Personal Stories

Weathering the Seasons and Cycles of a Mental Health Condition

by Maria Jacobs

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I have lived with bipolar disorder my entire adult life. My mental health journey includes a dual diagnosis and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder (such as persecutory delusions, paranoia and catastrophic thinking) that resulted in inpatient treatment and a loss of faith in God, whom I was raised to believe in since birth. But many of those struggles are now in my past.

Today, I am in remission. All the major areas of my life are stable and even thriving — my work, my relationships, my craft and, most importantly, my faith. These pillars of my identity suffered tremendously as I tried desperately to navigate my life amid the grueling effects that mental illness had on me over the years.

As anyone who knows the complicated truths of bipolar disorder will tell you, the reality is that, even in remission, the road can still be bumpy and pharmaceutical regimens may need to be adjusted regularly. Ultimately, I’ve found that my well-being relies on embracing the seasons and cycles of my mental health journey.

In 2020 (an indisputably difficult year for everyone) I experienced some complex life changes including a divorce, caring for a mother with dementia, working five jobs to stay afloat, moving and simply trying to survive a pandemic. As these challenges developed and worsened, I began crying myself to sleep at night with ideation and catastrophic thinking, reliving past trauma and isolation that accompanied the pandemic.

On paper, I had never been happier or more productive, and nothing appeared to be “broken.” But behind the scenes, everything was different; it was dark, it was bipolar and it required my first medication adjustment in years.

These transitions can be brutal, and I feared what was ahead. I was still working and attending to my many responsibilities, praying that this adjustment would not cause significant disruption in my life. My fears, ultimately, were unfounded; the medication change only improved my circumstances.

Have you ever looked out a dirty widow through which you could hardly see, then wiped it clean and enjoyed the view? That's the best way I can describe what this new regimen did for me. It is the reason I tell anyone with bipolar disorder just how important it is to go through these adjustments, and talk to their doctor when needed, when having difficulties that are obstructing their quality of life.

I hope to pass along what I have learned: Seasons and cycles are real for anyone living with bipolar disorder. Like the light changes in the spring and in the winter, so do our emotions, moods and thoughts. Life changes will come along, and they cannot be stopped. They are real — but then again, so is remission.

I weathered my most recent challenges and medication adjustment without unraveling. My work, relationships and faith remained intact, and my worst fears never materialized. Was it easy? No — but it didn’t derail my hard-won successful life. Challenges, changes and setbacks are frustrating (even triggering), but they do not rule out happiness, success and recovery. I am back to the joyful, “normal” life I was enjoying before this season and cycle began.

My mantra is this: seasons and cycles are real, but they do not have to be “real bad.”