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Reflections on Being a Mental Health Warrior

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This piece is a result of months of difficult struggle with bipolar 1 mixed mania and depression. It’s at times like these that it helps to reflect on the best parts of who we are so that we are reminded that life is basically good and rewarding. As I thought hard about what I wanted to write, I realised that my desire was to share the idea that we are all commonly connected by times of adversity in our lives. In universally standing up to our difficult challenges, we can all call ourselves ‘warrior’.

Sometimes when we are at our weakest, we must strive to be the strongest version of ourselves. When we don’t want to get out of bed to face the day, that’s exactly what we’ve got to do. We just have to get up and get dressed. That may be our one and only act of courage for the moment. But it is just that. A moment of reckoning and resolution. And no matter what anyone else thinks, that is important. It is an act of steely resolve. It is a beginning. We just swallow the nausea and the tears and move one tiny step forward.

Being bipolar, I’ve faced more challenges than I can remember, particularly in recent months. Obviously, those trials have tested me throughout the years and turned me into a fighter. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this piece today. (I got out of bed!)

The fact that you are sitting here reading my article doesn’t necessarily mean that you can relate to me exactly on my level. You have had – and may at this very moment have – your own unique trials and tribulations. These have tested and strengthened you in your own special way. In a way that is just as important and crucial as is mine.

We are all confronted by different hardships and burdens during our lifetimes that put our bravery and our very character into question. A few years ago, I had a heart attack and a quadruple bypass. I learned in the literal space of a heartbeat that the skills I had for battling bipolar disorder had nothing in common with the ones needed to try to catch my next breath through agonizing physical pain and with multiple tubes in my chest. I rapidly learned to fight the different type of battle involved with coping with terrifying physical pain and disability. This is simply an example of how we all adjust to that with which we are confronted in the moment. These experiences gift many of us with empathy for the plight of others.

What we can also do is reflect on what it takes to be a warrior. It takes a willingness to do battle with our enemy, whatever it might be: addiction, mental illness, chronic physical challenges or diseases, difficult family or personal relationships, divorce or loss of a relationship, death of a loved one, getting that novel written or major project completed (or else!), a sudden illness, gender dysphoria, cancer – I could write on for pages.

However, I would like to offer an important distinction. A warrior is not always a winner, just as a winner is not always a warrior. These two things are not necessarily interchangeable. People shouldn’t get these concepts mixed up. This is especially true if you are a warrior and are distressed when you lose in battle (it’s not the entire war, after all!).

So, what is a winner and what is a warrior? A winner is someone who comes out on top. They are the champion. Number One. Numero uno. But it doesn’t essentially take any particular effort or heart to win and winning can often be a simple matter of luck.

Warriors don’t always win every skirmish they engage in – not by a long shot. Being a warrior is not necessarily synonymous with being a winner. But they have heart. They don’t give up or give in. Though they may stumble and fumble, they get up over and over again and return to combat. Over time, the doing makes them stronger and more tensile, like steel. And because they are both of those things, they survive the setbacks. They are durable yet malleable.

So, what is it to be a warrior? First and most importantly, it is to be human and fallible in every way. It is to be strong and flexible. It is to be courageous and brave. It is to accept defeat with grace and humility. It is to have integrity. It is to have the wisdom to know when to stand down and wait for a better time to fight the good fight. But fight it you will – when your time has come. Because that’s what warriors do. That’s who and what you are. That’s who and what we all are.

I am a warrior against bipolar 1 disorder. What is your battle?

Deb Wilk writes for various publications and she runs her own blog, Living Bipolar.

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