Why I Don’t Strive For Stability

In my experience, the word stability gets thrown around a lot as something to strive for. However, is it fair to people living with Bipolar Disorder to apply that word to their illness? Most of the time I see people speak on stability, they are lamenting on how they feel as if they will never get to that point. The power of that word makes them feel powerless in that moment because society has presented an impossible goal: to live without symptoms, to live without episodes. 

“You are being overemotional. You’ve been on meds for four years. Why haven’t you stabilized yet?”

“You can’t go to this event because of your Bipolar Disorder? It’s like you’re never stable enough for anything!”

These people are all applying their own definitions of the word stable onto us as Bipolar Disorder patients. But is that really fair? Is it fair to have stability, which is often equated with success, defined for us rather than by us? Those around us consider reaching a point that is frankly unattainable as successfully treating Bipolar Disorder. There will always be the possibility of another episode being triggered, and that is okay. 

I made it from early 2014 through mid 2017 without having any major episodes relating to my Bipolar Disorder. My doctor called it stability. I called it neutrality. Either way, we were obviously both happy that I had gotten to that point. In 2017, my insurance changed, and the new company would not cover Fanapt, which I had been on since 2014 and had worked wonders for me. Back onto the med merry-go-round I went, and that triggered a massive depressive episode that lasted for nearly eight months. My point is that we’re all one move away from something triggering an episode, and that is okay. I don’t consider my treatment or loss of “stability” as a failure. Rather, it was a time in my life that was mostly good. I have good memories, and I met some great people. I wouldn’t call it a success. It just was. 

The question we as people living with Bipolar Disorder must ask ourselves, in my opinion, is ‘what does stability mean to me?’ What makes you feel successful and good independent of your episodes and treatment? I myself have many answers to this question because I have been answering it since that downward spiral in 2017. As dark as it can be sometimes, I can usually point out at least one thing in my life that brings me even a miniscule amount of joy. Whether I’m manic or depressed or even neutral, the list is extremely helpful in providing me relief when the symptoms are just too much to handle.

  • Cooking for people
  • Reading a good fantasy book
  • Doing puzzles
  • Writing
  • Playing and listening to music
  • Scaring my cats with my didgeridoo
  • Skating/playing hockey
  • Nutella (I’m serious. I have a problem.)

Those are a few of the examples I have. Since meeting my wife, I have at least a dozen more that involve her. When I am living in dark times, I do anything I can to find some light to hold onto. In those moments, I’m not striving for what they call stability. I’m striving for relief. To me, them saying I am stable equates to saying I’m cured. There’s always the possibility another episode; it’s just a matter of how long it’ll take to get to it. Bipolar Disorder is a chronic illness. To minimize that by implying that if a person would just work that much harder, they’d be fine. We fight battles that most people could never dream of.

So here is my proposal:

Rather than letting society, your loved ones, and anyone in between define the word stability, come up with that definition for yourself. Try it out for a few weeks, and see if it’s not just a little bit easier to feel grounded. The definition doesn’t have to be fixed either. Sometimes, my definition of stability is something like “if I can just go for a one mile walk today, I’ll have succeeded.” Sometimes it’s being able to sit down without distractions for 30 minutes and have a chat with my wife about anything whether it has to do with the Bipolar or not. Sometimes it’s both going to work and doing the dishes. It’s fluid, and for me, it is much easier to feel like I’m succeeding in fighting back against this illness. 

I accept that barring some major advancements in the treatment of chronic mental illnesses, I will always have another episode at some point. I haven’t made peace with it yet, but I’ve accepted it. Accepting it has made it easier to wake up every day and define what stability and success will mean for me that day. Some days are going to be bad. Some days there won’t be any small wins to celebrate to make me feel better. But in reframing my mind in this way, I have minimized those days and have found that there really is always something, however small, that can bring me joy and light in the darkest of places.

Is This Mania ?

Breathing air that seemingly becomes so fresh Working endlessly on a project that determines my worth.
Going hours without eating Disappearing without a trace Reading theories about the fucking M&M characters!
I thought I was just happy.
Finally after months of being alive but not living.
I just thought I was better.
Healed.
But not eating takes a toll, My body shaking as I try to hold off for just one more second.
If I eat the happiness leaves.
The energy…the frenzy just leaves.
I am in love to the very thing that destroys me.
I guess it’s mania.

Anxiety Shopping

She’s in the grocery store pushing her cart; the territory is familiar. The aisles seem tighter than usual and she begins talking to herself. It used to be that the talking was in her head, but as people pass her by, now they wonder who she’s speaking to. Yelling at. Making fun of.

“You leave your cart on the left side of the freezer section aisle, but you are actually on the right hand side of the freezer aisle picking something out. There’s a box of God knows what in the center selling something for pets and I can’t get by.”

So she stands there waiting.

“Excuse me!”

That time she knew she was yelling out loud. The “Oh, sorry…” didn’t fill the void of anger as she continues her shopping in agony because people and noise and disruption are all part of her triggers.

Today she only needed a handful of items so the self-checkout was there and waiting. She mentally prepared herself for the woman inside the machine who told her what to do, step by step, usually a step behind what she was already doing.

Put the item in the bag…

I already DID!

Remove the item from the bag and place in on the scale…

What the fuck for?

Place the item in the bag…

Oh, you mean the one where it was before you dumb bitch!

Select method of payment…

I already scanned my card!

Don’t forget to take your bags…

Why in the fuck would I go through all of this and forget to take my bags?

Thank you…

People are listening and staring, and she actually cares but she rushes out of the store in hopes those same people won’t be there next time she returns.

—Actually me in every store!!

You are my favorite teapot, and I will love you even when you leak.

I will never forget the day I complimented you,
and instead of taking it, you assured me that you were not perfect
because you hate to do the dishes,
and you don’t see well when driving in the dark,
but darling, you don’t seem to understand
my definition of perfection,
for I find it hidden within all of your quirks.
You are like the polka-dotted teapot I once found
tucked in the back corner of a local shop.
You have smooth edges and the cutest paint job,
but you came at a price—the crack near your base;
I bought you anyway, and I hoped with all my heart
that you wouldn’t leak too badly.
Except, sometimes, you do,
and when you do, I wrap you twice over to stop your seeping,
and I go about my business.
You are never a burden, nor are you a hindrance,
and I will not dispose of you.
I may tell others after the fourth complaint
that I’ll simply put you on a shelf to admire,
but not to use,
though never for always.
Because your tea, somehow, tastes just…a little bit better
than the rest.

This is Not What I Expected

I stare out the window,
stand and watch the rain beat down
harshly on the rug spread on my patio;
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I sip coffee from a chipped mug that I broke
during my last move;
its temperature scalds me—
just like life.

By the time I finish my cup
and the day has halfway gone,
the raining stops;
So, I do as I always have.

I trudge outside,
hand the sodden rug over the metal furniture to dry,
and I make my peace that,
oftentimes, life occurs in such a way that I am both
the mess and
the broom;

No worries, though,
for I will always have the ability
to sweep myself back up again.

Seafarer; From the Perspective of a Future Lover

Her hair—twisted like long, green tentacles—fell like water across her face
and as the rain came pouring down, algae liquid followed suit—oceanic.
In the depths of her laughter, I explored the brightest and most beautiful coral reefs,
and in the wake of her tears, I learned that, sometimes, they…get bleached.
Luckily, she always finds the light again, and I am able to sun-bathe in her warm glow;
Together, we grow tanner, and as nightfall breaks, her body crashes like waves upon me.
Over and over and over again, I get to enjoy her tides until it’s time for me to nurture, rather than to relish.
Because as the sea rises and falls, so does she, but that doesn’t make her any less my favorite place to be.

Depression is a Lying Bastard

Depression is filled with lies and ugly underlying issues.

It hovers over you whispering sweet nothings into your ear…You stupid bitch! What are you doing with your life? You’re nothing and you’ll never amount to anything. 
I’d tell it to screw off on a normal day but depression tricks you into thinking the lies are the truth.

Depression not only gets into your own head, but the heads of others. The people in your life get a little gust of wind blown at them and start saying things to you that you’re already thinking and make you feel even worse about yourself.

Don’t you think this is bad timing? Oh! This isn’t a convenient time for YOU to turn MY LIFE upside down? What was I thinking?

Depression lies. It steals. It makes you do things you don’t want to do. It makes you say things you’ve been holding in for far too long. It makes you silent. It grabs hold of your throat and gasp for breath. It makes you think far too strong. It makes you stare into the beyond.

I just want to be happy.

I want help.

I want my problems to be someone else’s problems.

I want to smile and fucking mean it.

I want to tell you I’m Fine and feel it.

I want more.

I fucking deserve more.

Depression is a lying bastard.

MANIAC

Today has been good.
I got out of bed. I showered. I got dressed up.
I was productive. I had coffee. I filed papers.
I socialized—flourishing in the limelight.
…I made a mistake.

Today has not been good.
The shower was so hot it scorched my skin.
When I was getting coffee, I almost hit another car.
While I was socializing, I crossed boundaries that I knew were there but didn’t care about in the moment.

Today has been manic.
I cried hysterically when I put on my ex’s favorite shirt. I didn’t stop until I was ordering my drink.
My productivity consisted of using up old art supplies by tie dying my bathroom towels at 2:30 in the morning.
I think I pushed away my best friend.

Today, I took my medicine. But today, it didn’t help.

BIPOLAR ESCAPISM: PUSHING PEOPLE AWAY & DISAPPEARING

When a person in a relationship—whether platonic or romantic—has bipolar disorder, the symptoms can often affect both people. These interferences will arise in a variety of situations—whether manic or depressed—and they will manifest differently based on the personalities of the persons involved and the situation at hand.

One thing I have noticed across the board, though, in both my personal life and the lives of the bipolar individuals around me, is what I’d like to call an escapist tendency. This tendency can manifest in any mood or altered state, but I see it creep up most often in romantic relationships—particularly when the relationship seems to be going a bit ‘too well.’

I know—that doesn’t really seem to make sense. If things are going well, isn’t that good? Yeah, of course it is. But for people with bipolar disorder, for those of us who are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, being in a romantic relationship that makes us so incredibly happy also often reminds us that there is a big downswing waiting just on the other side. Because we live cyclically. And that’s destructive thinking, yes, but, sometimes, we can’t pry ourselves away from it because it’s all we’ve ever known. Up, then down. Up, then down. Over and over again. And the more encompassing the high, the mightier the fall.

So, when things are really good? We have a tendency to run. Because it’s better to remove ourselves from the situation than it is to watch such a beautiful thing come crashing to the ground, right? Especially if we feel that wonderful thing is crumbling because of us and the way that we exist.

What I’ve noticed, then, is that, instead, we disappear. We push people away, and then we exit their lives slowly—casually. Or, we forgo the pushing them away stage and just straight-up ghost them, leaving them to wonder whether or not we were ever even real. And while that is nowhere near fair to the people that this keeps happening to, I cannot say that it makes us any less prone to be “runners.”

I don’t think any of us ever look at leaving as an attempt to harm the other person. We’re just trying our best to survive, and, sometimes—with our minds the minefields that they are—escaping feels like the only way how.

Loving Bipolar

Now, by the title, you may think that this article is about learning to love your bipolar diagnosis, and, in a roundabout way, it sort of is. But more so, this piece serves as a reminder that having bipolar disorder does not make you unlovable.

Content warning for parental abuse and neglect in the first paragraph and for mildly graphic mentions of self-harm and suicide at the end of the first paragraph; mentions of death and domestic violence in paragraph three.


Some backstory:

When I was young, my biggest fear is that I would grow up to be exactly like my bipolar mother. And this scared me, not because of her diagnosis, but because of how she behaved. She did not take medication. She did not go to therapy. I watched as she pushed every person in her life away and then cried. She manipulated people. She abused drugs and alcohol, often to the point where she chose those things over her own children. I was neglected and traumatized. At age eleven, I even watched her slit her own wrists and listened to her tell me that if I left in response, she would kill herself. And the last thing I ever wanted was to have kids because I couldn’t bear the thought that I could ever even possibly make them feel half as bad as I did.

As I drifted through life from age twenty-one to age twenty-seven, I lost my ability to self-validate, and I forgot exactly how I used to self-soothe. I was, instead, dependent on others for consolation and for authentication, and, while I was aware of how unhealthy that was, I didn’t know how to stop it.

At twenty-seven, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, too, and the fear that I would “end up exactly like my mother” resurged—only this time, it sprung to life with bonus atrocities because now, I also feared for my relationships. My mom was in an on-again-off-again abusive one until she died. My examples of relationships, then, showed me that “people can’t love me without being intoxicated” and that “no one ‘normal’ will love me because I’m ‘crazy.’” I internalized these from a young age and carried them with me through adulthood. It was only with the help of therapy and medication that I was able to unlearn those negative thoughts and begin to relearn healthier ones. That said, small parts of me still very much hated other, much larger parts of me. And, with all of my self-discontent, I couldn’t see how anyone would want me. Because dating people with bipolar disorder, I thought, was a life-sentence. I knew that it was difficult, excruciating—even, from both first- and second-hand experiences, and because of that, I knew that if I didn’t have bipolar disorder, there was no way in hell that I would ever date someone who does. That warped thinking came from a special form of self-loathing.

Fast forward to twenty-eight:

I have just suffered a hellacious ankle injury that left me immobile for months. I’m going through the worst depressive episode of my life after a year-long manic episode, and my partner—whom, for months, I had been absolutely petrified and paranoid was going to break up with me because of my mood disorder—breaks up with me because she cannot “handle” me now that I’m so “down.” Cue: homelessness and the sad reassurance that everything awful I feel about myself must be true.

But I’m almost done with university, and I have friends who—thankfully—will always have my back. So, I keep showing up. Despite this gaping pit of depression I can’t seem to claw my way out of, I continue going to classes. Most of them. Somehow, I do my course work, even if it’s not 100% my best work. I let it come down to the wire, and then I force myself to write my 74-page capstone. I keep going to therapy. Every session. I keep taking my medication—every day, like clockwork. I am on autopilot, and while I do not feel even the slightest bit human, I am, surprisingly, still managing my life in a way that does not lead directly to destruction.

Until I met him, and then…suddenly, I didn’t have to just “manage” anymore. You see, E’s the first person I’ve ever been interested in who also has bipolar disorder. And while I was not looking for him, he still found me—as love often does.

In his bones, I found shelter—not from the outside world, but from myself—and with his unknowing aid, I unraveled parts of myself that I thought were so far gone I would never see them again. Through his words, I discovered that I was capable of restitching the fragments of myself that I used to keep hidden away beneath my floorboards. As he grew, I grew, and as he learned, I did, too. In E’s eyes, I began to see the reflection of a me that I had missed for so many years—a me that I didn’t even think existed anymore. Because he has bipolar disorder and I am so madly in love with him, I revealed to myself that people can and will have the capacity to love me—even if I’m bipolar—in the same exact ways and to the very depths and intensities that I so love him.

And that revelation was life-changing for me. But this is not one of those stories where the princess is rescued by a knight who receives all of the glory, despite the efforts she may have put in. Instead, this is an allegory for how other humans may serve as beautiful and necessary catalysts for your own love and hard work. Because while I could not have done this anywhere close to as easily or as quickly—or, hell, maybe even ever at all—without him, it is still I who had these epiphanies. It is still I who connected all of these dots. But, don’t get me wrong, I am forever grateful to E for putting me into this specifically aligned place where I was able to view through him an entire future that’s so much happier and more well-adjusted than any future I had dreamt up before.

What these last few months have taught me is that bipolar self-love is magnificent. It’s awe-inspiring, all-encompassing, and transcendent. Bipolar romantic love is very much the same—passionate, cavernous, transformative.

To all of my bipolar babes who feel that they are unlovable—you are not. You are not something to “deal with.” You are not someone to simply “handle.” You are a force to be reckoned with, and despite what anyone says about how bipolar disorder makes one “unfunctional,” you are living proof that that is not the case.

You are enough.

You have always been enough.

And you will always be enough.