Finding Meaning If You Have Bipolar Disorder – Giving Back

April 1, 2013 Natasha Tracy

Bipolar disorder can be a very debilitating illness, to the point where many people have hampered lives because of it. People may find that they can’t have families or jobs because of their disabling bipolar disorder.

And there is nothing wrong with these people. These people are just learning to live a different kind of life because life, unfairly, besought them with a severe mental illness.

But one of the problems these people often have is finding meaning in life. If you see everyone around you with a job or a family or other things your mental illness stops you from having, how do you handle it? How do you find meaning with a severe case of bipolar disorder?

Impact of Bipolar Disorder

And before people jump down my throat, I’m not suggesting that all people with bipolar disorder suffer this type of impact, but some do. Bipolar disorder is a disability and it affects some more than others. This might mean that the person with bipolar disorder can’t work, or that they choose not to have children or that they can’t get out as much as they would like. Bipolar has a way of standing in the way of things, even when we truly do want them.

The Meaning of Life

One of the unfortunate things about this is that the things bipolar stands in the way of, are often the things in which people find meaning. People find meaning in marriage. People find meaning in children. People find meaning in work.

But these aren’t the only kinds of meaning in life. There are still so many ways to make a life have meaning.

Finding Meaning if You Have Bipolar Disorder - Giving Back

I would suggest that meaning has a lot to do with giving back. Giving to others, participating in society is a big way people find meaning and that doesn’t go away just because of bipolar disorder.

Some people feel participation isn’t possible because they don’t work. I don’t see it this way. If you don’t work it’s the perfect opportunity to volunteer. Pick your charity, your cause, your group and spend a few hours a week helping out. It doesn’t have to be a full-time job – every little bit helps when you’re talking about charities. I read to kids in an after school program a few years ago – only a 3-hour-per-week commitment – and it was hugely fulfilling.

And if you can’t (or choose not to) have a family of your own, how about becoming a big brother or big sister? So many people need others to look up to and your courage and perseverance is perfect for that.

If all of that sounds like too much, how about working for a cause online? How about letter writing for increased mental healthcare in your state? How about signing a petition? How about moderating an online support group?

There are so many ways to give back to your community and find meaning. What you need to remember is that you’re an amazing person with so much to give in spite of a brain illness that is making you have a really bad day. You’re strong. You’re powerful. You’re amazing for standing up to this illness. The bipolar might want you to believe you’re nothing and you have nothing to offer, but that’s just the illness speaking and it is wrong. You have a lot to give and by doing so you’ll get so much back in return.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2013, April 1). Finding Meaning If You Have Bipolar Disorder – Giving Back, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

March, 30 2015 at 8:23 pm

Having bipolar disorder has been a humbling experience that has softened me into becoming more compassionate/empathetic toward other people and their plight.
I've often thought volunteering for some type of humanitarian cause would be good for the soul but right now the timing is off. Too many other thing on my mind these days...

December, 15 2013 at 9:46 am

Oddly enough,the people where I work go out of their way to help me. One of them suffers a little from depression. I speak a little Spanish which makes me a useful asset to them. It's a volunteer job, about 4 hours a week, but still. I used to substitute teach, but frankly I was always afraid of being "found out." Plus the emotional stress combined with the children's germs made me sick after a day or two. I am thinking of blogging, but am afraid of how people will react if they discover who I am.

July, 20 2013 at 10:33 pm

I think it's really sad that we're judged for such a small part of what makes us who we are. Could you imagine a recovering drug addict always being judged as such - even when they've worked so hard at recovery for years? But then again, it really depends...Some people really aren't that judgemental at all. Too bad they are few and far in between.

July, 20 2013 at 6:22 pm

@Susan. Sadly, you're right. And how dumb is that?

July, 20 2013 at 10:13 am

You try to help to make yourself or someone else feel better. Someone finds out you're bipolar. You're crazy. EVERYTHING you have done to help is discounted now...simply because you have a label. Bipolar.

June, 19 2013 at 10:49 pm

I really thought I could just bouce back after my last episode, with some time off and rest. But the reality was I could hardly take care of the basics. I stayed with family and they were anxious to see me "overcome" this. I signed up for classes while doing the medication trial and error just to engage myself with something, and let me tell you, it took A LOT of effort to complete these classes. While in college, I could take 16 units and work 3 jobs, so by comparison, "diminished" is an understatement. I am just relating this because I know some people cannot understand how bipolar disorder can be disabling.
I had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with alot of a**holes at the same time. Now, prior to this episode, I volunteered all the time - food banks, political causes, etc. But where I am at now, I am really sad to say that I AM REALLY TIRED OF PEOPLE. What's more, the advise I have heard is that I should go out and help people. Ain't that a kicker?
If you are reading this with doubts about how "real" mental illness is, JUST BE KIND, m'kay - even if you can't wrap your head around what that person may be experiencing. It can be just as easy as cruelty, and at least the person suffering may actually retain some faith in humanity. Now, I am adding this because it pains me to hear of others dealing with myriad forms of stigma, and others opining freely with so much ignorance or downright hatred. Well, hate and ignorance go hand in hand so think about that.

Gail R.
May, 7 2013 at 6:29 am

Thank you for this piece, Natasha. I emailed it to someone who could use your positive and realistic message. Please continue writing. :-)

robert odell licsw
April, 11 2013 at 8:08 am

Another argument in favor of your blog post's gneral direction is that bipolar disorder tends to correlate highly with high intelligence. So the likelihood is that people with this disorder have much to contribute. Having said that, I do believe that medication is an important factor in managing the disease. I understand fully that lithium is a difficult med to manage. And yet, many do, and their life outcomes positively reflect the sacrifice they make to comply with their prescriptions. If an individual can function well enough with second or third line treatments, that's even better due to less troubling side effect profiles.

Tj Van Gelder
April, 7 2013 at 11:47 am

Over many years of battleing between mania and depression. The countless struggles i under went with my supporters my family. Thier are so many positive things that came out of it. My relationship with the God that I believe in Jesus grew and I understood that he was putting me through all my tests and trials to make me stronger. I gained peace when peace was far from me. My fears never sourrounded me any longer. And now if I happen to hear a still voice its my Father guiding me leading me to victor. Being a good repenter goes a long way.

Kathleen Brannon
April, 6 2013 at 3:41 pm

Thank you again, Natasha. You always come up with something new, important, stimulating -- always fresh. I am happy just to see a well-known blogger acknowledging the reality that some people are truly disabled by bipolar. People understandably don't want to think of their illness as potentially that limiting. So if you are one of the people with a bad case, dwelling in the shadows, you will get advice and encouragement and happy-talk from other people who are dealing with a less severe disease. Who wants to say, yeah, well, I'm so sick that doesn't apply to me? Even tho that's the case sometimes (lots of times). Finding some way to wring meaning out of a diminished life is so important. So hard. One thing it seems a lot of us bp's love is animals, so there are lots of ways to work with animals that don't require so much work with people, if you have trouble with that. (I do.) Another source of meaning: writing, painting, blogging, making any kind of art to express yourself but also perhaps educate, illustrate. To Christy: have a thought for when your kids will grow up, and how you'll fill that place then. Keep some other source of self-worth active. When my kids grew up I was slammed with a crisis; had no idea how to feel part of the world again without the parent role. Still looking for ways to feel alive and contribute, to give back. The Internet has been a life-saver for a lot of isolated people with mental illness like me.

April, 6 2013 at 5:33 am

Natasha I must start out by saying I absolutley love your blog.
I must admit that living with bipolar is challenging,especially living with a teenager that has ADHD. However being a Mom and a wife gives me purpose in life. I have tried on several times to comitt suicide and I realized the last time that I attempted and again was unsuccessful that those two fella's in my life would not be able to function without this "Domestic Engineer" yes I have given myself a title and run my house as my "business" I take pride in being up early to see my son and husband off to work I manage our finances, I take care of our two dogs....I have found my purpose in life and that I am thankful for. I used to have a very high paying job however now I am on disability so most of the financial burden lies with my husband who is supportive and caring. I truely believe my family is my purpose and will never attempt suicide again.

April, 5 2013 at 8:46 am

Oh, look! I gave back, LOL!!!
I hope it helps a little, Steve. Nancy Cavey is an attorney that gives out a free book, too. I forgot to mention that. I did get my benefits reinstated, but it was a really stressful time and I was on claim for more than 10 years with no medical improvement. My mental health workers thought the whole thing was outrageous.

April, 5 2013 at 8:12 am

A great piece , i am so amazed people like us try to live life with a mask and not letting know the society or even friends to know what we go throw because we are scared of stigma. I DO , But i believe one mantra that has always worked for me is "STAY STRONG". When my words were not enoufh i made a tattoo out of it.what ever works but dont loose hope.I cant work more than 5 hours but i still work for 12 hours a day at office then home. But what is hard that mind keeps playing non stop.

April, 5 2013 at 7:43 am

Thanks for the response and the recommendation. My disability insurance company does a review of documents from all my doctors requesting information of my participation in therapy and my prognosis of being cleared medically to return to work. They constantly are asking my doctors if I could be cleared to work part time in any gainful employment, not just my prior occupation. Or, if I could be cleared to work at my previous occupation with accommodations. I am very frustrated with this insurance company. After paying premiums for 20 years, when I really need the assistance they try to avoid paying me.

April, 4 2013 at 12:56 pm

Steven, a woman named Linda Nee has a disability insurance blog that you should read. It's very detailed and been helpful to me. Those disability insurance companies are mostly crooked and will seek any way they can to terminate your claim. Already happened to me, and their timing was outrageous - they cherry pick medical records in the most dishonest way imaginable.

April, 4 2013 at 3:23 am

This was very nice to read Natasha, I am one of those people who are disabled from being bipolar and I hate it! I do volunteer whenever I can and walk to the library from my house just because walking feels good for me. I have a 2 year old son that im going through a custody battle with now and having a bad feeling im going to loose because I had a bad manic episode that lasted 4 months. I never hurt him or put him in harms way, but I just try so hard to have just a tiny part of normal and I cant even have that! For my 6 year old Id volunteer all the time for his class and do art projects and bake and go on the field trips. I try so hard to be the perfect mother, or even a good mother, now because my "crazy" cant be controlled I might be looking at supervised visitation with my 2 year old. I try to look at the glass half full but days like these its so hard because all I can focus on is the empty.

April, 3 2013 at 9:29 pm

Hi Jen,
I think you meant to address that to Natasha who writes this blog. I'm not any kind of moderator. just your average know-it-all. Actually I follow this blog a lot because it's really really good and there aren't many things of this quality out there.

April, 3 2013 at 3:35 am

Hi Sarah
great blog piece. There isn't enough focus on emotional resilience and the positive things that can be done to reduce psychological distress in whatever form it exhibits itself. For those worried about the responsibilities of volunteering, look up initiatives such as 'allotment therapy' and support groups of other people who are experiencing similar things as you. Grow to grow are a great example of allotment therapy:
Learning a new hobby, helping out local community groups, giving a few hours to a food bank, joining a community choir. There are all sorts of ways of feeling connected to your local communities and of doing things to give life more purpose. Whilst it may not reduce the problems, it can make the problems seem smaller and easier to overcome if the rest of life starts to feel bigger.

April, 2 2013 at 12:00 pm

Hi Sarah,
I like your distinction that bipolar in of itself is not a disability, but that it can cause a disability. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. However, I did not become disabled until much later when it lead me to give in to my dark thoughts. I ended up hospitalized for four weeks and then was placed on long term disability from my job. I got lucky and was granted a one year leave of absence with the opportunity to return to work at the end of that year. Th only stipulation was that I had to be able to meet the minimum job requirements and be medically cleared to return to work without restrictions.
For now I feel that I am burden to my family, friends and society because I cannot work. I thought about volunteering. But, I was informed by my disability insurance company that if I can volunteer for 10 hours a week then I should be able to work 10 hours a week. Therefore, they told me if I start volunteering that my disability payments would be reduced by the amount of money I could have earned if I had worked a paying job for those hours. So for now I am forced to doing housework and yard work.

April, 1 2013 at 3:00 pm

Terminology point:
ICIDH-2 describes disability in terms of impairment (medical), Activity limitations (used to be called "Disability") and Participation (social role, used to be called "Handicap".
Bipolar disorder may cause disability, but it is not necessarily a disability, if you have it managed in such a way as you can do any activity you like.
Mostly in this article you are addressing participation aspects of the illness, an extremely important consideration.
More info on World Health Organisation website.
Loved the article, as usual.

Mary Beth
April, 1 2013 at 9:50 am

Thank you for such an important piece. I am so unreliable that going outside the home isn't practical. But I follow sick children on FB and pray for them. It seems they appreciate having followers. Their courage nd that of their families is amazing. Nd I feel like I am contributing.

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