Over the years, medications changed, counselors changed, locations changed, but the condition was always there—relentless. Bipolar disorder takes me to a place I call the Nothingness. Sometimes my thoughts are like a game show wheel that some outside force spins again and again. Sometimes, a darkening of my senses descends, causing my thoughts to fold and turn inside out. Thoughts come in slower and slower waves until they threaten to disappear entirely. It has been a daily battle for over 40 years, a battle I hope I will win and then someday die of natural causes and not the Nothingness.

Five months ago, my husband and sanctuary of love died of cancer. I feared the worst for myself. I made a list of hospitals that were okay and those that weren’t for when I fell apart—I was ready for the end. But that isn’t what happened.

When Bill once passed out during chemotherapy treatment, I called my brother Jim who lived four hours away. He said, ”I am on my way.” Ten days later Bill died at home. At that moment, a sensation something like energy rushed into my chest. It was a feeling of power and love and it filled me. I experienced a shift in how I viewed myself. And with that love and power came a calmness.

Jim helped me pack up and move to Gig Harbor to live with him. I have my own room, which is my art studio plus a bed. I wake up every morning with a great ache at Bill’s physical absence, but there is also gratitude that fills me and gives me strength. What Bill’s love taught me is that I am loveable, creative, smart, and funny. My mind is grounded in reality and the Nothingness has not swallowed me as expected. Daily I do what everyone who survives bipolar disorder does: I take my medications, manage my stress, create art, give of myself to new friends and my spiritual community, and, most surprising to me, I continue to draw on the strength of Bill’s love that still lives in my soul. This is not my end.

The Nothingness was like a wind that blew and bent me as though I were only a tiny tree. However, the years of persistence and the love of others have helped me grow into a mature tree; now that wind only flutters my leaves. A new artist friend said to me over tea, “You are so strong, so full of joy and peace.” I realized that no one had ever said that to me before. I felt that, yes, I can survive and grow in this world. I feel alive. I feel gratitude and that sustains me.

Sheri is the author of the Dark Side of the Mood and creates stuffed animals she calls Unity Babies to teach the concept of Unity in Diversity. She has been a member of the Baha’i faith for over 45 year and holds a master’s degree in health education and minors in art and dance.