Bipolar: a Burden and a Bridge
Words by Sarah Jeanne Browne
For most of my life, everything was fine. I was a well-adjusted person, at least by my standards. I didn’t wake up one day knowing something was wrong. But it was in the little things, every day.
The signs were there all along, I just didn’t see them for what they were. The manic episodes were normalized to me. Sure, the manic part of it made me incredibly productive but it also tarnished my well being. I never got the sleep I needed and I was often up for multiple days in a row. I would become paranoid and develop random fears without cause. The productivity was nice but it wasn’t worth the exchange.
Failure was my greatest fear, great enough to send me into bouts of depression if I didn’t succeed in something. I made sure never to feel that way and trained my temperament over time by never losing. This mindset by itself is unhealthy because failure and loss is a part of everyone’s life and it’s important that we feel it and learn from it.
One example of this persistent drive towards perfection was when I rejected the advances of a modeling manager who tried to take advantage of me. When I rejected him he dropped me and flew another model out to L.A.
After this incident I became a freelance brand manager, driven by a need to be his equal. This need grew into manic frenzy. I couldn’t let it go. I needed to beat him. I fed the desire to be perfect and it affected me, resulting in many sleepless nights. I never did become a model scout but I did find work helping a nonprofit fight frauds and find a new paths in their brand.
I overextended myself in my drive to beat the manager who scorned me. The story of success that I weaved in my mind was really just me throwing rocks when I should have been building with them. Conviction had consumed me and it had to end.
I turned my attentions to myself, deciding to focus on my own story. I stopped chasing modeling and focused on creating a brand with my own uniqueness. I spoke at public events and wrote about my brand. I even created my own website. I was accomplishing a lot for myself but I couldn’t escape the realization that I was still fighting that manager.
I wasn’t sleeping and without sleep I became erratic, rambling about things over and over. I refused food. I thought in formulas and thought of everything as having a special meaning. I was going in circles.
Eventually I got help. I saw a therapist and doctor, who put me on medication. Bipolar. They gave it a name. The circles stopped and I began to do again what I had once loved to in high school: meditate. The rollercoaster that was my life slowed down. I realized I moved fast so I wouldn’t feel. I taught myself many skills in life, distracting myself with one goal to the next like a bridge. This kept me from seeing how unwell I was.
However, the burden of bipolar is a lack of constant wellbeing. It is very up and down like a seesaw.
I couldn’t simply...Be.
Bipolar disorder was both a burden and a bridge in one season of my life. On medication, I am completely stable and I have no qualms. But being bipolar served me in college when I was the president of four clubs and an honors student. It served me when I became resilient against a corrupt brand manager. It served me to not sleep when I was a grad school student at Brandeis University. It served me when I modeled and did workshops for youth. The mania that comes with bipolar disorder gave me the means to achieve a tremendous amount of accomplishments in a short period of time. Yes, bipolar disorder did help me, but that productivity comes with a price and mine was my health.
The chaos within stopped when I valued my well being first. Societal success meant less to me. What truly mattered was being authentic. True to myself. It took being bipolar to help me value the simple things in life (Especially sleep!).
I slowed down and stabilized. I started over, starting small this time. I secured things. I survived and began to thrive. I took things one step at a time and that has made all the difference.
Sarah Jeanne Browne is a writer and motivational speaker. She was also a model, activist and actress. She works to empower others with her philosophy of surrendering and finding a respect for life.