“Take care of yourself so you can get healthy.”
This has become common counsel from loved ones. I know it’s done with love, but it can be damn frustrating. Don’t you think if I could somehow stop having symptoms, I would? They want me to exercise more, eat a balanced diet and stay positive to help halt those depressive and hypomanic symptoms. However, telling me to sleep eight hours when I’m hypomanic or think positively when I’m depressed feels impossible and defeating. I am doing the best I can in a complicated and exhausting situation.
Perhaps help me celebrate what is attainable: sleeping five hours instead of three, eating one meal instead of none or seeing life is worth living after weeks of wanting to die. These are huge steps in the right direction. They might not resemble what society deems healthy, but it’s my reality.
Truthfully, I have spent many years tricking myself into believing that if I forced myself beyond what I am physically and emotionally capable of, I could get rid of my bipolar disorder. This often ends with out-of-control symptoms and it has been the most detrimental coping mechanism I’ve employed. Whether it’s exhaustion caused by going out with friends when depressed, or a hospital stay in the psychiatric ward because of extreme stress from work, the fallout is painful.
To appear healthy, I stubbornly push through the symptoms, but this has led to numerous breakdowns. I desperately want to work more than 15 hours a week and not have to take 12 pills a day to stave off destructive symptoms, but that’s how it is. Trying to work more than 15 hours has led to numerous dramatic scenes. One in particular that stands out is of me crying hysterically, while hiding under a kitchen chair, repeating to myself, “I just can’t anymore.” I’ve skipped taking emergency medications when I desperately needed them because I wanted to fight through it on my own. Sadly, I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit pretending this disease doesn’t challenge all parts of my life. Dreaming I’d magically wake up and be considered healthy.
Much to my dismay, this dream has never panned out. The more I try to drown out and ignore my symptoms, the more devastation abounds. Regardless if the consequences are relatively benign or more extreme, the endless repercussions weigh heavily on me.
I have a tremendously hard time accepting I will be dealing with difficult bipolar symptoms for the rest of my life. I’m willing to abandon my mental, physical and emotional health to appear healthy and functional. Imagine pushing yourself so hard at work that at the end of the day you hide in a bathtub devoid of water (my safe place) because your anxiety is so high? It may seem like asinine behavior, but I’ve done it countless times. Unwilling to admit I behave in ways that threaten my stability makes my life more challenging than it needs to be.
I’m willing to silence that inner voice that knows how to keep me relatively stable. Compared to others, I often need more rest, solitude and a schedule that is flexible enough to accommodate my highs and lows. However, I ignore this voice and push myself to appear healthy in my social and professional life. What’s ironic is that this makes me unhealthier and creates self-loathing. When I’m struggling, I should be giving myself permission to miss meals, sleep and work without judging myself so severely. How is it OK that I spend so much bloody time hating myself? This can’t be what healthy feels like.
What if healthy meant being patient and gentle with myself? Crying without feeling weak or experiencing unprovoked rage without guilt? Accepting I’m not always going to be well enough to leave the house when I’m anxious or do laundry when I’m scattered and foggy, but loving myself anyway? Maybe healthy will be more about patience, acceptance and compassion for myself.