While learning to live and cope with bipolar disorder, I started attending mental health support groups in my area. These meetings offer support and understanding and have introduced me to new methods of thinking and behaving. One member of these groups is the poster child for successful, progressive healing from several challenging illnesses. She has been on the recovery road for quite some time and seems 100% committed to remaining stable indefinitely. I applaud her efforts and her dedication to healthy living and can appreciate how keeping a routine keeps her on track.
I know it’s never a good idea to compare and despair, but I just can’t quite jump on board with mapping out every little task every single day. Even though I have been told time and time again that to maintain a stable life, I must develop and sustain a regular routine, my scattered bipolar brain cannot quite put this into practice. In addition and just as important as routine living, I have learned I need to avoid any triggering thoughts or behaviors altogether.
Now I really am trying to get my head around this (apparently) simple concept, but every time I remind myself how beneficial this will be in my day-to-day living, I can’t help but run the other way. I mean, come on—a life filled with scheduled events and void of triggering behavior sounds as boring as watching paint dry! Contemplating this actually makes my stomach turn. Even though steering clear of triggers is truly the key to keeping my mood stable, in my chaotic line of thinking, it actually translates to carrying on in a manner that is the furthest thing from actual living. Routine schedules actually makes my skin crawl.
Why in the world would I want to spend my time day-in and day-out this way? It just doesn’t gel with my personality or the creative activity I crave on an ongoing basis. And, frankly, it is counterintuitive. I mean, really, how can I make my life any more mundane than it already is? I have already given up my career and any inkling of a full-time job—instead, I include naps, downtime, and meditation. I make sure my sleep and hygiene is spot on. I ensure I get plenty of rest on my days off from my very low-stress part-time job at a mall gift store. My tattered soul is screaming that it’s absolutely criminal to box myself in even more.
Living every moment scheduled to the minute is akin to my poor dog’s anguish when I take him for walks. My spunky dog Bruno instinctively knows any chance of fun is going to be found outside the confines of trotting along while being restrained. I actually feel sorry for the little guy, since I’m required to keep him leashed while walking about in my quiet little neighborhood. I see and feel the sheer joy he finds when allowed to chase birds, bunnies, and squirrels, which appear out of nowhere. No matter how many times we head out, whether it be the 20th or the 200th time, he will always yank, twist or sprint upon sensing even the slightest movement from critters that cross our path. And who can blame him? I can honestly say I understand why he continually reaches for anything out of his predetermined acceptable radius.
Like many others who live with a mental illness, all of my triggers are closely associated with things I shouldn’t be doing. So how can my mental health support team make it appealing for me to refrain from staying up late, eating junk food, doing some online shopping, or even crushing on an attractive, interesting new male friend? They can repeat themselves over and over, claiming a calm and simple life is the golden ticket to remaining healthy. That acquiring stability is the be-all end-all, the best chance I have at achieving happiness. They can reiterate this is the one and only way to maintain healthy relationships with friends and family.
But even at this point, I am still not sold. Perhaps I’m too early in the recovery phase of bipolar disorder to build my life’s activities within structured boundaries? After all, I was diagnosed about 30 years ago—it’s still early, right? Or maybe the honest to God truth is I’ll never become accustomed to a “normal” life. I mean, what’s the point of living if I have to give up an amazing chocolate dessert or refrain from purchasing a shiny new necklace on a whim? And I’m not sure about you, but I also keep hearing that life is short, so why can’t I live a little on the edge like everyone else? I may have to learn to live with the merry-go-round of mood shifts, but at least I can enjoy the ride, right?
Well, maybe those without the challenge of a mental illness can live dangerously and not suffer any damaging consequences. But to be perfectly honest, I do believe in my case that I need to continually work toward a life of stability. Without it, I am a barrel of laughs on the way up but a real drag on the way down—and the higher I go, the lower I will descend.
The hard truth is the fall-out from riding the hypomanic waves and crashing into depressive mode not only affects me but also all of my loved ones. I need to weigh the pros of cons of my actions and consider the unwavering love and support I continually receive. I suppose I may need to strike a balance in the “every moment is structured” way of living. Hopefully I can resist unhealthy behaviors, which tend to trigger mood shifts. Because at the end of the day, I would love to reach a point where I can reflect upon my efforts of stable living, or at least as stable as my bipolar brain will allow.