People with bipolar disorder can be successful. In fact, people with bipolar disorder can be very successful. You can, indeed, thrive with bipolar disorder. That being said, thriving and success may look different for a person with bipolar disorder than they look for others. Redefining success is something you have to do if you want to thrive with bipolar disorder. Constantly reaching for goals that your bipolar will prevent you from achieving just isn’t a way to thrive with bipolar disorder.
Thriving on the Bipolar Disorder Spectrum
It’s important to remember that bipolar disorder exists on a spectrum, and while I usually think of bipolar disorder as a chronic, serious mental illness, it isn’t that way for everyone. Some people have a version of bipolar disorder that is milder, known as cyclothymia, and others have less severe versions of bipolar disorder. (For more on the bipolar spectrum, see here.)
For this reason, it’s critical to set your own version of success and not compare it to others, even those with bipolar disorder. After all, if you’re a person with bipolar disorder type I who tends towards psychosis, your version of success likely isn’t the same thing as a person who tends to live with less severe depression (treatment assumed).
This explains why sometimes a celebrity will come out and say they have bipolar disorder and yet are able to perform nightly or do other incredible things. Performing nightly is something my bipolar disorder would never let me do. I think it’s something that most people’s bipolar disorder wouldn’t let them do, no matter how well-controlled their bipolar disorder was. This is why it’s important to remember that success with bipolar disorder isn’t a universal concept.
How to Define Success If You Have Bipolar Disorder?
Before you look at defining success in bipolar disorder, you need to accept that you have limits placed on you by the illness. You can still achieve, although much of your success may take a different path than it would for a normie. Also, some of your goals may have to be modified when you truly accept what the illness does to you. If you’re not at the place of acceptance in your journey, you’re unlikely to do this successfully. (See here for more on acceptance of mental illness.)
Once you have achieved some level of acceptance and you can look at your life and illness and make an honest assessment, you can start making goals.
Succeeding with Bipolar Requires Fulfillment Beyond Traditional Goals
Most of us feel pressured to achieve certain milestones in our lives. Examples include:
- Going to school young and achieving good grades and a certificate/degree
- Having a successful relationship, moving in together, and then getting married
- Getting a well-paying job
- Having children
And, of course, there are many more expected achievements depending on who you are.
Throw those expectations out the window. And while you’re at it, throw the pressure out too.
When you look at your life and the effects that bipolar disorder has on it, those achievements simply may not work for you. And that’s okay. You can feel fulfillment and achievement beyond those expectations. You can thrive with bipolar disorder on your own terms.
I suggest making SMART goals. These are goals that are:
So, for example, a person with a mental illness might have let the laundry pile up and now have many loads to do. The person knows they can do laundry (it’s attainable); they have just put it off. They might make this goal:
- I will do the laundry (specific, relevant, and attainable).
- I will do two loads of laundry (measurable).
- I will do two loads of laundry every weekend for the next month (time-based).
This is a great goal. It means that once the month is complete, you can look back and see how you did. You can then think about the next goal. Is there still laundry that needs to be done, or can you switch to just doing one load a week to keep on top of it?
Other goals that a person with severe, chronic mental illness might have include:
- I will take my medications as prescribed for the next month.
- I will make sure I can get to my doctor’s appointments and attend them every time for the next six months.
- I will get up and out of bed when my alarm rings every day for the next week.
- I will cook food for myself at least two times a week for the next month.
Note that these are short-term goals. While goals can be long-term (buy an apartment, complete an education program, etc.), it’s much better to break those down into smaller goals on which you can work on a daily or weekly basis. So, for example, if you want to get a diploma, your first step, and goal, might be to review the materials for your top three programs over the next two weeks. That may seem like a tiny step forward, but tiny steps are still forward, and that is what matters. You will get there in your own time.
Don’t Sabotage Your Success with Bipolar Disorder
And that assumes that your life is able to support everything you need to get a diploma, i.e., it is a reasonable and attainable goal for you. As I said, not all goals are. Some goals are destroyed by bipolar disorder, and that’s just a price you have to pay for having a sick brain. You can still thrive and succeed with bipolar disorder; it just may look different than you originally planned. But you can feel fulfilled with other goals; it just may require a change in thinking.
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