SCOTT IS A GUEST BLOGGER FROM SPEAKING BIPOLAR WRITING ABOUT FINDING COURAGE AND CONFIDENCE FACING YOUR BIPOLAR DIAGNOSIS.
Growing up, I made every effort to be home by dark. Two reasons kept me conscious of the time and how much daylight remained. One, there was a bright floodlight at the peak of our roof that came on at dusk. With our yellow farmhouse on a hill, it was easy to see it from most of the neighborhood. The family rule was that everyone had to be home when the light came on.
I was a good rule follower, but my second reason was the better motivator. I was terrified of being alone in the dark. The fear was unfounded, but my young mind ran wild when the world around me disappeared into darkness.
One afternoon, I rode my bike to see a friend who lived about a half mile away. His house was the coolest. He had every Star Wars toy, and as a little boy with nothing more than one Luke Skywalker figurine, I was in awe. From an X-Wing Fighter to Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter with wings that popped off when attacked, his room was an imagination paradise. It was one of my favorite places to escape to.
Submersed in an epic battle of good and evil, I lost track of time. When my friend’s mom came to check on us and ask if it was okay that I was still there, I glanced out the window. It was dark.
Panic flooded through me like the force through a Jedi. I don’t remember saying goodbye or anything. Like Roadrunner taking off, I sped out the door and hopped on my bike.
We lived in farm country in rural Wisconsin. Our dirt road was covered by leafy branches from trees growing on each side. As I looked up at the menacing boughs, they seemed to twist and grow. I imagined dozens of sets of glowing green eyes watching me.
I swallowed hard and looked back at my friend’s house. Surely, his mom would take me home. It was my only safe option. But I was the kid afraid to ask for help.
“Never ask for anything,” my mom had drilled into our heads. Of course, she meant not asking for food at a friend’s house, but in my young mind, the rule applied to everything.
For a moment, I thought about calling my mom. Then I heard her tough-love voice. “You got yourself into this mess. Now, get yourself out.”
Okay, ma. I get it.
Foot met pedal, and I was on my way.
Halfway home, coasting down a steep hill into the valley between our two houses, I heard it. A branch broke with the sickening sound that can only occur by a large animal crushing it. I looked ahead to my left, and there I saw it. About a hundred yards ahead, a bear was clawing away bark from a tree. I jerked my feet back and skidded sideways to a stop. The bear was close to the road. Would he allow me to pass? Or would he jump out into the road and gobble me whole?
The blood whooshed through my ears with deafening thuds. Going back to my friend’s house would mean going back up the hill I was almost down. Going home meant confronting a bear. As I stood debating my options, the sky grew even darker. Not only was I about to be eaten, but it was so dark that no one would see it.
Meeting My Bear
I looked up at the hill I lived on. The floodlight on the end of the house shone as my lighthouse. I just had to get to it. I wrapped my hands in a death grip around the handlebars and got back on my bike.
The bear may eat me, I thought, but he’ll have to eat the bike, too. I’m not letting go.
The best option seemed to be moving forward with as little noise as possible. Maybe I could be quiet enough to sneak past unnoticed.
With each spin of the bicycle chain around the sprocket, I grew closer to the bear. I tried to focus on my house but then didn’t want to be caught by surprise. If the bear was going to eat me, I wanted to see it coming. Oh, how little boys think.
As I coasted the last 20 yards into the bear’s territory, I heard a new sound. This one was unmistakable: the clink of metal hitting metal. Trembling inside, I turned my attention to the bear, just as he swung the hammer another time.
My vicious monster turned out to be an old farmer pounding a new tap into a maple tree. Overwhelmed with relief, I waved to my neighbor and sped home.
Bipolar and Other Scary Monsters
When you receive a bipolar diagnosis, it feels a lot like confronting a bear in a dark woodland. Everything feels terrifying and overwhelming, but mental illness doesn’t have to be as scary as you think.
The experiences of that night taught me two life lessons. For one, I learned things are rarely as bad as we imagine them to be. I was so intent on the woods being full of danger that any sound had to be a ferocious animal. In reality, there was nothing to fear on my ride home.
Two, I learned how to summon courage when needed. My fear of the dark didn’t go away, but I discovered I could push forward no matter the obstacle. I had it in me to rise up and save myself.
Many times in life, what you imagine is so much worse than reality. The bears and man-eating trees are no more dangerous than an old farmer preparing for maple syrup season.
No one likes to experience scary events, and receiving a bipolar diagnosis is terrifying. This is especially true in the early days when you’re finding your way, but just like my bear, you can conquer bipolar.
It’s important to remember challenges are a natural part of life. They can be helpful if you know how to use them effectively. After any event, think about what it taught you. Life is full of lessons if you’re paying attention. Most of the lessons will strengthen you.
It’s also important to remember that not all lessons will be immediately apparent. Sometimes it takes time to reflect on an experience before you can see the positive lesson within it. If you’re patient and open-minded, you’ll eventually find the silver lining in every cloud.
It took me a while to recognize the full impact of my bear experience. In the following years, I focused on the courage I summoned that night. The strength I gained helped me face the increasingly dangerous monsters the world brought my way—bipolar being one of them.
You can do the same. Face your monsters head-on and learn from every experience. As you slay your beasts, you’ll gain the confidence you need to keep fighting. Instead of dwelling on the negative, try to find the positive lesson hidden within it. By doing this, you’ll be able to turn every negative experience into an opportunity for growth. Turn your lemons into lemonade.
Until next time, keep fighting.