I never would have chosen this life and yet it’s perfectly me. I wouldn’t change a thing. Well… I wish I had musical talent and could cook without making myself sick, but other than that I’m generally good with it and yet this is far from the life I thought I’d be living. No one in their right mind would say;
“Hey, could I have my heart broken a few times, a brain injury, maybe a couple of mental illnesses…. and um, throw in some random medical stuff like crazy side effects while your at it?”
“Would you like a side of tragedy?”
“At least one. Maybe a few for my family and friends, too? Can I add an addiction? ”
“Addictions only come in multiples. Which package would you like?”
“Hmm… I’ll have to think about that. I really like the caffeine addiction. Love my Pepsi! But does that have to come with the nicotine addiction and increased risk for gambling addiction?”
“You could exchange the gambling addiction for alcoholism.”
“Let me think about it… I’m not really a drinker.”
“If you act now we will throw in as much anxiety, self doubt and depression as you can handle.”
“Ohhh! I do love a deal… ok. Well take off the gambling and alcoholism and I’ll take weird obsession with rocks, sticks and pinecones. What’s the total for that, so far?”
Just one minute please and I’ll total that up. While your waiting, have you considered adding stigma and bad stereotypes?
“Oh that sounds fun! I have shoes that match that perfectly! Add those on too!”
“I’m going to put you on hold while I check on the availability and total your order. Please wait.”
“Ms. McLeod? I’ve totaled your order and I have exciting news for you! You qualify for a special gift! We’re going to throw in Sudden Artistic Output Syndrome, at no extra charge.”
“Oh, but I’m not really artistic. I do have a glue gun but I don’t know if I’d be qualified.”
“Doesn’t matter, no one knows what that is anyway. It’ll just give you something to do.”
“Ok then… so. The price?”
“The total cost is just Life As You Know it in a little place called Below the Poverty Line.”
“Hey… I’ve been there before, when I was in college… is this some sort of trick?”
“Did I mention I’m throwing in 12 full months of vertigo because we value your business?”
“Oh my goodness! I always wanted that! Well, if I can stay in my pj’s and wear socks with my sandals you can sign me up!”
“That’s the standard uniform. Ok. You are signed up. You should be losing your job, house, leased car, part time business and your partner shortly after the bankruptcy.”
“Oh I didn’t know I got a bankruptcy!”
“It’s just the luck of the draw. You are really lucky today.”
“This day just keeps getting crazier!”
“You won’t want to use that word anymore. Crazy. It has to do with the stigma… oh wait. I am sorry. You did order the stigma, I remember. To go with your shoes. Please, proceed. “
“It’s ok, Just one last question. When the novelty of all this wears off and I want to go back to being me again, how do I “get better” and get back to normal.”
“Normal is an illusion.”
“Yeah, right, whatever… how to get to be my old regular self again?”
“That will never happen. You will always be you but who you will be will be different than who you are, or rather, were. The process has already started. The concussion will trigger this all.”
“What concuss.. *bam*”
No one orders the bad stuff yet that’s the stuff which is life defining. Those battles chisel us down to define the person we are. It’s how we react to the challenges and what we do after that really shows our true colours. That is, after the dust has settled; but the in between time is messy.
We don’t always accept change well and especially when it wasn’t in our plans. I love change when I have time to plan for it. Planning and preparing is my favourite thing to do. Events, trips… even if they aren’t real, I love brainstorming with my wipe and write board and index cards. Anything can be manageable if you have time to prepare and accept it and make a plan to embrace it, but when that change is unexpected and unwanted, that can be hard to wrap your head around.
I talk the big talk now but I sure wasn’t walking the walk when I spent several days weeks months okay, fine… years, feeling sorry for myself. First it took a long time to figure out what was wrong with me and with every diagnosis I optimistically thought ‘if they have a name for it they can fix it.’ I did the Waiting for the Magic Pill, the Scouring the Internet for a cure and the full range of Why Does Everything Bad Happen to Me? and I have to say… it just didn’t fit me.
I wanted to snap out of it or get over it but it was awfully comfortable in the depths of despair. I mean, it wasn’t exactly the plan I had for my life but I didn’t really have to brush my hair or wear a bra so… well, you can see the perks. I spent many days planning my recovery and had several false starts; like every morning when I didn’t want to get out of bed. A newly acquired addiction to the internet married nicely with my laziness and I could be the super sociable me that I once was but didn’t have to leave the house, which was great because I really didn’t have the energy and had an over abundance of anxiety. I researched all I could about alternative treatment plans once I realized that being over medicated wasn’t my only choice. When a dentist told me that those same medications had broken down the enamel on my teeth, (well that and the bonus caffeine addiction) and that all my teeth would have to come out, I knew I had to find a better way. I studied me, my patterns and spoke at length with my friends, family and others with bipolar disorder. I consulted with my psychiatrist, psychologist and GP.I went to support groups and read all the materials I could find and from that I created a plan for myself.
I knew the key for me was to keep life simple and focus on balance. I knew I needed proper sleep, to eat healthier and to get some exercise. I knew I had to paint, and without all the medications I was able to get back to that again. I knew I needed more music but to be careful of what I listened to as music can be incredibly powerful and mood changing which can be a pro or a con. I knew that my recipe for getting back into life was ever changing, like me and I altered it as I went along.
I started out small. Putting on some music and walking to the end of the hall of the apartment building and back. Then a couple of halls and stairways, and finally bundling up and heading out into the real world. Half a block further each time until I was walking 5km a day. That small accomplishment each day and the constant support from my daughter cheering me on gave me more confidence. I began to get more involved in the community and volunteered at the foodbank. I started using my powers for good rather than finding new ways to feel sorry for myself. Eventually my enthusiasm for life and my sense of social responsibility overtook the desire to want to give up. That’s when I really started living.
Every day was a choice and I have to be honest, some days I chose not to play. I learned not to beat myself up about it. Some times we need a down day. Our bodies will tell us when. But more than 2 down days in a row and be careful. That’s the slippery slope back to only showering once a week. Volunteering was perfect. I did when I could and didn’t when it was just too much. I planned around naps and my balanced routine until I no longer needed to bribe myself to be awesome, it was just naturally happening.
I am thankful that a life of not working turned into a life of volunteering. My passion, ideas and creativity serve me much better as the president of my community association, or the chairwoman of our farmer’s market more than it ever did working accounts receivable.
“I’d like to make a return.”
“What are you returning, Ma’am?”
“I’m returning this bipolar disorder, anxiety, brain injury and the lack of confidence. I don’t really need to use those labels anymore. They don’t serve me well.”
“Ma’am you do know that returning the labels won’t make you any less bipolar, brain injured or prone to anxiety?”
“I do know that but I’m also a community activist, a passionate advocate and life long learner. Those seem like better things to focus on.”
“What about the Sudden Artist Output Syndrome?”
“Oh, I’m keeping that. That’s just cool now that I can control it.”
“It really is cool…Well. I guess we’re done here. Have a nice… er… life.”
“That is exactly my plan.”