How do you define success?  What makes one person more successful than another?  What really matters in life and does someone with bipolar disorder have a different criteria of success from someone who hasn’t got it?

The question came up to me recently and actually caused me a great deal of heartache and torment as I struggled with being told that I wasn’t a success, I had never been a success; and furthermore would never be a success!

As I have gotten older, the black and white of my youth has now mellowed into many shades of grey as I have learnt from experience, sometimes bitter at times, that not everything is clear cut and easy to judge, especially with people.  The human race is such a complex piece of social machinery both in physical and mental terms that definitions often are completely inadequate from one circumstance to another.

I looked at what I had been told and realized that much of it was true on the surface.  Yes, I don’t have my own home anymore and will probably be renting for the rest of my life; yes I am over-generous with my money and belongings at times; yes I act impulsively and have done so for many years.  And no – I don’t run a business and have lots of assets or belongings to my name.

So what criteria seemed to have been used?  One: to be successful you must have a home; two: you must have assets or earn a certain amount of money per year; three: always be thrifty and never be too generous, because you must preserve your assets; and four: all successful people run businesses.

Then you have the other factors such as allowing adult children to still live at home with you because their specific circumstances warrant it, where other people feel that they should be out on their own braving the harsh cold world.

As I discussed this with my psychiatrist this week – his responses and queries where blunt and to the point.  Should he regard any one who earns less than he did, or has fewer assets not a success? Obviously not!  Every one has different circumstances and challenges in life and to look at success in a very physically based way was very negative and prone to error.

We went on for a while about this sort of topic and then looked at my life overall especially the last few years since proper diagnosis and used the cognitive behaviour therapy matrix to analyze more closely and I began to see the fallacy of the approach that had been taken as it had been applied to my life.

So what is success for some one with bipolar disorder?  Here are some from my life; you may have some of the same.

  1. Instead of money and assets on hand – I have settled on just enjoying waking up each morning and sometimes surviving until the next day.
  2. The love of my wife and children and grandchildren outweighs any prospect of owning my home again. If I had to choose one or the other – any place where you have love is a home.  Ownership is meaningless.
  3. Not everyone is suited to running a business whether big or small, be content with what you do best and the rest doesn’t matter.
  4. Enjoy the good times and don’t stress what doesn’t matter and live one day at a time.

You can probably think of much more in your lives but if I can continue with just these then I will be content (or at least as much as my medication allows J )

Graham Brown

10 February 2006

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