This Life: Yes, i am my illness

There is a song by the Bonzo Dog Band called We Are
, whose refrain goes “we are normal and we want our
freedom”. In my life, I am normal. I am who and what I am and that
is something that has to be accepted. Of course I would rather not
be bipolar, but isn’t a lot of the psychological pain due to
mistakenly saying this disorder as not part of me?

Conventional wisdom – presumably dreamed up by those without this
condition – states I have bipolar disorder but I am not defined as
bipolar. How can I live with this disorder if I disown it? If I am
“not bipolar” who is this phantom person I can never meet who is
bipolar? If my illness sets the course of my inner and outer life I
find it difficult to see any distinction between having and being.
In the words of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, it is foolish to
expect a fig tree not to bear figs; so, if in every way I act as
one bipolar then I am bipolar.

To say I am not my illness begs the question: who would I be, good
and bad, without it? It is not just a part of me – even when not
active it is dormant, a black magnet able at any time to exert its
attraction. It does not enter me from outside, it is within me. I
am free to be bipolar, but not otherwise: if only by default it is
what I am. There is no other “me” conditional on the illness, there
is no other separate “ill” person, there is only the one day-to-day
me – one who is occasionally more afflicted than at other times.

I could never accept the idea it is strengthening to say “I am not
my illness, I have it but I am not it” because obviously I am. Why
else would I be denying the fact and thwarting integration? It is
frightening to own bipolar disorder but we belong to each other. To
embrace it is to say, this is all I am, without limitation and
discrimination, and then where is the struggle? I will still resist
the pain, but now that the pain exists in me and is me, it doesn’t
persecute me and it isn’t denied.

When my symptoms worsen is it not healthier to acknowledge them, to
say not that they are happening to me but that they are me? This
may seem unpalatable but, if I simply acquiesce in it, the sting is
deflected. I accept my symptoms; they may sometimes dishearten me,
but they are me and can be borne. It is not that I have no choice;
I choose – to adapt and integrate.

To accept oneself is the greatest adaptation life can bring to the
individual. For the sufferer of a chronic mental illness it can
herald a transformation. To feel – be – whole has dignity and
purpose and makes possible transformation of the experience of the
illness. To reject most of myself as not authentic is real madness
and brings pain and confusion. So I say, with finality, I am
bipolar, I accept it.

Jeremy Clarke (not his real name) uses social care services
and works in the voluntary mental health sector

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