About a month ago, I started feeling good about myself and I immediately was worried.
I woke up with songs in my heart. Justice and I had some fun in the mornings, playing with matching games and puzzles. Things felt like they were moving in a positive direction.
When J was at school and I was sure I had space for myself, I went through a checklist and started listing the things affecting my mood:
sunshine (vitamin D boost!)
warmer weather (rise in body temperature!)
longer daylight hours
calendar full of exciting things
… and felt pangs of sadness.
I became worried because I know that good stress is stress.
I became worried because I know what “normal” life feels like and this better feeling seemed more like
But I was most worried because I’m pretty much conditioned at this point to assume the worst about everything, including myself. So what does it mean when things are going well? What bad thing will balance out my good time?
One and one half psych docs ago, I asked this question during an extended appointment. I was curious, shakily emerging from my second hospitalization. I felt okay but felt so insecure all the time. Doctor D was helpful and careful with me always, but she was blunt. She told me that I needed to actually recognize that things are never one direction all the time. Life, she said, is supposed to shift and change. What can remain constant and consistent is my reaction to it while adding new information along the way. Knowing that I was uncomfortable with a lot of self-help language, she went for raw honesty. She acknowledged that when it comes to this part of treatment people have the hardest time. There are regiments that feel like they lead to tangible results for when you are “sick” but when you are “well” it’s about maintenance. But when mental health is on the line, there’s so much more to lose the farther along you get. One false move and you can end up losing everything you’ve built.
For bipolar folks, there’s also the added pressure of needing to know the crash that is coming. Some in community forums liken it to waiting for a stock market to crash after a meteoric rise or the ominous building of a large tsunami wave. I wonder if this crash is waiting for me after one too many all-nighters or I accidentally cut the wrong dose, but I know there are triggers that I can’t even imagine.
So what do I do?
Usually I’d slide some language about things being complicated, no answer to these trick questions or something… but that wouldn’t be true here. I already know what to do.
Real talk, my best play has consistently been to dare myself to confront this discomfort and make it clear to myself that I’m in control of the moment I am presented with. I may not have a handle on all things seen and unseen, but I can certainly face it with realness and honesty. That fake shit was likely (micro and macro) what got me here in the first place. Acting like I’m okay with being abused by my own work practices and emotional disconnection gave me pieces of my tattered mental state. While I shouldn’t give up and check out every time, I should see the value in leaving things that don’t suit me AND stay with those that maintain me.
I don’t need to feel sick to know what well feels like. But it is okay to remember, giving light to those dark places and memories.
“I’m Doug and I’m an alcoholic. One of the things I do for a living is count. I count votes. Yays, nays, neutrals, abstaining. And I’m good at it. But the most important count I do has nothing to do with work. It’s the number of days since April 4th, 1999. As of this morning that’s 5,185. The bigger that number gets, the more it frightens me because I know all it takes is one drink for that number to go back to zero. Most people see fear as a weakness. It can be. Sometimes for my job I have to put fear in other people. I know that’s not right. But if I’m honest, like the fourth step asks us to be, I have to be ruthless. Because failure is not an option. The same goes for my sobriety. I have to be ruthless with myself. I have to use my fear. It makes me stronger. Like everyone else in this room, I can’t control who I am. But I can control the zero. Fuck the zero.”
– Doug Stamper, House of Cards