I believe that what we call “setbacks” in life are truly gifts. These challenges to our comfortable routines give us opportunities to re-examine the lives we are leading, and to grow into a better understanding of ourselves and the world. We must choose, though, first to accept, and then face head-on, these “setbacks” in order to move forward; otherwise, we can very easily lose ourselves during difficult times.
Four years ago, I experienced what many would consider a major setback when I became severely ill due to un-diagnosed, and poorly treated, bipolar disorder. As many know, this brain disease has the potential to disrupt one’s life to the point where normal functioning is impossible. It is true that I missed out on professional and social opportunities in my mid- to late- twenties, an age when many of my peers seemed to be most productive in these areas. Some were exposed to a variety of work experiences in my field (architecture), even starting their own businesses. Many, too, were getting married and having children. I had no alternative, though; this was the path my life had taken. It was unacceptable to me to remain ill, so I chose to fight to regain the person who was lost – me. It took a long time, a lot of hard work, the support of exceptional doctors, family and friends, and (finally) the right medication.
The gifts I received, and still continue to become aware of, are invaluable: an understanding of the fragility of life; knowledge of my great inner strength; the ability to quickly know what is or is not worth my time; the comfort that there will always be someone, wherever I am, who is willing to help. We are never alone; we just need to ask for support sometimes. I now also have an understanding of what it means to have a “mental” illness. I am not defined by my illness. The brain is an organ, just as the kidneys and heart are organs. Like any other disease that is manageable, people with properly treated illnesses of the brain can and do lead full and productive lives, both professionally and personally.
So, some may say that I was “setback” from reaching my full potential, but I believe I have only just begun.
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