I'm adding a new discussion topic to Cracks and Photographs that centres on the positive lessons you can find in mental illness. Mental illness is one of my passions- it's one of those topics that rev me up and set me off if I feel as though mental illness is being misrepresented. Instead of ranting and raging against the status quo, I thought I'd add some of the life lessons I've learned because of mental illness. I think that in life, if you move past the initial fear of something, you can almost always find a profound life lesson in there somewhere.
I feel as though a lot of aspects of my life have screeched to a halt this week. It's a roller coaster in my life right now.
I have rapid cycling bipolar, for which I cannot currently be medicated. Because I'm not medicated, one of the things I need to be incredibly careful of is my stress levels. I know when I reach a certain point, that it's a warning sign for a manic episode. And when more of the neon warning signs start flashing, life has to come to a grinding halt. I need to step back.
It's one of those moments that makes me glad I'm bipolar. It gives me an excuse to do something I've never felt allowed to do. As an adult, to step back from commitments and put yourself first? Downright unthinkable, isn't it? And if you're a parent, it's practically a hanging offense. But because I can't be medicated, I've had two choices forced upon me: step back, or fall into a manic episode. Stepping back is the lesser of two apparent evils.
To step back is to distance yourself temporarily from the stressors in your life, no matter what they are. It means admitting that you can't help those around you when you're running on empty. Mostly, though, it's admitting one very important notion: you deserve to be a priority in your life.
Sometimes those stressors are also known as loved ones. It hurts to say 'I can't help you right now', or 'I am not answering the phone for a few days to think over some things. Please don't contact me unless it's an emergency'. But you need to. When you're a snarling mess, sometimes the nicest thing you can do is send the kids to stay with a friend or relative for a night or two and get them out of range of your meltdown. Sometimes, stepping back is the kindest, most loving thing you can do for those around you.
Ask yourself: are you happy right now? Or do you feel overwhelmed, like you're drowning in stuff and other people's needs and wants? Do you feel like someone has cut about 9/10ths of your fuse? When was the last time you really laughed, or really smiled? When was the last time you had a totally good day, free of fighting and stress?
Do you feel like the people around you are a help or a hindrance? Do they help you meet your needs, or make it impossible for you to meet your needs?
All notions of duty (being a good daughter/son/wife/husband/partner/worker/whatever), responsibility and looking good for those around you aside, are you really happy? Is the way you're living now actually working well for you, and making life better and easier?
What did you do on your last day off? Did it involve housework, catching up on jobs or running around after other people? When was the last time you had a whole day where you had no responsibility to anyone but yourself? How did you spend it?
What will happen if you take time off and focus only on yourself? This is an especially important question. We all generally feel as though something bad will happen if we hand over the housework, the child raising, the job stuff to someone else or put it aside for a few days. Instead of a vague something, try and figure out what it is you think will happen. Then, when you have an answer, think about this: is the world really, truly going to end if you don't do whatever it is you're scared about not doing? Will the entire business collapse if you take a day off? Seriously? What will happen if you don't have a perfectly clean house? Or if the kids stay at a loved ones for a few nights?
If you're answers are along the lines that it's been forever, and that the world will end, you should at least start thinking about taking some you time. It's always better to take the time before you're a complete and emotional wreck. Prevention, as they say, is better than cure.
Think about it, and I'll post again in a few days with the second part of this topic.