By accepting his condition Oliver stopped fighting and ignoring it. Acceptance is perhaps not talked about enough, it represents a step forward in learning to live with and manage bipolar.

My name is Oliver Seligman. I am a forty-five-year-old Scot who has lived with bipolar type one for the last thirty years. My journey with bipolar has taken me to psychiatric hospitals in Scotland, Norway and Australia. I have had some hard times, but I have experienced much kindness, met some incredible people and made some wonderful friends. I now work part time; teaching meditation, giving inspirational talks on mental health and I have just written a book called Befriending Bipolar: a patient’s perspective (available on Amazon).

Living in denial

It may sound odd, that nearly twenty-five years after my initial diagnosis with bipolar, I had not fully accepted that I had it; but after waking up in the Acute Psychiatric Unit in Oslo, following four years of psychoses, manias and depressions, I finally found myself thinking,

“I have a mental illness. I need to start looking after myself.”

In life there are situations which can’t be controlled and problems which can’t be solved. For me, part of maturing as an adult was facing up to the fact that I had a mental illness and learning to accept it. Acceptance is perhaps not talked about enough, which is a shame because it is a key to living a fulfilling life and has been the key to me finding ways to live with bipolar.

So, what is acceptance?

I think it’s learning to cooperate with life the way it is, rather than struggling to change it when we can’t. It’s learning to be okay with not getting it all our own way.

Acceptance isn’t the same as resignation. Resignation is passive and feels helpless. Resignation gives up too easily and often leads to resentment, whereas acceptance is active and empowering. If I accept a situation, I have more energy to change it if I can. If I resign myself to a situation, I can’t be bothered to try to change it. I just give up.

Accepting can take time

After my first episode, I wasn’t close to coming to terms with having bipolar. I accepted it to the degree that I was willing to take lithium every day, but that was as far as it went. I didn’t educate myself, join support groups, or adopt useful boundaries to support my mental health. I wasn’t ready to accept the gravity of my situation, so I shut it out and ploughed on with life, rarely thinking about what I had been through. I thought I had dealt with the illness. If I did talk about bipolar, it was from the perspective that I had heroically overcome an illness which would have defeated most people. I was far from humble.

Head in sand doesn’t usually work very well

My ‘head in the sand’ reaction was natural for a young man who had gone through a lot and not yet come to terms with it. Had I been wiser, I would have taken some time to learn about bipolar and create a life which supported my mental health, but I wasn’t. So, I lived in denial; drinking, partying, eating badly, getting arrested, sleeping around and doing whatever I felt like doing. In my twenties, my mother gave me a book about bipolar and I didn’t even bother to open it. Why would I? Why dwell on an illness I had already conquered?


After years of being battered by the illness, the penny dropped.

“I’ve got a serious mental illness and I need to start looking after myself,” I thought. This statement led me to a place where now I have finally accepted bipolar. In fact, I would say I have befriended it. By accepting bipolar, I stopped fighting and ignoring it and have been able to build a life that supports my health and has meaning too.