If you are reading this blog to figure out if a person with bipolar disorder celebrates a birthday differently from the rest of the population, you can stop reading after this paragraph. I assure you the customs of my people are driven by culture, upbringing, and cake – just like everyone else’s. What is different is what memories we dwell upon from our past. I cannot speak for every single person with bipolar disorder, but I spend a lot of time reflecting on the years I lost while fighting this cruel disorder.Today, I am 38 years old. I don’t feel middle aged. I either feel excitable and curious, like a teenager, or mentally tired and worn out, like an old man on a rocking chair contemplating the state of the world. Some of you may say that is an analogy for bipolar disorder, but you would be wrong. It is an analogy for Gabe. I am not only an illness, although there isn’t much else that has so incredibly defined the past 38 years.

I Was Born With Bipolar Disorder

I was born with bipolar disorder. The second I entered the world, I was already flawed. Somewhere inside my biology was a genetic mistake – a predisposition toward developing bipolar disorder, which made me different from the majority of other babies born on that day. Not all mistakes define a person, however. I make mistakes while driving all the time and it hasn’t led to a single defining moment.

But this is different. This altered clump of biology has colored the outlook of my life since before I knew I was seeing the world in a different hue. As we all know, I do have bipolar disorder. It has caused me more pain that I care to convey in a blog. It tortured me and, to a lesser extent, those around me. It robbed me of hope, opportunity, and, at its worst, it almost cost me my life.

Fighting Back is Not a Symptom of Bipolar Disorder

For all of the mistakes in my chemistry, there is a resolve that is inexplicable. Fighting back is not a symptom of bipolar disorder. Hearing that you have a chronic and life-long illness and sinking into a deep, inescapable depression is more of a common course. I did fight back and I fought back hard.

Make no mistake; I sank. I sank to the lowest pits I could find and began searching for ways to sink lower. The monumental task of overcoming my mind seemed, and frankly still seems, impossible. (I had help; someone told me sad stories don’t pay bills.) The amount of time, energy, and suffering it took to overcome spanned many birthdays. The number of birthdays I wasted while hoping for death before diagnosis spans decades.

On the day of my 38th birthday, I look back at all my other birthdays and wonder what the world would have been like if I had lost my battle with bipolar disorder. Then, I sit back and smile, secure in the knowledge that I can celebrate the success of winning. I am proud of my efforts, my accomplishments, and myself.

I believe I can continue to win my battle with severe mental illness. But, just in case, I wish for another year of recovery every time I blow out my birthday candles. Then I smile as I watch my fears go up in smoke.

By: Gabe Howard
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