Many people with bipolar disorder find ways to manage the illness and live well. Exactly what constitutes ‘recovery’ or living well with the illness is very personal, and may differ from person to person. Broadly, the word ‘recovery’ is often used to refer to a way of life or a process involving: 1
Acceptance and hope
For a person with bipolar disorder, having some degree of acceptance of their illness is the first step to working out how to manage it. Some people experience a sense of relief when they finally find a diagnosis that may lead to helpful management. However, coming to terms with the illness can involve a grief process (e.g. shock, denial , anger, sadness ). Eventually the person may realize and come to hope that there are ways to live well despite the illness.
Active ‘self-determination’ and self-management of the illness, where the person takes responsibility for their illness and their life is part of the ‘recovery’ process. There are many helpful strategies a person can use to try to get their illness more under control (e.g. medical and psychological treatment, managing triggers and warning signs and support). Making plans about how to deal with their illness and advance plans about what to do when they are severely ill can help people to feel more in control of their bipolar disorder. Taking an active role in their treatment and adjusting their lifestyle are other examples of agency.
Actively engaging and contributing to life within the limits of their illness can help a person to live well. For example, using their talents and skills, enjoying social interactions and relationships, pursuing interests or hobbies, working and helping others. Engaging in life can help the person to develop a positive sense of who they are, apart from the illness.
Learning by trial and error
The recovery process involves learning by experience and being prepared to use new strategies when old ones don’t work. People can move a few steps forward and then a few back and so on, until they eventually find a way of living well with their illness. At times, this can be challenging and they may need encouragement and reassurance.
1. Anthony WA. Recovering from mental illness: The guiding vision of the mental health service system in the 1990’s. Psychological Rehabilitation Journal 1993; 16: p15