Written By: Brett Stevens
I am fortunate to have found a life that allows me to be content with a Bipolar diagnosis. I got here by taking my chronic brain disease head-on and performing actions that directly contribute to the management of it. This mindset stemmed from a medical professional telling me that
100% of the bipolar community who do not take their meds will have future episodes. My episodes had the potential to be life-ending, so this statistic really hit home.
When I first received the diagnosis I was confused, unemployed, and dependent on my family. Fast forward a few years and I am now self-aware, the owner of two companies, and fully independent. I thought that sharing my path over the last few years would be valuable to anyone who is searching for theirs.
It was not until my 3rd manic episode and hospitalization that I was given the diagnosis. I spent a lot of time in denial, thinking only about myself, and searching for a solution. I blamed the doctors for missing the diagnosis twice before, my parents for being unaware of what I was going through, and myself for allowing it to happen. For many months I was convinced that someone was to blame for my current situation.
I was sure that I’d wean off of the medication like in my previous two episodes and everything would go back to the way it was. I thought that I could be patient and wait it out. The problem was that I was missing a major component of the recovery process; that I could not control everything.
For most of my adult life, I had always done whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. After a night at the bar, I could sleep in until 11:00 am and have a greasy burger for breakfast. When traveling, I threw my toiletries in a bag without the worry of forgetting something critical. I’d chug 2 cups of coffee to get going every morning. When I felt like working out, I’d work out.
Things were different now. I needed to have a heightened awareness of time whether I wanted to or not. This meant that I had to schedule everything. There would not be chunks of time where I could just “feel it out” and see what the wind blew my way. Whatever was on the schedule is what I would do at that time. I’ve always had a tendency to take things to the extreme. When I was told as an adolescent that I’d never be able to play basketball at the varsity level, I worked relentlessly on drills to ensure that I put myself in a position to make the team. When I played professional poker, I asked hundreds of questions to well-established pros to ensure my game was on point. As a ground floor team member in a tech startup, I worked what felt like 24/7 to guarantee our success as we grew. I had been able to control my future no matter what the roadblock was by working hard, asking questions, or just pushing through uncertainty no matter the cost.
Unfortunately, when the time came to look at my chronic illness in the face and understand what it all meant for me and how I would beat it, I learned quickly that no matter what I did, there would always be a chance of another life-threatening episode. Again, I tried to combat the reality of my situation by thinking that I had control. I thought that I was different than everyone before me and I’d be the first one to be off all medication and not have a follow-up episode.
Mixed in with these thoughts was an arousing feeling and wonder about how I could have done what I did. I thought about my episodes and the conversations that I had with birds, the weatherman talking to me through the TV, and my favorite rappers referencing me through the radio. I thought about the actions that resulted from those thoughts in my episodes like driving over the barrier on a superhighway to change directions, running sprints in the street in the middle of the night, walking on cars, and almost jumping off of a bridge.
I was aware of my ability to separate what I would have thought back then to what I think right now. Anxiety followed with the realization; I’m lucky to be alive. This realization was very important for me. It meant that everything that followed would be a bonus. I had already put myself in a position to die multiple times and came out alive. It didn’t mean that I had to go do something or make it more than it was, but I acknowledged that my past behavior led me down a dangerous path, whether it was my fault or not. It didn’t motivate me to say, “I must change” or “start doing things differently”. No. It was just a powerful moment that my next breath was not guaranteed. I felt a sense of ownership that was smothered under layers of fear, anxiety, and depression. This moment served as a starting point for true recovery and acceptance.
Along the way of my recovery journey, I discovered that I have hypermnesia: the ability to remember personal life events with detailed accuracy. I am proud to have published a memoir detailing the evolution of psychosis and its impact on my behavior called Crossover: A Look Inside A Manic Mind. Thank you for this opportunity to share my story. – Brett
Brett Stevens is a thirty-two-year-old mental health advocate that lives with bipolar disorder. He is a licensed Real Estate agent and consults for small businesses to help grow and scale operations. Brett was a top-ranked online poker professional in his early twenties and manages a blog on the topic. He also competes at amateur chess. Brett is deeply committed to helping others who struggle with Bipolar I disorder. Brett has published his full story in his memoir titled Crossover: A Look Inside A Manic Mind.