As I was going through my Twitter feed tonight, I found a tweet about this article by one of my favorite bloggers who also deals with bipolar disorder:
Finding Meaning if You Have Bipolar Disorder - Giving Back
In summary this particular post discusses how those diagnosed with bipolar disorder ends up for one reason or another related to the bipolar has to live a life different that what they had imagined. In this case, the individual no longer feels whole or useful. It's often the bipolar that is providing the negative self imagery rather than what the person sees him/herself as. The post also discusses small ways from volunteering, to doing charitable things online or even just simply signing a petition as a way to give back to the community.
I found that this article pretty much mirrored my life. For over 15 years after my diagnosis I continued to work as an RN in a variety of positions but primarily in outpatient nursing and the final six years I taught nursing at the community college and university level. Being able to continue working did give me a sense of purpose especially while I was teaching. In 2009 a severe depression hit and remained through 2011 during this time I had one short 3 month spurt of hypomania where I felt "normal" or like the me I had always thought I was. Due to the severity of the depression I was unable to complete my work tasks and so my teaching contract was not renewed and I also decided not to work in nursing anymore. I went on disability through Veterans Affairs and due to my rating I was told that since it was for a mental illness that I would not be able to work at all per VA rules (I haven't found anything to verify this).
My self-image had already been broken when the depression set in and just took another big hit when I had to stop working. I had basically lost my identity. I was no longer a nurse nor an educator. I, myself, did not know who I was anymore. I would stay at home rarely venturing out in public because I felt like a failure and didn't want to run into any of my former students. I finally got tired of sitting around that I decided to start going to the local YMCA to try to loose weight. I eventually decided that I wanted to start running so I signed up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training to learn how to run safely and complete a half marathon. There was a minimum fundraising requirement and I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to raise the amount, but surprisingly I was able to. And thus started my running "career." I have continued to run and while not raising funds most of the time I have done some fundraising for the American Cancer Society and Team Red, White and Blue. I run many of my military related races wearing the eagle shirt for Team RWB to bring awareness to the organization.
Another that I have built up a more positive self image was to start volunteering at the Bountiful Baskets local food co-op since I had to be there to pick up my produce anyway. So every 2 weeks, at now at times every week I volunteer for 2-3 hours to set up the baskets of produce for those who have ordered them. I consider this fun even with lifting boxes and a lot of bending over to fill the baskets. I've made friends with some of the volunteers, enough so that we're able to joke around. I typically don't make friends easily.
Another way that I give back is to continue my guest lecture to the senior nursing class at the community college where I used to work. I am very open about my experiences with bipolar and the effect on my family in addition to providing the basic framework of the bipolar spectrum. I also use Twitter and Facebook to share information that I've gleaned from other sources as a small contribution to educate the general public.
So yes, I have found and identity again. It may not be the one I initially saw for my life, but at least I have a better self image now as compared to in my deepest depression.