What I Learned Living With Bipolar Disorder

How I Found Healing Through Empowerment By Malisa Nguyen

Story Contains

Growing Up With Bipolar Disorder

Growing up, my mental illness with Bipolar Disorder was in the process of incubation long before my clinical diagnosis. Studies have shown that a traumatic childhood experience plays a role in the development of Bipolar Disorder. With parents who immigrated to America during the aftermath of the Vietnam War, they carried traumas of their own. I would say my upbringing was nothing short of chaotic. One day my dad would come home with shiny new toys and a face filled with joy and affection. The next, he’d greet our family with rage and anger fueled to the brim. My mom eventually became a single mother of three after having my dad leave his family to sit in a pool of abandonment. 

Due to my mother’s unrelenting struggle to juggle taking care of three children and long hours of labor to make ends meet, she lost the battle and died of underlying medical conditions. My father, having the inability to provide for his children, made the decision to give me and my siblings up for adoption on the other side of the country. 

And so, my new life began in Boston under the care of my adopted parents. 

Throughout my childhood, I was always known as the difficult child. The hyperactive, emotional, aggressive, irrational, and impulsive one. With difficulties understanding the extent of my intense mood swings, any cry for help was neither acknowledged or validated by my new family. Mental health was taboo and not to be considered a real thing.  Any attempt to voice an explanation of what I was feeling inside was either silenced or ridiculed. 


The Beginning of My Depression 

When I turned 21, about a year or so had passed since I broke myself free from the oppression of my childhood with my new family. Excited for a new adventure, I decided to return back home to the other side of the country to start over. Little did I know, the impact and stress of change would suddenly leave me in a maze — a dark abyss. I felt myself treading through the days with the weight of the world on my shoulders. There was no sense of direction and purpose — only constant feelings of loss, void, hopelessness, deep anguish, and agony. When you are at the mercy of depression, it is nearly impossible to see a way out and it almost feels like it is never going to end. 

But, it does. 


The News That Kick Started My Journey 

After a couple of months of tears, bouts of paranoia, and anxiety, my boyfriend finally convinced me to seek the help I needed. Expecting a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, I was shocked to find that I was clinically diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I felt a sense of frustration, panic, worry, the fear of being an outcast, judged, and alienated from the rest of society. Then I began to feel relieved because all the struggles I dealt with throughout my entire life leading up to that moment made sense. I had a moment of realization that I had been sleepwalking through my mental illness. Now, I can finally put a name to all of my problems. 

I had something to work with. 


A Bumpy Road Towards The Pursuit of Recovery 

As I began my recovery, I finally understood the gravity of my illness. If not properly managed, things could return to how they were before. I remember that time period being a season of trials and errors. Keeping up with my physical health wasn't enough. The medication I was taking lifted my depression but failed to relieve my anxiety. In addition, I was experiencing heavy drowsiness that I couldn't tolerate for a lifetime. 

“It’s not about trying to “cure” or eliminate pain and suffering from your life. It’s about honoring all ranges of emotions and understanding that it is part of living the human experience — each and every one serving its purpose.”

The Breakthrough Moment that Changed Everything 

Just when I thought all hope was lost, somehow along the way I stumbled into the world of Holistic Health and Wellness. After enrolling in a study program, I discovered there was a lot more that can be done to improve and support an approach to mental health. Holistic living encompassed much more beyond what I had perceived to be “woo” or “hippy”. If anything, it was serendipitous. 

I learned that there was a possibility that the source of my anxiety attacks could be traced back to what was on my food plate earlier in the day. Certain external factors beyond my awareness such as sleep management, stress management, lifestyle, habits, and environmental factors are also key players in contributing to the state of my mental health. There is also a lot at play with our internal environment at the biochemical level as well. Grounded in science, I experienced a deep understanding that the symptoms we experience are signs from our body, ringing the alarm that there is something out of balance. This can also have an effect on other parts of our body as well. They serve as internal cues and point us to the direction of the source of our physical, mental, and emotional pain. The profound acquisition of knowledge that the human body and its health and wellness is deeply interconnected paved the path for a new way of being for me.  


Where I Am Now 

To this day, I am nearly two years along my mental health journey. I still have occasional bouts of anxiety and moments of mild depression but I’ve found that committing to a daily meditation practice has brought me relief and liberation from the mercy of living with Bipolar Disorder. 

Meditation not only provided me with a sense of stability, but has also changed my trajectory towards a paradigm shift to personal recovery. It’s taught me how to reframe my perception around my emotional health and find healthy ways of coping with the difficult feelings and sensations of anxiety, even if it's just for 3-5 minutes a day.  

I’ve also found comfort in gratitude journaling for moments of introspection because it’s become a place for me to retrieve access to insights and wisdom I’ve gained through my life’s trials and tribulations. It takes me into the experience of witnessing for myself the perspective that time is fair for giving and revealing. By cultivating a sense of appreciation for times of hardship, it brings about a soothing feeling of nourishment for my soul. 

Mental health is a lifelong personal journey and I still have a lot to embody with my pursuit of seeking an alternative form of healing modality through a holistic approach. With the significant changes I made in recovery orientation, my focus is no longer on symptom reduction or improved function per se, but rather to maximize the practical ways to improve and support optimal well-being and the achievement of valued life goals. 

What I’ve come to learn is that everyone in life is going to face some degree of mental, physical, and emotional challenge and it's going to be that thing that will help you discover strengths you didn't know you had. It’s not about trying to “cure” or eliminate pain and suffering from your life. It’s about honoring all ranges of emotions and understanding that it is part of living the human experience — each and every one serving its purpose. As long as you are letting purpose steer your life, know that every bit of pain we go through is a necessary component for the growth of our being. 

The only way out is in. 

That is the true essence of empowering yourself through discomfort. 

Growing Up With Bipolar Disorder

Growing up, my mental illness with Bipolar Disorder was in the process of incubation long before my clinical diagnosis. Studies have shown that a traumatic childhood experience plays a role in the development of Bipolar Disorder. With parents who immigrated to America during the aftermath of the Vietnam War, they carried traumas of their own. I would say my upbringing was nothing short of chaotic. One day my dad would come home with shiny new toys and a face filled with joy and affection. The next, he’d greet our family with rage and anger fueled to the brim. My mom eventually became a single mother of three after having my dad leave his family to sit in a pool of abandonment. 

Due to my mother’s unrelenting struggle to juggle taking care of three children and long hours of labor to make ends meet, she lost the battle and died of underlying medical conditions. My father, having the inability to provide for his children, made the decision to give me and my siblings up for adoption on the other side of the country. 

And so, my new life began in Boston under the care of my adopted parents. 

Throughout my childhood, I was always known as the difficult child. The hyperactive, emotional, aggressive, irrational, and impulsive one. With difficulties understanding the extent of my intense mood swings, any cry for help was neither acknowledged or validated by my new family. Mental health was taboo and not to be considered a real thing.  Any attempt to voice an explanation of what I was feeling inside was either silenced or ridiculed. 


The Beginning of My Depression 

When I turned 21, about a year or so had passed since I broke myself free from the oppression of my childhood with my new family. Excited for a new adventure, I decided to return back home to the other side of the country to start over. Little did I know, the impact and stress of change would suddenly leave me in a maze — a dark abyss. I felt myself treading through the days with the weight of the world on my shoulders. There was no sense of direction and purpose — only constant feelings of loss, void, hopelessness, deep anguish, and agony. When you are at the mercy of depression, it is nearly impossible to see a way out and it almost feels like it is never going to end. 

But, it does. 


The News That Kick Started My Journey 

After a couple of months of tears, bouts of paranoia, and anxiety, my boyfriend finally convinced me to seek the help I needed. Expecting a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, I was shocked to find that I was clinically diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I felt a sense of frustration, panic, worry, the fear of being an outcast, judged, and alienated from the rest of society. Then I began to feel relieved because all the struggles I dealt with throughout my entire life leading up to that moment made sense. I had a moment of realization that I had been sleepwalking through my mental illness. Now, I can finally put a name to all of my problems. 

I had something to work with. 


A Bumpy Road Towards The Pursuit of Recovery 

As I began my recovery, I finally understood the gravity of my illness. If not properly managed, things could return to how they were before. I remember that time period being a season of trials and errors. Keeping up with my physical health wasn't enough. The medication I was taking lifted my depression but failed to relieve my anxiety. In addition, I was experiencing heavy drowsiness that I couldn't tolerate for a lifetime. 

“It’s not about trying to “cure” or eliminate pain and suffering from your life. It’s about honoring all ranges of emotions and understanding that it is part of living the human experience — each and every one serving its purpose.”

The Breakthrough Moment that Changed Everything 

Just when I thought all hope was lost, somehow along the way I stumbled into the world of Holistic Health and Wellness. After enrolling in a study program, I discovered there was a lot more that can be done to improve and support an approach to mental health. Holistic living encompassed much more beyond what I had perceived to be “woo” or “hippy”. If anything, it was serendipitous. 

I learned that there was a possibility that the source of my anxiety attacks could be traced back to what was on my food plate earlier in the day. Certain external factors beyond my awareness such as sleep management, stress management, lifestyle, habits, and environmental factors are also key players in contributing to the state of my mental health. There is also a lot at play with our internal environment at the biochemical level as well. Grounded in science, I experienced a deep understanding that the symptoms we experience are signs from our body, ringing the alarm that there is something out of balance. This can also have an effect on other parts of our body as well. They serve as internal cues and point us to the direction of the source of our physical, mental, and emotional pain. The profound acquisition of knowledge that the human body and its health and wellness is deeply interconnected paved the path for a new way of being for me.  


Where I Am Now 

To this day, I am nearly two years along my mental health journey. I still have occasional bouts of anxiety and moments of mild depression but I’ve found that committing to a daily meditation practice has brought me relief and liberation from the mercy of living with Bipolar Disorder. 

Meditation not only provided me with a sense of stability, but has also changed my trajectory towards a paradigm shift to personal recovery. It’s taught me how to reframe my perception around my emotional health and find healthy ways of coping with the difficult feelings and sensations of anxiety, even if it's just for 3-5 minutes a day.  

I’ve also found comfort in gratitude journaling for moments of introspection because it’s become a place for me to retrieve access to insights and wisdom I’ve gained through my life’s trials and tribulations. It takes me into the experience of witnessing for myself the perspective that time is fair for giving and revealing. By cultivating a sense of appreciation for times of hardship, it brings about a soothing feeling of nourishment for my soul. 

Mental health is a lifelong personal journey and I still have a lot to embody with my pursuit of seeking an alternative form of healing modality through a holistic approach. With the significant changes I made in recovery orientation, my focus is no longer on symptom reduction or improved function per se, but rather to maximize the practical ways to improve and support optimal well-being and the achievement of valued life goals. 

What I’ve come to learn is that everyone in life is going to face some degree of mental, physical, and emotional challenge and it's going to be that thing that will help you discover strengths you didn't know you had. It’s not about trying to “cure” or eliminate pain and suffering from your life. It’s about honoring all ranges of emotions and understanding that it is part of living the human experience — each and every one serving its purpose. As long as you are letting purpose steer your life, know that every bit of pain we go through is a necessary component for the growth of our being. 

The only way out is in. 

That is the true essence of empowering yourself through discomfort. 

Malisa Nguyen

Holistic Nutritionist, Mental Health Advocate, Lover of All Things Matcha

Bipolar Beastie: Confessions From Quarantine
Elora Lyda
Art
My First Psychiatric Hospitalization
Eloise Abbott
Art
The “Looking-Glass Self”
Brave Anonymous
Writing

Everyone has a story. We want to hear yours.

If you’d like to submit a story or creative piece, visit our submissions page. We accept submissions at any time, from anyone, about anything, in any form.
Submit a Story

Share Your Support

Comment Box is loading comments...