Not So Happy Holidays

Well, we have made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas, now all eyes are looking toward the New Year and the promise of new beginnings. Some will look upon the end of the holiday season with a sadness, a realization that the magic of the season has left along with the clearance-priced ornaments, Christmas cards and the ever-present box of chocolates. Others will welcome an end to the forced cheerfulness, the endless demands of the holiday season, including but not limited to Black Friday shopping, the unspoken expectation that everything must be FESTIVE and everyone should be DELIRIOUS WITH HAPPINESS. You must get the perfect gift, sit alongside family members you haven’t spoken to all year and do your best imitation of a happy, loving family. I think more effort is spent each year acting like we are happy, not alone or lonely; pretending we are immersed in the joy of the season, when in reality, we are immersed in a sadness that colors all the holiday lights a brighter shade of grey because everything and everyone is grey. For those of us who feel this way during the holidays, there doesn’t seem to be a place where we can just be what we are, which ultimately is some degree of depressed. Maybe it’s the forced merriment, maybe it’s the manic pace of the season, the never-ending demands of shopping, decorating, attending parties, kisses under the mistletoe and boatloads of eggnog or the over abundance of alcohol and sugar-laden foods or maybe it’s just the fact that we can’t be with the one we want, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because the holidays always make us think of family members who are no longer with us, loved ones who maybe don’t love us like they used to, family that isn’t quite family any more. Maybe it’s because the real message of Christmas has been drowned out by the crass commercialism and unrealistic expectations set forth by some ad folks in some corporation somewhere. Whatever the reason, no matter how many, those of us who struggle through the holidays don’t stop struggling when the holiday season comes to a close. If anything, we may experience some tiny measure of relief when they pass, but depression is not a seasonal disorder; it is a year-round, take no holidays, 24/7 kind of condition.

My wish is for the spirit of Christmas (the real spirit) to burn brightly within my heart, be shown in my actions and be shared with all I encounter, this New Year and all throughout the years. Just because the calendar says January and the Christmas tree and decorations have been taken down, the Christmas music has (FINALLY) stopped playing in the stores doesn’t mean that goodwill towards your fellow man has to be put away, too. Keep those thoughts in the fore front of your mind, keep the love alive in your heart and above all else, love yourself, celebrate everything that makes you who you are, even if you’re not crazy about those traits. I personally am not overjoyed when my mood takes a trip on the Rocky Roller Coaster ride that only bipolar disorder could design but it’s a part of me; it’s not a curse nor is it a blessing, just a part of me as much as my curly hair and hazel eyes. It has taken me a long time to accept it, not rage against the unfairness of it all, wishing things could be different while doing nothing to change anything. For the best gift we can give is love; to oneself first and foremost and from that self-love, we can send it out to others.

If there is someone you haven’t connected with in a while and they’ve been on your mind, pick up the phone, give them a call and reach out. Chances are that they are thinking of you, too. We don’t know how many Christmases we will have, how many opportunities to say we love them, we are sorry or we just miss them. The smallest gesture can make the biggest difference to someone who is starved for kindness.

Thank you for your support, your encouragement and your love. You continue to make a difference in my life and I appreciate you tremendously.

Happy New Year to you, my friends.

Creativity, Mania and Meds

“Saying I don’t take my meds because they make me feel funny is like cannibals saying they don’t eat clowns because they taste funny” 
― Stanley Victor Paskavich

For the longest time, I fought against taking any kind of psych meds for a myriad of reasons; it would most certainly interfere with my alcohol and substance use, it could make me “normal” (God forbid!) and more importantly, I was deathly afraid that I would become someone else. As someone who could handle anything, it seemed as though it was somehow cheating to take them. Of course, drinking and self-medicating were perfectly acceptable and didn’t constitute a crutch at all, in my mind.

There is a great deal of fear around medications, especially psych meds for those who have the bipolar diagnosis. I can only speak for myself, but when I look back at all the wonderfully dark poetry I wrote while in the midst of a manic episode, I wonder if it was the mania or me that created them. I know now that my talents are not solely dependent upon my state of mind, but rather the end result is colored by my mental state. I don’t need to be hopelessly depressed to write about sadness or riding the tsunami of mania in order to write of bliss. I now know that my creativity exists within myself, my heart and soul. My moods may change, but the core of who I am remains. I will admit that a good manic episode, much like a good acid trip, may open doors within my mind to places that I would normally not be granted access to, but that does not diminish my potential for creativity. I am able to open doors to creativity through meditation, deep thought and following my intuition to wherever it leads me.

I love the quote above because it reminds me so much of myself in years past. I have argued with my psychiatrist for many years about getting clean and sober, taking my prescribed medication and finding sustainable sanity. It was as though I feared sanity more than I feared a lifetime of wild mood swings, severed friendships and day trips to insanity. I am thankful that I was able to finally face my fears and give myself the chance to live without extraordinary pain and suffering. Of course, this is not the end of my story, but rather the beginning. I hope that as I continue to write, I will be able to open those doors in my mind that will allow me to better understand my illness, my talents and my future as a creative woman who happens to have bipolar disorder.

I hope you will follow me on this journey.

Perception vs. Reality

I’ve long struggled with how I see the world (in any given state of mind) versus what everyone else is seeing. I have long tried to be a chameleon, anticipating what a person needs me to be, believes me to be and then I become that. I never really felt that I knew who I was or that I really WAS. I was in a constant state of change, never staying one way for too long. I was happy at breakfast, optimistic at lunch and then depressed and hopeless by dinner. All these shifts in mood came about from what others said or didn’t say to me through the course of the day. If I tried on a new outfit and my best friend loved it but the guy I had a huge crush on said I looked silly, I had my elation and my devastation in two single servings. If my friend was talkative, I was the perfect listener; if my date was shy, I would carefully steer the conversation to draw him out, gently asking questions about him, what he liked, who he was. If I was in a job with a very competitive, insecure co-worker, I would stay away from the limelight, defer any praise and lay low. If there was a bully picking on a smaller or weaker person, I was the whirling dervish of destruction (that’s where the anger would be put to good use) and the protector of the innocent and weak. So, you get the idea. It wasn’t until just recently that I had the simple, yet revolutionary thought that we each have our own realities. What? Are you serious?? But we all walk on the same spinning ball in space – how can we have our own realities??? It’s actually quite simple…what we (choose to) believe is our reality. The woman who is petite and looks fragile but believes she stands 6 feet tall and is as fierce as any Warrior cannot be intimidated and does not bow to anyone. Just as the person who is 6 feet tall and built like a Sherman tank sees himself as a gentle soul has the lightest touch, the biggest heart and a strong dislike for brute force. It’s not always the physical manifestations that give us strength or gentleness, it’s what we believe. That is our reality. I had lived for too long asking others for their approval, yet withholding it from myself; looking to others to love me and prove me worthy of love. Now I love myself, through good times and ball gowns to sad days and sweat pants, from victories to losses, forever and ever. Amen.

My reality is ever-changing, as my perception is ever-changing, too. I no longer believe that people or circumstances MAKE ME mad; I CHOOSE TO get mad, to respond with emotion, rather than thought tempered with a belief that there is a lesson somewhere in that ordeal, encounter or event. I am by no means a Vulcan or a robot, but I am trying to be the human being that I know I am capable of being. It’s going to be an interesting journey as I learn to feel what I feel without numbing or denying it, but not be consumed by it. By living honestly without being unnecessarily cruel and by helping my fellow man, without taking control or responsibility for their lives. Most of all, letting each person live in their reality without judging it or them.

My perception is that I am flawed, but the reality is that I am complete and perfectly me. And I love that.