Pro-tip: read this summary to save yourself some time. I am feeling frustrated that I feel defined by an illness I refuse to define me and don’t consider to be part of my identity, even though it is because it is a mental illness, so therefore, by definition, it has an impact on my thinking and behaviour, and therefore, me as a person. And this is all complicated by the fact that I feel defined by an illness I do not actually believe I have because I am FINE…even though by some people’s definitions, I am probably not…but I feel fine.
A few months ago I made a post about taking things slow. About how maybe it was a good thing, that I wasn’t ‘rushing’ and would be taking the time to ‘get better’ and ‘focus on me’ and do the things that were going to help me ‘stay well’.
Well, what a load of shit that all was.
In theory, it all made sense- I wasn’t going to ‘get better’ if I didn’t give myself the time to do so. In practise however, inching on in the way I have been, focusing on good sleep and better eating and exercise and not too much stress and attending appointments means very little if nothing is happening to fix what is probably the very thing that is keeping you ‘unwell’ (in my case, acceptance- or lack thereof).
I did all the things you’re ‘supposed’ to do- and I’m told the same by the OT when I see her last week- I’ve been doing really well at recovery, I’ve been soooo proactive, I’ve been really trying. And I am, I have been- on paper. But my mindset hasn’t changed. Or rather, it did, but over the past few months, I’ve slid right back down to where I was last October? November? December?
If we’re gonna get theoretical about it, my core belief hasn’t changed: I am not ‘ill’.
I’d left hospital in February assured that I Needed Lithium- what more proof did I need? Two months, including the festive season, spent in hospital and having to take a leave of absence from uni and move back home- surely that had to be enough?
It wasn’t, apparently. It was early May when things started shifting, I think. End of May I was struggling with wanting to take meds. Early June I was struggling to believe I needed meds. But on the outside, I am Doing Well. I am speaking at funding commissions and co-facilitating a Recovery College talk on ‘Living with bipolar’ (all the while howling internally at the hypocrisy of that when I was struggling to Live With It myself) and attending training courses to begin a placement in a hospital and going to the gym and yoga several times a week and my mood is Stable. The medical appointments dry up and Stable tips over into “am I even ‘unwell’ at all?”.
Alarm bells are a’ringing when I recognise that this was how it all started before Christmas. So I try to tell them I am Struggling and my CPN scoffs when I tell her I had been close to ringing the ward one night (as per written in my medication contract, I’ve to speak to my CPN/ring the ward if I want to stop my meds) and tells me “sure you know what they’re going to say anyway- just take them!” and my psych is nice and reassuring but it strikes me that, really, there is nothing he- or anyone- can do to change the thoughts in my brain. And the weeks press on and my thoughts spiral and when I rock up one day expecting to see my psychiatrist (with the intention of word vomiting “holyfuckingshitIamMessingThisUphelpmebeforethisgetsoutofhand” all over him in the hope he will somehow be able to yank me off thin ice and get me Back With The Program), I am met with a blood test instead. So the cat is out of the bag, as it were, and at group two days later I tell my CPN (maybe a little aggressively) “I’m literally fine though.” Because at this point, it is true. I am fine.
The ship has sailed, the ‘window’ is gone, rational brain has left the building, et cetera…or something like that.
Ok, I’ve gone off on a tangent and I’ve stopped and started this post to go to ASDA to buy new bedsheets that I do not need and a whole heap of food that amounts to £30 something yet doesn’t actually contain much of anything I could make an actual meal out of…
ANYWHO, yes. I took it slow. I took it v e r y y y y y y slow, assured that it was the Right Thing to do. Only I am concluding now, that it wasn’t. Because:
a) my present situation is as listed above- basically, taking it slow did not stop the thing happening that I have been repeatedly told will lead to a ‘relapse’ (ie. not accepting/coming to terms with the fact I have a ‘chronic condition’ that needs ‘life long management’ = eventual medication non-compliance = relapse etc etc…but that’s a-OK, because as it turns out, I do not actually have an illness to relapse from so, we alllllll good)
b) I am left where I am now- ie. unemployed and living at home and comparing myself to my sister who is about to start a graduate job, my younger sister who is working and about to move out to go to uni, my best friends who are living in various different countries, a friend who is graduating as a nurse, my uni friends who are off travelling the world, my uni course mates who have finished their first year as student nurses, my friends from home who all have jobs and boyfriends and busy lives
Comparison is the thief of joy and all that- it’s true…I am miserable and feel very much like a stunted tree when I look around me and see people my age living the kinda lives I want to live. So I try not to think about it. I try and content myself with the fact that ‘things don’t happen overnight’ ya di yada and I am doing what I can to move towards living the kinda life I want to live…like being on work placement and getting involved with the recovery college and saving so I can maybe go travelling or buy my own car or move out. But there are days- like today- where it gets Frustrating that I am not where I want to be in life.
I hate throwing illness around as an excuse, but the matter of fact is, it is the explanation. My life hasn’t gone according to plan because I’ve spent time shacked up in hospital. Things like travelling and moving out and spending a year on Erasmus during my BA degree and living away from home studying nursing and dating and doing some of the things I want to do and apply for and put myself forward for, haven’t happened because, errr, you can’t bloody well do anything if you’re in hospital, and when you get out of hospital there’s the fact travel insurance flies through the roof, your ability to live independently is called into question and there’s always a worry about how you’ll “cope” if you hop on a plane to visit your friends in Australia or start working 12 hour shifts in a nursing home and you’ve missed so much time off uni the course lead tells you to give it up and come back next year instead.
I very much see myself as more than an illness. I have a friend with the same diagnosis who will say that there’s things she wants to do in life but knows she can’t because of her illness, and she’s accepted that. Which is totally fine, but if I’m going to accept this, I’m not going to let it hold me back. I want to nurse, to travel, to have a partner, to do and experience the things on my bucket list, to live independently, to BE ME. And I don’t believe having three little words, typed in black and white on my medical notes, should dictate whether I do or achieve those things.
And yet, right now, when I look around at Where I’m At, it has done- it is doing. When I compare myself to those around me, this illness has very much stood in the way, chained me down and held me back. I very much don’t let it define me or consider it in any way a significant part of my identity (prominent, maybe, in that, the fact it’s a ~brain illness means it can change how I think, feel, interact etc, but it’s certainly not a defining part of me), but sometimes it kinda feels like no matter how much I try to separate it from me, it latches itself onto me and follows me round like a bad smell.
I guess it’s like this: when you meet someone new, and small talk brings up questions like: Oh so you still live at home then? How come you left uni? You’re not working at the minute? Why didn’t you go travelling with your friends? And every single answer is because of three little words, typed in black and white on your medical notes, it is hard to believe that even when actively trying for it not to be, it is somehow a Big part of you.
(But then, I’m not actually bipolar, sooooooooo)
So I guess right now I wish I just started running instead of walking when I got out of hospital. If walking didn’t help me get any ‘better’ anyway, at least if I’d gone back to uni or hopped back into full time work, I’d feel a little less defined by this illness, a little less stunted.