Bipolar, My Teacher
My dad has bipolar.
Since he was my age (25), he’s had extreme fluctuations between being high or ‘manic’ and being low or severely depressed. He now takes Lithium, a mood stabilizing drug, which works to balance these moods.
As his daughter, and since bipolar can have hereditary implications, I’ve also been affected by the illness.
Do I have bipolar? I don’t believe so, no. What I think I have is the tendency towards it and its extreme moods.
Growing up, I saw my dad suffer his highs and lows. I saw the terrible sadness it brought him as well as the impact it had on my family. I used to swallow back tears at my dad’s bedside during his hospital stays, too scared to feel my emotions. I remember me and my siblings writing lists of all the things my dad was good at, which were stuck up in the dining room for him to look at whenever he felt low. I wanted to make him happy.
Even though I buried it, I was afraid that I too had the illness. I’d close myself off in my room, working on strategies and making endless lists and plans to help keep myself in balance, whilst pretending to the world (and myself) that I didn’t have it at all. No, my depression was different. And bipolar didn’t exist.
As a teenager, I used to dart from one extreme to the other. A friend recently admitted to me: “Yes you did act very bipolar Rosanna. You were manic Friday to Saturday, terribly depressed Sunday to Tuesday and then making your way back up the rest of the week, ready to repeat the cycle.” I was trapped in a whirlwind of extreme behaviour, not sure who I was or what I was doing.
I repeated this pattern for the first part of university too, reveling in the highs and hating the world in the lows. I used to sit on my bed, after a night of ‘the rush’ in my awful depression and not understand how other people could function so well, get their uni work done and not have to battle with themselves. I knew I was experiencing more than a bad hangover.
Holidays were my recovery time. I’d retreat home and shut myself off from the rest of the world on the desperate quest to bring balance back in. In my weakness, I’d depend on my Mum and sister to help my through the mental shit I was suffering, whilst trying to take care of my physical world. I’d go sober, only eat nourishing and healthy food and exercise my ass off. I’d be in bed by 9pm and make sure all things were calm and peaceful around me.
And whilst my strategies worked well and I did rejuvenate myself, the battle came once I stepped out of my safe cocoon and reengaged back in the world. I knew it was my choosing but yet I didn’t have the courage to break away from my limiting patterns of behaviour. I’d tell no-one what I was going through and just give off the impression that I was fine, just like them and up for a laugh, alcohol included.
It wasn’t until I was 20 that I stepped free. I was living in Paris on a placement, away from the influences. Nobody knew me, so it was a lot easier. I made the conscious decision to reinvent myself. I became a Frenchie, quit alcohol and hit the gym. A few of my friends found it hard to accept the change in me. And not really surprisingly since I’d always isolated myself during my depressive bouts and only my Mum and sister had ever really experienced that version of me. “Why the sudden fascination with sober and healthy living?” It made no sense.
But I knew I’d come to a pivotal time in my life. I was on a crossroad. I could continue to drift further away from my centre or step off the rollercoaster. I often wonder what my life would be if I’d chosen to water the other seed. I know it wouldn’t be pretty and I’d be in a lot of pain. No, that was never going to be my story.
So, I walked a new path. Welcoming in new friends and experiences. I tried on new behaviors and shifted old beliefs. Two steps forward sometimes, and one step back. I allowed my higher self, the one who knew what was really good for me, to scoop me up in its arms.
I started to look true happiness in its face, by doing things which had lasting benefits. I enjoyed balance, rather than rockiness, positivity rather than sarcasm. And on my return to university in fourth year, I fell in love with yoga.
What yoga has brought to my life, I cannot stress enough. All the things that I had craved over the years, I was finally experiencing: the freedom, balance, stability, peace, strength happiness, clarity, authenticity… I could get on with work, undertake projects and hang out with my friends without mental distraction or irritability. Sure I’d taken up exercise before in a big way before, but this was different.
I tapped into my strength and let my higher self in.
And I’d receive comments like “You’re so calm, peaceful and balanced Rosanna” “Have you always been happy” “You were probably a ballerina as a child to be so flexible.”
People often see me as a born peaceful, balanced and positive gal. And for a while, I’d happily go along with this, not wanting to expose my other side. I’d continue to retreat away if ever depression or any kind of imbalance would show up and only let people see the ‘on top’ me. It’s only recently that I’m coming to accept all that I am, my tendency towards bipolar included.
Life is a journey of self-discovery. We find our way through, and it’s not always easy. I know that I’m heading strong and also that I don’t want to tip the boat. Some days I get the urge to live a bit off centre, go wild! And I curse the Universe that I have to try to be balanced. “Life’s not fair!” I’ll cry. But the reason I keep my hat on is because I know strongly what my life purpose is. I’m here to teach yoga and help others find the peace and balance that I know is possible.
So I thank you bipolar for being my teacher, for the gifts that you’ve given me. For without the dark, I would not know the light.