Retreat Treat (Part Two) - The big insight!
From experience, I can say retreats are a curious thing. Prior to a retreat there is a list of things that one feels they need to look at or work on. I thought I was going to be looking at some of my family ghosts. I thought I was going to have to look at my lack of motivation and focus. I thought I was going to have to look at what am I doing with my life. Boy was I wrong.
The big insight arrived when I came face to face with my Bipolar II Mood Disorder. I learned a lot about my illness. Though I had come a long way since my diagnosis in September of 2001, I hit a dead zone this past six months. I used pot as a crutch; it got me through January and February. Between November and January, my alcohol consumption was higher and solo. I was in so much pain that I had to numb myself to the world in order to make it to the retreat.
Moreover, like many bipolar people I was able to conceal all that chaos. I kept my work schedule except for a few crashes here and there. I maintained most of my social engagements and between January 4th and the beginning of my retreat on February 27th I even started exercising on a consistent basis.
However, beneath all that I was falling apart. I was going mad. I was cycling through highs and lows at a break neck pace. Sometimes I would take my meds; sometimes I would forget, and never on a fixed schedule. I kept a smile on at work with my students and colleagues.
One thing I am thankful for is that I have learned to turn my illness inward as opposed to previously thrusting it outwards. There is a little collateral damage in my past. Now some people might say that internalising all that garbage is a bad thing. I on the other hand would rather hurt myself than hurt other people. I do not lash out anymore.
On my retreat, I realised that I had a lot of anger, fear, and frustration towards the illness. I was fighting it consciously and unconsciously. Whenever I would feel a dark spell coming I would get upset and that would cause it to get even worse. Before you knew it, I was spiralling downwards in a quagmire of negative emotions. On my retreat I read, “Loving Someone with Bipolar” by Julie Fast. The book is written for the partners of bipolar people. Because the book is not written for me, I was able to read it with a cool intellectual detachment. I was able to sidestep the emotional baggage and look at it as eavesdropping on a counselling session.
During the reading, it was all resonating with me. Every page had a new insight that helped me understand the illness more. I had to accept that bipolar is not going to go away. To complain about it and fight it is like complaining about or fighting being right-handed. It just is. The main point is I have to manage bipolar first. Only then will I be able to get on with life. I have to manage it lovingly. I cannot beat myself up over this. I have to manage it lovingly.
If I cannot love myself and treat myself well as I deal with all this then how can I invite anyone into my life to love me and treat me well.
This management philosophy is a difficult one. Since returning from my retreat there have been some bad days. What I have found is my new level of awareness is helping them not be so bad.
"You did what you knew how to do and now that you know differently you do differently." Maya Angelou (paraphrase)
(more to come)