The Truth about ‘Recovery’: Learning from Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

“Recovery” is the ability to be the champion of my bipolar disorder — to accept its existence as a unique and intimate part of my personality.

by Madeline Jaekle


Based on my life experiences living alongside a serious and persistent mental illness, I find the concept of recovery to be tricky and elusive. It’s a desired outcome in surviving the disruption and discord that accompanies any instance of mental illness or chronic psychological stress.

On one hand recovery can feel like a blissful relief bolstering confidence in my ability to manage my illness,  lifting the anxiety of an uncertain future existing as a slave to the malfunctioning brain chemicals that exist within me.

More than once I have allowed myself to become dangerously comfortable with my state of “recovery.”  On the surface functioning at a respectable level, yet I am at the same time losing sight of the tendencies that follow my hypomanias or descent into depression.

I have learned I must be cautious as bouts of recovery make the illness and past trauma seem distant, almost like a nightmare that never happened.  I have seen myself fall into this overly confident position more than once.  Progressively failing to recognize clear patterns of my illness.  Sustaining a deeply suppressed denial as I strive to be “normal” or rather empowered by my illness rather than handicapped by it.

Although each manic episode is unique perhaps due more to time and place rather than feeling.

Just like many other peers living with episodic illnesses we are subject to recurring themes and comorbidities.  I personally experience religiosity and philosophical thinking, the type of philosophical thinking that has kept me awake for nearly till sunrise as my racing thoughts become cyclical manifesting into an endless inescapable dialectical argument in my head.  Where yes is no, no is yes, everything is connected, and the conspiracy of humanity is not a deliberate one, but the result of generations upon generations of influencers and the influenced.

The rise and fall of trends and norms that branch out in unusual ways for better or for worse, and shape the course of history and present.

I am grateful that my manic episodes don’t sneak up on me, that I am able to pinpoint the impending storm.

My past experiences of psychosis and the trauma it incurred cemented a lasting lesson, which has led me to rush to action in preventing the full manifestation of mania, despite how good it feels.

Getting lost in the euphoria and enlightenment, however tempting, has been a surefire way to miss the opportunity to retain my grip on reality before I lose my voice and my perspective.

I also feel that the concept of recovery, or rather this term for long lasting stability, misrepresents my main goal in living beside my mental illness.

I feel it shouldn’t be a journey to recover from the illness.  I firmly believe the illness is a unique and intimate part of my personality.

I do not know what my life would be like without it.  I do not know who I would be without it, nor do I waste time fantasizing about the life I would have led if not born with this disease.

In short, I strive less for recovery and more for the ability to be the champion of my illness — to accept its persistent existence.  To learn to ride the waves of episodes, without drowning.  To find strength in my triumphs and valuable lessons in instances of defeat.

Unfortunately, one cannot deny the illness.  It has no cure and will always linger inside of you.  Yet, it is an illness that in ways rarely celebrated may bestow upon those suffering it a vast sense of empathy for a range of people; this includes a higher level of understanding and a sensitivity not easily found in those unfamiliar with an unpredictable life.

We shouldn’t neglect the possibility that our personal understanding of such a unique life path may truly enrich the diversity of life and human understanding, perhaps enriching it in ways that we may never realize.

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