I can still see that old paisley couch at my first shrink’s office. The old cushions would swallow my thin 14-year old frame, the same way the doctors probing swallowed my thin self-esteem. Inward we would both implode as the message became more and more clear: I was different. And somehow that difference was not okay.

My relief with finally having someone to talk to was short lived. Each time I opened my mouth and shared an experience, a new label was gifted in return. I learned quickly to stop talking. I learned to start hiding.

I lived most of my young life in this diagnosis trap — the deep-seated belief of being so different it’s wrong. Over the years I learned to compensate for my disability via a combined effort of self-editing, proving and pushing myself to excel at being normal and winning this game called life. After all, what better way to prove you are sane than to be the most normally successful person you know?

I did well. I got a master’s degree. I excelled at a fast-paced job at one of the country’s top hospitals. I bought a car, then a house. Outwardly it looked perfect; like I had finally suppressed my difference enough to succeed.

But inwardly it exhausted me. I was unhappy, unfulfilled and riddled with oppressive self-judgment. I was tired of hiding. I started seeking alternative modalities; yoga, meditation, energy psychology, to gain a sense of peace. Lightning struck a few years later when I found a gem of a question from Access Consciousness® that changed everything for me:

“What if there is nothing wrong with you?”

This question lit a fire in my belly that began to warm my heart in the most wonderful and seductive way. Hope in its purest form began to sprout.

What a different perspective!

Truthfully, my mind bucked against this for a while — how can I say that nothing is wrong with me after living with a Bipolar diagnosis for 16 years along with the medication, therapy and roller coaster of life experiences that comes with it?

But that fiery hope… It caught on in me. I began to dive deeper into this question and challenge myself to postulate this theory.

Here are some beginning steps I took along this path:

  • Stop identifying with the label. Diagnoses are used by the doctors to drive your care; they are not meant to be a life sentence, a cage of behavior characteristics, triggers and future predictions that dictate your life. Unfortunately, most who are diagnosed identify so deeply with their label that they stop exploring other, more life-affirming aspects of themselves. You are not your label. You are a unique person with unique talents. It’s time to explore who you are beyond your diagnosis.
  • Turn the ‘negative’ into a ‘positive.’ What is right about you? If your diagnosable features were actually a strength, what would they be? If you are high energy — how could you use that to create something new? If you are super-caring and sensitive, is there a way to use those traits productively? Start flipping the viewpoint and explore your ‘weakness’ as your unique strength.
  • Build up your self-value bank. Many of us — diagnosed or not — feel like we have no value or are wrong in some way. You need to start discovering what’s worthy in you. What are you good at? What’s easy for you? What do you offer the world? Once you get some “value chips” saved in your bank, you will see how self-judgment starts to disappear and a sense of peace with being uniquely you begins to flourish.

I’ve taken a long path to be authentically me in this world. Along the way I have discovered the most amazing thing — my difference is what makes me great. When used in conscious and generative ways, it allows me to offer the world something no one else can. And it lets me to be my kind of happy. That happy doesn’t look like anyone else’s version since it is uniquely and authentically mine. That kind of happy is only truly available when you when you stop judging yourself and embrace your difference as the gift that it is. Happy exploring!

Lauren Polly, author of The Other Side of Bipolar, is a catalyst for people who are living their life on autopilot. Through her cutting-edge classes and 1:1 coaching, she’s able to help you shift from surviving to thriving through dynamic healing, self-empowerment, and life-changing tools. Her practical and light-hearted teachings are featured on her weekly radio show, Beyond Speech, Limitless Communication. A Certified Access Consciousness® Facilitator, Certified Talk to the Entities® Facilitator, ASHA Certified Medical Speech-Language Pathologist and Registered Yoga Instructor, Lauren has shown thousands of people around the world how to engage boldly with themselves, their body and the world, so they create the life they desire. Meet Lauren and be inspired at www.LaurenPolly.com .

Originally published at mariashriver.com on July 12, 2016.

Originally published at medium.com