Checking On Your Life Chart
Many people don’t understand or see the pain bipolar people live with. Often they don’t see how hard it is to fight that pain, either. When it comes to bipolarity I am sure that most of us would rather not have to deal with the pain and confusion associated with it. It’s the same for everyone else, too, mentally ill or not. Everyone experiences pain in varying degree and fighting the problem of painful emotional problems and issues is quite an uphill battle for all of us. But imagine having to do that fight with both hands tied behind your back.
That’s what it’s like when you have a mental illness. There’s more difficulty to be had. The stigma of having the disease, the inability to maintain clear thinking because of cognitive distortion, the needed therapy and medication costs – all of this conspiring against you before you even get to the point of the matter and even then, you’ve just begun.
Of course, everyone has a great big bag of issues to carry around, and there’s plenty of pain in that bag: the pain of failure, of loss and misunderstanding. Since we’re human, pain is part of the experience of life and it hurts quite a bit. But inside the bag we carry is also the will to fight against that pain. Ask anyone fighting emotional pain and you’ll find it’s heartbreaking as well as uplifting. It’s all a part of the universal human condition.
Don’t Offer to Carry More Baggage
I find it sad that many people don’t take action to change their problems and find solutions, either because they can’t or won’t. Some people prefer their pain because it’s become familiar, routine. Emotional pain can feel like the unwanted guest that never leaves. But to sit around and do nothing to make life better is hopelessly static and it is only moving forward that truly makes you want to live.
You can change the situation even if you believe or feel you can’t. If you feel you simply cannot do it then you need to get to a psychiatrist to make that change possible. Therapy gives you tools that can make it happen, and by working with those tools progress is made.
I’m often unhappy and I know what it’s like to pray for deliverance from hurt and pain. I know what it’s like to be lonely as a result of stigma, too. And I feel the pain of the idea that now I’m someone I never was and someone I don’t wish to be. I didn’t ask to have this upheaval brought into my life. I wanted to be who I was, but that simply cannot be. We change because that is the reality of existence.
More than likely you’ve felt this way, too. Moving toward emotional happiness, toward being comfortable socially or being unafraid to face the future is very difficult for most people. It’s hard to learn to be the new you as opposed to the old you. You lose some things along the way, but you gain others. It’s painful to accept the changes you’ve been through but those changes can be good changes. Transformation takes practice and courage and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
I Feel Great! I Feel Like Crap! Wait…
Many people do not understand what bipolar people experience on a regular basis; just how very hard a stable emotional life can be to create and to foster. Those close to us need to understand exactly what a state of oscillation (cyclothymia) is because it explains a great deal about bipolar behavior.
Bipolar oscillation is like life on a roller coaster; it’s that swing up into hypomania and then down into depression that can make life so uncertain for bipolar people. It makes you wonder who you are. It makes you feel like you’re someone you don’t recognize. It’s disconcerting. It can feel like you’ll never land. There’s very little sense of emotional stability or dependability and it can make you feel quite desperate.
For example, for most people there are good and bad days; a bad or good day is exactly that, you experience it and then it’s over and you move on to the next. But when you suffer from bipolar disorder you’re never quite sure where that day is going to take you. If you rapid cycle (like me), then the oscillation between hypomania and depression can happen incredibly quickly but more often it is long periods of up and down. And both have their dangers.
Imagine being very happy, outgoing, brimming with energy and not needing very much sleep. Everything is great, even grand. Life is fantastic. The streets are gold, the skies are blue and everyone’s in love.
Then imagine going from that wonderful feeling to being unable to get out of bed, out of energy, a self-loathing mass of pain so desperately unhappy that you consider life to be a burden, to be worthless, hopeless. Everything hurts from the inside out. You are a painful, angry shadow of yourself.
Which Way Is Up? Anyone Have a Map?
To those who are not mentally ill this oscillation often represents the stereotypical idea of what is bipolar and in the extreme stereotype they believe we all go from doing a woo-hoo out of the top of a limousine to taking a straight razor to our wrists. That’s a ridiculous generalization and patently untrue for most of us. Most of us that are bipolar work toward understanding why we are the way we are, and how to ‘normalize’ our thinking and emotions. It is that very uncertainty of our mood that makes it so difficult to feel – I hate the word! – normal.
After much therapy and the right medication, normal for me is now my idea of normal. Other people no longer dictate to me what is ‘normal’, as much as they’d like that. I set my bar to what I feel is normal and that bar is moving every moment, every day, all the time. It’s rather like I’m doing the limbo (how apt that visualization). And as long as I have perspective on what my ‘normal’ is then the bar is set where I need it to be. I’ve worked hard for that perspective. Every day is different, and that’s normal.
But what if you don’t feel normal in spite of your endless work? It can be something very hard to transcend, that feeling. But there’s no real basis in fact that you are not ‘normal’. Who the hell is? [You might be in crisis, but that’s not what I mean here. I mean ‘normal’ in a broader sense. If you’re in crisis or feel suicidal get professional help as soon as you can.]
But if you truly believe yourself to be not ‘normal’ then you’ve put that label on yourself. Want to wear underwear on your head? That might not be normal to some but hey, if that’s normal to you, then find a pair that matches your eyes. Still, you probably will want to examine your perspective on the whole idea of wearing panties as a hat.
Living up to other’s expectation is not living your life; rather, it’s living others’ impression of what your life is supposed to be according to them. That’s not a good thing. If they don’t like the fact that you’re wearing underwear on your head that’s their problem — unless you’re wearing their underwear on your head and if you are then you’re just being inconsiderate. And again, you might want to examine your perspective on the issue.
As for me, being ‘normal’ is the last thing I want. I seriously doubt I could be anyone else’s idea of normal if I tried. I just want to be healthy, and that’s enough for me; my own interpretation of healthy is what’s important as long as it’s guided by therapy, medication and the perspective they bring.
Others have their own issues to deal with and your life’s trajectory may feel like one of them, but that’s not really true. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t offer you plenty of advice in order to get your life to resemble their own. But if you allow that advice to rule you, you’re giving others the power to determine who you are supposed to be or how you are supposed to feel.
Your life trajectory is your responsibility. It’s yours to decide. By all means honor others’ true concern for you and for your welfare but remember, you need to be your own first priority. That’s not selfish, it’s sensible empowerment. And your first priority is being your own person.
When you’re bipolar, perspective is something you might sorely lack. Perspective is an important commodity in which you need to invest. It isn’t all that easy to come by. When I lack perspective it makes everything I do so much harder than it has to be. Which is why any advice anyone gives you – and that includes any advice that I might give you — needs to be taken in its proper perspective.
Want better perspective? Work on it with your therapist. Listen to sage professional advice.
Want underwear on your head? Fine. Just not my paisley pair, please. Those are mine.
[I encourage anyone that reads this blog to please get in touch with me, tell me of your experiences, let me know what you think is right or wrong about what I’m talking about. I want to hear your opinions and ideas.]