It’s a muggy early evening in Miami. At 6:30, it’s still light out, but the sky is overcast from a brief, torrential rainfall. In other words, it is a typical Thursday in late June. I’m sitting outside a coffeehouse enjoying a short American, and although I appreciate the fresh air, the humidity is already starting to bead up on my freckled skin. My red hair is beginning to stick to the back of my neck as I tap away at the keyboard before me. The clacking of the keys mingle with the hum of passing cars and conversations in multiple languages as I trying to regenerate after an afternoon nap.
I learned how to manage my bipolar disorder before I knew what it was. I work hard when I can and rest when I need to. When managed well, bipolar disorder is one of those “invisible disabilities.” There’s no visible indication that I may need accommodations, and I rarely ask. I don’t really see it as a dis-ability. In fact, I have come to value this condition because it has taught me two important lesson: the importance of adaptability and the value of difference.
Being adaptable requires a certain amount of courage. Adapting often means considering options that might otherwise feel uncomfortable. As a midlife mom, I value financial security. It’s nice to know I can afford food, clothing, and shelter. As a bipolar, I have also learned that the typical 9-5 is not really suited to my unique abilities, so I’ve had to adapt. Through the gift of higher education, I have cultivated a highly valued skill set (teaching, writing, and editing) that allows me to piece together work that is challenging, satisfying, and lucrative. It wasn’t easy getting to this point. I had to struggle with my own discomfort. Unlike a typical 9-5, I have no guaranteed income. Then again, is any income really guaranteed? In order to adapt, I had to let go of my preconceived notions of what life should be in order to accept what it could be. That is how I have come to value difference.
Before my diagnosis, which did not occur until I was 40, I struggled with my difference. Why couldn’t I just be like everyone else? I didn’t realize just how many people where engaged in that same exact struggle. Difference can leave people feeling vulnerable. Recently, the term snowflake has taken on a derogatory meaning. It implies that individuals who value their uniqueness are fragile and easily destroyed by the heat of adversity, but this is only true if they truly believe someone else has the power to devalue them. Rejection does not diminish the individual being rejected, it limits the reality of the one who is doing the rejecting. When individuals are in confident in their difference, they are not snowflakes, they are diamonds.
Today, my adaptability and unique difference has lead me from the heat of an outdoor café to the breeze of a tropical patio bar where I sip a rum runner and prepare to research, read, and write. Productivity doesn’t need to be painful, and difference doesn’t need to be devastating. Rock on my diamond friends. Show the world what you have to offer.