Mental illness didn't ruin your life; it just changed it
Monday, September 6, 2004
By Carolyn Hax
Dear Carolyn: I'm 21, I live at home, am in college -- I am in recovery from a two-year period of pretty severe manic depression -- and have recently been diagnosed bipolar. I've had problems with depression since I was a kid, and because of that have been slow to develop socially. Therapy and drugs are the difference between making it and not making it for me right now.
My problem is that I feel hopelessly unprepared and lagging behind -- I have never held a job, gone on a date, voluntarily participated in a social activity, etc., and I am terrified. I'm 21! There are people my age starting businesses and getting married, for heaven's sake, and I have just learned how to drive (my finest achievement). My sister says there is no timeline and I should just go at my own pace. At my pace I'll have wasted half my life before I ever live it. Any wisdom for late bloomers? -- Late, Late Bloomer
Dear Late: There are people your age who've never left the mainstream, faced their own frailties or overcome a significant handicap. Talk about hopelessly unprepared.
I know, I know. You'd prefer to have worked, dated, gone out with your friends. I'd prefer these things for you, too. Not to get too Capra-esque on you, but, too often, the very thing you regard as your worst nightmare/most gruesome mistake/biggest setback in life turns out to be the root of your greatest joy.
There will be people you never would have met had you not struggled -- or opportunities you never would have gotten, perspec- tives you wouldn't have formed, reservoirs of strength that you never would have discovered, much less tapped -- that will some- day become valuable enough to you to change your view of your illness. (Assuming this isn't in progress already.) It's not a basket of money and a roomful of carol- ing friends, but it's something.
Whatever it is, will it be enough to make you look back on your illness fondly? Doubtful; I said Capra, not Pollyanna. More likely, it'll become the hell you never want to relive -- but wouldn't trade, either, since that would mean giving up everything you've achieved since.
Embrace this, and you'll start to see there is no such thing as "wast(ing) half your life." You are living your life. You've been living your life. So it's not the life you'd envisioned; look around you, you've joined a popular club.
Now stop beating yourself, extend your hand, and, at whatever pace you can bear, start introducing yourself to fellow club members. There's no time like the present -- also known as, whenever you're damn good and ready.