Just see the beauty in something.
14. Don’t over-apologize.
Not everything is your fault. Realize that.
15. It’s better to be alone than to be with the wrong crowd.
16. If you don’t like something in your life, do what you can to change it. And if you can’t change it, do your best to laugh at your misfortune.
Sometimes, things in your life will suck and changing it can be really challenging. But nine times out of 10 times, you can do something about it. Even if that something sounds hard or might take a long time, you can do it — and you’ll feel so much better when you do. And if you can’t change your situation, I promise laughing it off will make you feel better than harboring constant anger inside of you. What I’ve learned is that anger is an exhausting thing to fixate on.
17. Again, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh.
Sometimes there will be days where nothing goes your way. Instead of getting mad about it, try to laugh it off — even if it’s a laugh filled with bitterness and hatred. There is so much power in laughing at yourself and realizing every day can’t be this bad.
18. You can smile and enjoy good moments and still be depressed.
You don’t need to be sad all of the time to validate your illness. Enjoy the few moments of happiness you do have.
19. There are bigger things in life than being physically appealing.
It’s OK if you don’t like your physical appearance. Start believing you’re pretty on the inside and the rest will follow.
20. If you’re in therapy, be painfully honest.
21. It’s easy to push aside healthy coping skills as “not working,” but sometimes they are working and you just don’t realize it.
Sometimes healthy coping skills are why things don’t get any worse than they already are, even if they don’t improve your mood.
22. Find a higher power.
Now, hear me out before you roll your eyes. I used to think the higher power thing was the biggest sham, too, but when I realized I control nothing and started to put my faith in the universe, it took such a huge burden off of me. Now when things suck, I try to find the lesson from the universe and remember if I handle it well, goodness is going to come back to me. Karma always does its thing, meaning revenge is also unnecessary!
23. Stop stressing over the things you can’t control, and focus more on the things you can.
For example, you can’t control your emotions, but you can control how you react. Feeling uncomfortable feelings does not mean you have to act accordingly.
24. If you can’t find the beauty in the world around you, be the beauty in the world around you.
25. Discover who you are when others aren’t looking, then put that on display for the world to see.
Nothing is more awe-striking than someone who is unapologetically themselves.
26. Realize drawing boundaries does not make you a bad person.
Realizing, “I can’t be around this negativity,” and distancing yourself from it does not make you terrible. It makes you healthy.
27. Believe that self-growth is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Focusing on bettering yourself will help you heal immensely, and simultaneously transform you into a person you adore. Figure out how you can improve yourself and run with it. Improving yourself is the most breathtaking thing.
28. When you’re going through hard times, remember that hard times are when you grow the most.
No one’s character was built by being happy all of the time. Overcoming obstacles is when you grow the most — and as I said, self-growth is the most beautiful, beautiful thing.
29. You can love yourself while simultaneously trying to improve yourself.
Love yourself for doing your best today. As long as you’re trying your best, you’re doing everything right.
30. Don’t compare where you’re at in recovery to where others are.
It took years for me to learn all of these things. I entered treatment when I was 17 and didn’t become stable until 21. It can take time! Be patient with yourself. You’ll get there. I promise.