How I got here

Recently, my therapist and I discussed my past failures to assert myself in decisions that greatly impacted my life. I failed to state that I did not want something; that I would not do something; that the impact of a particular decision was unacceptable to me. I have also failed to state that I did want something; that my want was valid and important; that compliance was nonnegotiable.

My therapist seemed genuinely baffled that a woman of my age and intelligence, with a seemingly good sense of her own best interests, would not reject the harmful and demand the helpful as a matter of course. She asked me why I did not protect and advocate for myself in these basic ways. I had no answer.

Since our session, I have thought and googled and thought some more about this issue.

Am I afraid of rejection? That seems to be the most common reason cited by internet psychologists. But would I truly accommodate someone by going along with a decision that I believe is wrong or potentially harmful to me to ensure that I am not left alone? Would I fail to tell someone I want something out of fear that simply asking will make that person leave me?

Probably, yes.

Or, is it guilt? Would I accept the potentially harmful consequences of a decision because I feel I owe the other person the sacrifice of my physical or mental health? Would I silence my wants because my past bad acts make me feel like I am not entitled to ask for anything ever again?

Again, yes.

Maybe I am just weak, not emotionally strong enough to endure the vulnerability of saying either no or I want something from you to a person I love. I have rarely said either of those things to any loved one ever. I do what is asked of me and I accept what I am given. I have taught myself that this is enough.

It is not.

My failure to recognize my fear, my guilt and my passivity likely cost me my mental health and my career, at least for the past few years and for another one or two years to come. It is highly likely that, with proper medication, therapy and self-management, I will be able to recover my mental stability and my life. But the kind of life I recover depends on me.

Although I am nearly 40 years old, there is no reason I can’t live my life differently moving forward. The only things in my way are my own fear, guilt and weakness. I cannot be deterred by these sentiments any longer, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable moving beyond them may feel.

It is so late in the game there is no place for fear of rejection. I am either going to live my life for me or for someone else. If I choose me, rejection by another becomes irrelevant. Likewise, guilt must be thrown away, like a pair of shoes that no longer fits. There is no point in continuing to burden myself with something that cannot be changed. What’s done is done; leave it and move on. Finally, my weakness must be replaced with strength, the emotional strength necessary to endure vulnerability, to risk being left or let down. Because, in either case, I will learn what I have and do not have in my life. I will learn that I do or do not have enough of what I want. And then I can go out and find what I know I am missing, probably what I have been looking for all along.

 

 

What is true?

As a person with mental illness, I struggle daily to distinguish between what thoughts, emotions and actions are truly mine versus symptoms of my illness or side-effects of my medications. Did I just raise my voice to my son because I believe he did something significantly wrong? Or, did I do it because I’m hypomanic and, therefore, super irritable? Or because I am tapering a medication, which has significantly increased my anxiety? Which one is it? Or, is it all of the above? Some? Many days, I have no fucking idea. These collective days have eroded my confidence, my sense of self, my ability and desire to be present in my life and my hope for the future.

The last two weeks have been excruciating due to tapering a medication (I think). We started by cutting my dose in half and I have felt nothing but raw, burning anxiety and suffocating depression. Or maybe these feelings are attributable to a mixed-state episode (i.e. hypomania and depression at the same time). There really is no way to tell the difference. All I know for sure is that I feel more “sick” than I have in over 7 months. I feel like every single bit of progress I have made toward minimizing the symptoms of my bipolar disorder has been lost. And I have acted horribly because of how I feel.

I am constantly irritable and have little to no patience, so I do not behave as a have and should towards my children. I get upset about the smallest transgressions and I am quick to say no to every request that I feel would be too much for me. Sometimes I yell. I have no tolerance for messiness or loudness or things that are not safe (which is pretty much everything in my addled mind). But messiness and loudness and doing things that may not be safe, but won’t cause serious harm, are inherent parts of childhood; these are things that parents live with everyday and ignore, within reason, because they are part of the package of having tiny little humans that you love with all your heart. But I can’t see that most days. Or, worse, I can see it but I can’t stop myself from getting upset anyway.

I have also be consistently down, negative, unhappy, tearful and hopeless. I am always upset, never light-hearted. I refuse every request to try something new. I don’t want new. I don’t want old. I don’t want anything except to hide from my family and the rest of the world so that I don’t have to feel my feelings, so that I can pretend, if only for a few minutes, that I am alone in world, without the responsibility to care for or love anyone.

My rational self knows and understands that my thoughts, emotions and behaviors described above are the result of a medication change and/or my illness. But other parts of myself can’t understand that, or hold on to that understanding. Instead, I feel that my emotions and behaviors are me, true illustrations of the person I really am. I feel that I am a horrible mother, that I should not have had children because I cannot care for them properly or love them as they deserve to be loved. I am heartbroken that my behavior has harmed them and will continue to harm them far into their futures. I apologize constantly, but that is not enough. They are too young to understand why I would do such things in the first place. All they know is that their mommy isn’t as nice to them as she used to be, that maybe she doesn’t love them as much as she once did.

Again, I read over the above paragraph and I know that those sentences are not true. I am not a horrible mother. I am a good mother who loves her children fiercely, who still manages to comfort them in the night despite her powerful sleep medication, who kisses every ouchie and sing songs (off-key) whenever requested. I never miss the morning routine, dinner, bath time or bedtime. I clean their clothes and make sure they haven’t outgrown their shoes. I manage their school supplies and their doctor visits. Even at my worst moments of illness, I do these things, and more, because I am a good mother who loves her children. That is the truth about me and my life, whatever my illness or meds might make me feel. But my truth is not stable. It is vulnerable and tenuous.

If I am going to survive living with this illness, I have to hold on to my truth. I have to build it up, put a wall around it and defend it with all the mental strength I have left.

I have an illness but it does not have me. I am still the one in control of my life. I will not surrender. I will fight for who I know I truly am. I will do it for my kids, my spouse, my family and my friends. I will do it for me, because to live my life in any other way would not be a life worth living.