An Examined Year

The tasks are done and the tears are shed.
Yesterday’s errors let yesterday cover;
Yesterday’s wounds, which smarted and bled,
Are healed with the healing that night has shed.

– Sarah Chauncey Woolsey

In all of my long life I have never had a year such as 2013.  A year of desperation, upheaval, confusion and depression that became a year of hope and possibility.  A year in which I found myself again.  A year of giving thanks for turning away from the specter of suicide to today, where I sit at my desk thinking about (of all things) necessity.

It was necessary for me to continue life.  It was necessary to find my way, to come back from the edge, to step away from the lip of the cliff.  It was critical that I find help to overcome the frenzied gloom that had made my existence a dire, living hell from which no escape was possible.  Had things not turned around I would not be writing this.  Had there not been a dedicated team to get me past my greater pain and to help me do the right thing for myself, I would be a memory.  I would be dust.

Dramatic change comes with great price: hard work that includes constant self-examination of behavior, seeing the truth of reality as it is and denying the overwhelming gloom of depression and the powerful static of hypomania.  It’s a steep price, but who would not gladly pay that price to have coherent thinking, to have optimism, to have hope?

The year Two Thousand and Thirteen was for me the most important I have ever had because it brought me something I so lacked in my life: clarity.

In the second week of December 2012 I was diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder.  That month brought new medication and from that moment on I had a chance to turn everything around.  It gave me the right amount of distance from the pain by correcting the chemical imbalance in my brain, true, but what it really did was allow me the freedom to begin to heal.

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Yeah, that’s me at the end of the tunnel.  It turned out that my destination wasn’t a place in which to arrive, some fantastical, magical place where I came back into the light and everything was dancing penguins and cartoon flowers.  Nope.  I was at the end of the tunnel, the new me fashioned from the old, the reinvented Jim.  The codger that came out of the painfully meaningful experience of intense therapy is a new and different creature.  I am that new creature.

It was a long journey through that tunnel, a tiring and bitter trip until one day when I finally decided that whatever life I have from this point forward will not be one that faces in the wrong direction.  The life I have decided to live is going to be my life and will be lived my way, but I will live, and I will learn to love this life as I am able.  I will find my way through the experience.

In the six very short weeks from mid-December 2012 to the end of January, 2013, I began the process of reawakening.  Today marks one year that I have been properly medicated, a year of intense personal one-on-one therapy, a year in which I came through from death to life.  Anyone that has ever had the experience of working through such a thing can tell you of the supreme difficulty, the incredible drive to will a better existence and the constant hard, hard work it takes to survive the experience.

I’m not crowing about my success, exactly; it’s a deeply personal transition, a path that was mine to take alone and one that others may sympathize or empathize with but could never truly and completely understand.  But now that I know how hard that road is, my respect for those who have made it — and my sadness over those who have not — is at once profound and painfully familiar.

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It was in the month of August 2013 that the one thing I had thought lost forever finally had a shining moment: joy, simple joy, not a temporary ‘good moment’.  It was a profound, glorious, pervasive, laughter-filled and real sense of delight.  Not just a physical thing, not just a mental thing, not just a spiritual thing, but the real thing, a synergy of everything that made me not only happy to be alive but delighted to my core that I was alive to experience it.

How close I came to never experiencing that moment frightens me.  I want many, many more of those moments and those moments would never happen were I six feet under the earth or scattered to the winds or on the sea.

When I think of how hard I worked for that moment, how hard many other people worked to get me there, how supportive family and friends were to help me reach that single, wonderful moment, I realized one of the truths that give life meaning: the mercy in an outstretched hand grasped by people who care.  The truths of learning to overcome, of allowing healing, of seeking answers, of making commitments.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”

– Aldous Huxley

This brings me to today, December 23, 2013.  I have through all of these months learned some extremely valuable tools to be used in helping to change or control the fears of life, the anxiety that fear causes, and the thinking that creates anxiety.  These tools, like any tools, only work when whomever wields the tool does so with experience.  It is my commitment that I learn, for example, when to use a hammer instead of a saw (metaphorically speaking).  I have seen the gains made by using the right tool to do the job, and I have learned the benefit of letting go of fighting reality when all I need do is learn how to change or accept that reality.

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So begins the winter of 2014, now only days away but coming up quickly as the seasons are apt to do.  Even if the distance is in mist, even if it is only the cold of winter for company, the path is clearer than ever.  You see, in these past months I have learned some very valuable things.

Understanding is great, but discovery is better.  Discovery is what leads to understanding; discovery brings us the new as well as the known, the unfamiliar as well as the resurfacing of the familiar.  And discovery brings us something we must have as humans: surprise.

The coming spring might be as familiar as any that preceded it, but what it brings, who can guess?  What experiences will come, for good or ill?  What will be?  Who can say?

Well, I can say one thing about it with some certainty: the coming spring will not bring a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.  I have my toolbox with me.  I know who to ask for directions should I find myself lost.  I know that I can depend on the love of my family, the constancy of a good friend, the assistance of my team if I become a wayward traveler in need of a guiding light.

To those of you who suffer and struggle with mental illness, I send my love and hopes for you.  Even if you believe it is impossible to overcome, hang on tightly, hang on because you too have people who can help you through the forest.  Let them in.  Let them help.

To those of you who love and care for someone who has a mental illness, please, please spend the time to let them know of your love and understanding.  I know the difficulties you face but remember, you’re helping those you love and who love you.  Hang on, because with help and love your loved ones benefit in ways you cannot guess.

To those of you that know me, know this: I am walking my own path, the one I blaze, the one that leads me toward hope.  It is now and forever the only path I will travel, and because you have been with me all along (whether I knew it or not), I have made it past the cliffs, past the dangers, past the lightning.

And because of everyone’s love and care, I am still here.  Je demeure éternellement reconnaissant — I remain forever grateful.

“If I were dying my last words would be: Have faith and pursue the unknown end.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

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