Bipolar Disorder has no “cure.” It is a chronic, progressive illness that will forever be part of my make up, and therefore there is no clinical measure to assess bipolar recovery. So what does “recovery” really mean? Recovery looks different to each individual stricken with this illness.

For me, bipolar disorder has three main stages: crisis, management and recovery. In these terms “recovery” could also be referred to as remission. Crisis refers to being in a full-blown episode (either depression or mania). Management means that you are currently handling your symptoms to the point that they are not taking over your life. And, to me, recovery represents a place where treatment is optimized and I actually have a life.

Recovery happened for me when I was finally prescribed the right medication cocktail, was receiving worthwhile therapy and psychiatric care, made the necessary lifestyle changes, and had a successful support network. This is my tool kit, and when all these factors align I feel like I’m in recovery. Recovery is not one thing, but rather a process of stages and everyone passes through these stages at different speeds. Generally, it’s a very slow road.

Unlike most physical illnesses where recovery means returning to a level of functioning of the pre-illness condition, that is usually not possible when dealing with bipolar disorder. You decide what recovery looks like to you. For me it’s getting up and dressed every day, leaving the house and having rewarding personal relationships. For others it is more full-functioning like holding down a job.

My goal is to lead a productive, meaningful life with as few bipolar interruptions as possible. I understand my illness quite well. I understand how it manifests itself in me. I realize that being sick is only a trigger or crisis away. So I use all my tools and try to keep my symptoms at bay. I set short-term goals and celebrate when I reach them. I feel well. For me, I am in recovery.

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