I was sitting at dinner with my mother and I was talking about how I needed to change the channel from the feeling sorry for me and poor me streaming stations to a more productive Ways to Rebuild My Life. The thing is I think I switch back and forth between all these channels. I’m simply trying not to listen to the poor me series that continues to play on and on if I let it.
I know I am not the only person out there who has suffered substantial loss at the hands of a mental illness. All you have to do is say the words mental illness and one can assume some type of hardship has occurred or continues to occur. It’s a sickening, cruel illness and there’s nothing anyone can say that will change my mind about it. It steals silently and loudly.
But there comes a point in time where you have to learn how to live with it. I like it that NAMI and other organizations point to the fact that those of us with a mental illness can live healthy and productive lives. It gives me hope that I can live a healthy and productive life. What they don’t say is how hard the journey can be getting from before a mental illness to after and all the potential destructiveness in between. I have seen recovery workbooks that demonstrate somewhat of a blueprint for recovery. They are helpful except where do we turn when the journey gets lonely and painful? What examples do we have to look at when we start down the recovery path and need other people to shine a light for us? Where are the stories of people living with mental illness?
I have been a student of bipolar illness for more than thirty years. I have seen the illness wreck havoc with family members lives and I have lived through the illness taking its’ toll on my own life. I have turned to books and blogs, support groups and any movie I could watch to give me some insight into how to better cope and deal with my own personal journey. All of the information has helped me but at the end of the day I wanted more. I wanted to be able to talk to someone who could set me on the right track. Someone who could give me hope that my future was going to be bright and productive. That somehow and someway I was going to make a difference in someone else’s life in a positive way.
So tonight my dinner conversation occurred. I said, “I need to stop feeling sorry for myself.” My mother replied, “Yes you do. You have so much to be thankful for. Just think about tomorrow being a better day. Look for the good and you’ll find it. Just look for the good Amy.”
As simple as it may seem when someone tells you to look for the good it’s not a bad idea to listen. You can always turn your channel to the feel sorry for me station, except you don’t get very far thinking about the past and what could have been. Where it’s happening is today and the future you can have by learning to cope with “what is.” Learning to be alright living with a mental illness. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.
How do people deal with loss after getting sick and having it affect every aspect of your life? This is something I struggle with because my life has changed and I have experienced almost every element of loss that is possible. For example, my socio-economic level has changed; I’ve lost important relationships; and I lost my career. Everything else that has happened in my life is simply fall-out from those three major changes.
Mental illness is often a hidden disease. Most people would have no idea I have bipolar illness unless I told them. Yet I stand on the sidelines of life in many respects because I have been beaten down with so many losses. Then I go out and do something productive and feel good about myself. I recover an inch at a time and then I have setbacks—those times when I find myself feeling sorry for the person I have become, mourning for the person I used to be.
Dealing with loss is no fun. Sometimes I wonder if I had never had such a terrific career if it would be easier and of course I don’t get to know the answer to that question. I can only ponder the “what ifs” the “should have been” for a little while, because ultimately the “should a,” “would a,” “could a” all become hazards to my health and well-being. They hold the losses under a powerful microscope and make me feel hopeless and when you suffer from depression hopelessness is a trigger.
So I play the attitude adjustment tapes in my mind. Life isn’t over it’s just different. I have to indulge a little bit of my “poor Amy tapes” otherwise it’s not realistic. I’m very sad I ended up with a mental illness. I wish I could go back in time and handle it better in the hopes of different outcomes. But we only get one pass through and no returns to the beginning. What I can do is tell other people what I have learned. And yet I continue to search for others to teach me what they have learned—some pearl of wisdom out there that makes this overwhelming loss seem less painful and completely unfair.
I often compare my state of being with someone who has lost his or her limbs. I know many would disagree. But this is how I feel. I am nowhere near the person I used to be. I can walk without prosthetics but not without many hurdles. I live every day with a sense of loss. Sometimes I can shake it and other times I painfully review how my past used to be—the times with lots of friends, good relationships, lots of responsibilities, and a whole lot more money. Now it’s tough times for my psyche.
We don’t get to choose what cards we get dealt in life. All we can do is continue to fight for some semblance of life knowing it could be better and knowing it could be a heck of a lot worse. I’m probably more fortunate than many but to me I will always experience some losses and some will be more difficult than others to let go of.
Mental illness, especially the ones that take you down are cruel diseases. It’s possible to recover and live a happy life but it takes lots of courage and a whole lot of fight. I hope I am up for the challenge.