Into the Sea

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Today, I am Icarus.

We all know the story.  Icarus dons wings of feathers and wax and then flies too close to the sun, falling to his death in the waters below him.  Why do I say that today I am he?  I got up this morning to greet the dawn and instead, realized that my feathers were attached with wax.  When the sun came up and I started to fly, I fell to the depths and sank like a stone.

It’s one of those kinds of days.  I have to remember every single thing I’ve ever learned in therapy and if I can’t remember, then I have to get out the notebooks.  Go over my handouts.  Look up positive tools online.  Read uplifting prose.  Stop myself in my tracks and remember that emotions are temporary and do not rule my life; my emotions are only part of me, not all of me.

In the fall of Icarus there is a sure and certain death.  Of course, I have no intention of following Icarus.  But when you are an emotive thinker and you’re expressing the down side of being bipolar, it can certainly feel like you’re falling down into the sea, the quagmire of emotional muck, your doom.

In other words, someone’s having a bad day.

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Well, today that’s me.  Bad day.  Feeling weird, feeling out of place, out of sorts, out of patience.  And patience, you see, is the attitude that I must make great efforts to cultivate and practice when I am in this kind of mood.

More often than not an anxious and depressed mood swing comes on me quite suddenly.  I can have a good morning waking up and putting on my wings, but one fleeting moment and I am falling on my face.  It’s more than just a bad day, really; it’s staring into the cauldron.  Everything is tainted, tinged, muddied and ugly as a result.  And this is where I hole up, refuse to come out among people, sit and stew and try to be patient until the mood changes.

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Hell is different for some just as heaven is different for others.  My personal definition of hell is the feeling of failure and hopelessness.  I feel that I can’t tolerate.  I cannot accept.  I beat myself terribly over situations I know I can do nothing about, over which I have no power to change.  Is this unacceptable?  Yes.  It is possible to change my mood?  Yes.  But changing these situations doesn’t mean changing the situations themselves; it means changing my attitude, changing my acceptance, working toward making my approach to them less critical.

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One way is to face them down.  Call these impossible feelings what they are: lies.  Lies that I make up in my head.  Bad and destructive emotion that eats away at how far I have come in the fight against them.

There is no one who can make these emotions subside.  I am the only one capable of doing this.  After all, they’re my emotions and I’m making them happen.  That means that I’m the only one who is able to change those emotions.

Still, there are times when the fight seems too much to take.  I need to bolster myself, prop myself up with knowledge.  I need to put on my armor and get in the fight.  Can’t win otherwise.  But it can be the most daunting task; even when you know you will turn around, that you have to hang on, it just feels so impossibly difficult sometimes.

I know that many of us have these issues.  Maybe all of us.  But I can only speak for myself.  For me, this attitude can be absolutely debilitating.  It freezes me in place.  It makes movement impossible; it takes so much effort to even pick up my head to look out my window.  These negative emotions insult me.

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Icarus Down, painter unknown

Yes, it’s an insult.  I think of all the effort I have made, all of the work that has been done, all of the pain it took to get to a point where I could move forward again.  And I get angry.  And is that helpful?  Absolutely not.  Anger isn’t the best emotion to spur you on toward taking action.  But resolve is.  Resolve means making long-term plans to change, not the immediate reaction of anger.  Resolve helps you to logically plan, to adapt to change, to prepare yourself for the goal.  Anger does none of these things; it is by nature spontaneous, destructive, fatally misplaced energy.  Resolve means going for a win; anger is just a temporary, knee-jerk failed solution.  Resolve is a forward-moving emotion.  Anger isn’t anything like resolve except perhaps in the intensity you assign to it.

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Mourning for Icarus by D.H. James

To use a cliché, it is always darkest before the dawn.  We’ve all heard it before, and that’s why it’s cliché.  But the dawn is just as bright for those of us who are bipolar and having a depressive episode.  It’s just that we’re wearing sunglasses that are way too dark to see the light.  This is what makes it so hard to be positive when confronted with these emotions; negativity is a huge impediment to moving forward and having a more realistic attitude.

Hieronymus Bosch captured the distorted, ugly reality of human nature and with amazing genius made the nightmare real to the people of his time.  I find it uncanny that his art is so expressive of horror, of pain and fear, of behavior gross and subtle.  Remarkable.  But these are negative human emotions and we who must fight against these negative emotions from controlling us should face them.  It is the only way to make a difference.  You must go through the emotion and patiently let it pass.  Things do change.  Things look better with distance from the false and negative.

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Jacob Wrestling the Angel by Paul Gauguin

So today, I will make every effort to be patient.  I will be Jacob wrestling the Angel (I will not let go until you bless me, said Jacob).   I will remind myself of the good things, the things that matter, and I will use them like a shield.  I will look into the eye of my problems and know that I will fight to change them eventually.  Maybe someday, my seemingly worst problems will be things of the past.  Maybe then I can stop feeling like I’m Icarus falling into the sea and instead feel the warm sun.  And take off those sunglasses, because I won’t need them anymore.

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