January 03, 2020

By Tracy Riggs

I’ve been going to my current therapist every week or two for over a year now. We have made some real breakthroughs, and I’ve learned a lot from her. She’s an incredible counselor, understanding yet tough.

Before each session, I fill out a check-in form that gauges how I’ve been doing since my last session. It has different symptoms, emotions and issues I mark if I’ve been experiencing them, such as sleep disturbances, anger or family issues. Not long after I started working with this therapist, she looked at my form, and said I might as well just do a big circle around all the possible answers because I marked so many of them.

I’ve been going to therapy for a year, attending support groups for a year and a half and working on the 12 steps with an addiction sponsor for over a year — but that stupid paper probably has the same things circled at my last visit as it did at my first. All this time and work, and I’m no closer to that wonderful day that I’ll circle only a few things…or none

While thinking about this in my support group, it hit me — this thing called bipolar disorder really will never go away. I will always be an addict. I talk about it. I write about it. I advocate for people going through it. I know bipolar doesn’t have a cure. I know that addiction can’t be willed away. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that my bipolar doesn’t have a cure, and my addictions won’t just go away.

It’s sobering to think that unless a miracle happens, I will never be free of this bipolar/addict thing. It’s exhausting to think of the battle I will probably have to fight every day. For the rest of my life, I will still have to manage all the issues on the form. I will have all those emotions — both the good and bad ones. I will probably still have nightmares. My anxiety and my depression levels may never get below an average of 8 out of 10.

But what I need to keep in mind is that even if my check-in form is still marked up, that doesn’t mean I haven’t made progress. It’s hard for me to see when I’ve made progress, but I know I have and will continue to do so. The Alcoholics Anonymous saying is “progress not perfection.” So, I’m thankful for my progress.

I have to learn to put my hope in each day. I have to stop looking for an overall cure or even a way to permanently manage my illness away. I’m going to have to learn to focus on doing the best I can, knowing that I can make every single day the best it can be with my illness.

Tracy Riggs is a professional photographer (cmbtphotography.com) and writer. She deals with several invisible illnesses in her and her loved ones’ lives and is passionate about lessening the stigma (spotlightonstigma.com). She has one daughter in college and is in a steady relationship with a fellow photographer.

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