A Life Lesson Learned from History

Earlier this week I spent several hours at a World War II museum with a member of an author group for a textbook I work on.  It was great to go through a museum and see and experience history through the eyes of an acclaimed historian.  He made a comment half way through our visit though that really stood out to me as a life lesson:

As I tell my students all the time, if you don’t know where you’ve been you can’t tell where you’re going.  That is the critical feature of history, that it shapes everything.  And unless you understand the forces that shape the present, there is no way to understand it, let alone repeat it.  

My personal history, and especially the last 16 months of my life has truly shaped a lot.

It’s shaped who I am today.

It’s shaped my perception of the world around me.

It’s shaped my family relations.

It’s shaped my professional trajectory.

It’s shaped my vision of my future.

Because of all I’ve been through to this point – because of what I’ve seen, and where I’ve been … I know how to survive what comes at me in the future.  To paraphrase the author – I understand the forces that I’ve dealt with in the past, and so I can be confident and sure in shaping my future.

Dealing with mental illness is not fun.  Let me be the first to assure you that I’m not having fun with this … but it’s something that I feel like/want to believe that I am in the driver’s seat with.  It is a blessing to have the support system that I do.  Like I’ve said before, Bipolar is a blessing (and a curse, but that’s not what we’re on about right now) in how it lets me see the people and the world around me.

I know what has shaped me, and because I understand that I am able to get through so much more than if I didn’t.   Because I know where I’ve been, I can survive.

Because I can survive, I can live well.  And that’s what I consider winning.

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Wisdom and hope – found in a fortune cookie.

Thanks Panda Express. I needed that.

Reminders like this can be so important in the day to day existence of bipolar. From minute to minute, and day to day it is unnaturally easy to forget that happiness is in my life and right there in front of me.

When I forget about what’s in front of me, it doesn’t mean that I don’t care. I just lose sight.

Bipolar seems to be like a pair of funny goggles you know? It can feel like everything is magnified to the nth degree to the level of detail that keeps you from being able to see much of anything else. I’d call it kind of a blinder effect as well – when you’re in those moments, you can see extreme detail in the world around you, but that’s all you can see.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t remember what else is in the world around me. I just can’t see it in that moment.

Like Dr Jamison has said – I have seen the world in such exquisite detail tang I could never adequately describe it.

That’s why I love what I have (to deal with) on a day to day basis.

When there’s a gift like this in such a small silly seeming place as a fortune cookie, it means more than it normally would. This picture above goes from being just a piece of paper, to a message from God himself – sent at the exact moment when it’s needed the most.

Wisdom and hope are everywhere around us. Keys to survival are everywhere around us. I want to be able to make sure it’s visible in my life, and clearly there in the lives of those around me.

Let’s all get through this. Together.

Six days, and a life time later.

I find myself feeling nervous about an upcoming doctor’s appointment.

I find myself fighting what I’ve heard called “depletion depression,” and I’m not sure how to win.

I find myself tired.  Physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Tired.

What is going on?

I’m at a loss.

 

What would you do …

If you knew someone was struggling with a mental health challenge?

Would you hope they never talked to you about it so you don’t have to truly engage in it?

Would you hope for the best for them, but not do a whole lot about it?

Would you do some research online to see what they were dealing with?

Would you reach out and have a conversation with another friend, and express concern?

Or would you sit down with this someone and see how they were surviving? Would you say, “I’m here for you, please let me help?”

That’s my goal with this blog.

It may seem grandiose, and perhaps even a side effect of my mania to put this in writing. But it’s been one of the main reasons that I write this. The idea of putting a face on mental illness, a normal one at that, is part of why I write.

I suffer from mental illness. And I know that the odds are likely that someone who reads this, or has read this in the past suffers as well – whether anxiety or bipolarity or anything anywhere on the spectrum.

I’m normal, and so are you.

Mental health should be looked at the same way as dental health, or heart health, or allergy health. It does not define us. It – in many cases – does not inhibit our ability to love or be loved. It does not make us lesser people. It does not make us unable to fulfill personal and professional duties. A mental health diagnosis is not a death sentence anymore.

Abraham Lincoln.

Winston Churchill.

Carrie Fisher.

Linda Hamilton.

Vincent Van Gogh.

Edgar Allen Poe.

And many many more.

You do not have to be famous to live well with mental illness. All we need is each other, and it can happen.

Surviving with mental illness isn’t some grand thing.

It’s simple – it’s living well.

Time waits for no man, nor WordPress.com post

After blogging fairly reliably – reliably? – for a year, I’ve come to realize a few things about this blog:

  • It’s more than a journal. It’s a conduit into my brain and into my soul.
  • It’s a pressure release valve to my mind. When the manic depressive-ness is extra heavy, I come here and just start typing. Magically – it all gets better.
  • It’s a way to memorialize moments that come into my life.
  • It’s a way to document high points in my manic depressive journey as they come.
  • It’s much much more than I could ever fully explain.

Sometimes the moments can come too fast though, and life starts spinning beyond my abilities to deal with, you know? It’s hard to be here and there.

Then before I know it, it’s been two months and I haven’t written a word. I’m sorry for those gaps that have happened, and will likely happen again. I’d like to believe that someone who’s read this has been helped and made to feel better about their situation, whether it be mental health related or not you know? Is it self centered to think that I’m helping someone, anyone? I don’t think so. Maybe I’m wrong. Heaven knows I know I need help too.

Of the many things I’ve learned from all of this, here’s perhaps the most important one – time keeps on moving no matter what we are going through, or what’s happening to us.

The key to surviving – to winning – in all of this, is to keep moving forward. Whether that means blogging, or praying, or running, or whatever … find your out, as long as it’s healthy, and go for it.

Time keeps on moving. Don’t let it pass you by.

What a difference a year makes.

365 days ago to the minute, I found myself relieved and scared at the same time.

I was staring at the walls of a waiting room in a mental health facility in the city where I live. Part of me felt that relief because at that time I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I needed some form of help. The other part of me felt feat because there were some people in the waiting room who were clearly suffering from some form of mental illness worse than mine.

“What the hell am I doing here?” was the one prevailing thought I had. The thing of it was though was that I couldn’t back out. Once you check in to a place like that you don’t leave until you are evaluated and a determination is made about you.

After 7 long hours of waiting, I was taken to a building and processed into a room. It was 4:45 AM and the next five days were going to change my life.

I won’t talk about the details here – the details are found in other entries in this blog – because those details were from then. A year later my life is different.

My head is in a different place.

My heart is in a different place.

My treatment plan is in a different place.

My desire to stay on plan is in a different place.

My ability to cope with my manic depressive reality is in a different place.

My ability to love my family with this disorder is in a different, and better place.

My desire to survive is in a different and better place.

My mind is still unquiet. But my care for my mind is in a different, and better place.

What a difference a year makes.

Tonight, one year ago.

I found myself checked into a fabulous 5-Star resort hotel with my gorgeous wife. It was her birthday and we had booked a night away to celebrate. It should have been some of the most fun two days of the year.

Instead, I found myself too much a prisoner to the anxiety that was wracking my brain to be able to let myself enjoy much of anything. We had a good time together – my in laws were watching the kids, graciously – and I think my wife enjoyed her time. I had worked out with te hotel staff that it was her birthday so there were multiple special things that happened during our quick stay there.

But I was either too stoned on Klonipin or too crazy from mania and anxiety to be much of a fun partner in crime that weekend. It was one of the many times last spring that I felt I had ruined something due to the meds ruining me. I didn’t feel like I knew myself, I didn’t feel like I knew what my limits were, and I didn’t feel like I knew which direction was up most of the time.

The feelings from that weekend were a large part of what led me to realize I needed more serious help, and prompted me to take actions that led to me going to a mental health facility less than a week later.

Now, a year later – where am I?

In all of the 12 step programs, they talk about taking a fearless moral inventory. It’s encouraged to be on a daily basis. I think, if there were a 12 step for suffered of manic depression that the moral inventory wouldn’t be step 4. It’d be steps 1-3.

  • I have not taken a klonipin in 358 days. That medicine was a necessary evil in my life for awhile, but now I believe Jt was mostly just evil.
  • I am dedicated to making sure my wife has a great birthday this year and that I don’t do anything, or that nothing happens to me to get in its way.
  • My kids know more about what’s going on in my life, without naming disorders and specifics, than they did a year ago.
  • I am back on meds after a 90 day vacation from them, and I’ll never go off again.
  • One year ago, I was afraid of my own shadow. Today – I seek to be a light for others: personally, familially, professionally and more.

I am a better man today than I was tonight, one year ago.

On the Road Again

After two plus weeks working at home, I’m about to hit the road again and do some traveling over the next few weeks.  It’s been good to be at home, and kind of reset myself professionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  As I’ve been at home, I feel like things have stabilized with the medicines and overall care.  Once I’m back on the road though, things have always felt different.

Things seem to move faster.  Colors seem brighter.  The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones.  Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty.  There are interests found in uninteresting people.

So … being on the road again can be a challenge in some aspects.

But I’m stronger now than I was a year ago.  I’m stronger now than I was a month ago.  I’m stronger now than I was a week ago.  I can take this on, just as I always have done, and be alright.  More than just alright though, I know that I can do me and do it well.  The point of survival isn’t just to scrape by – it’s to do it all well you know?  Personally, I don’t get out of bed for mediocrity – and I apply that to all aspects of my life.  So – I will make this trip, and do it well.  I will win.

It’s a nice feeling to have confidence in myself with regards to the bipolar.  It’s all so different to where I was a year ago with all of this.  It’s been more than a year since things absolutely bottomed out, so I’m glad for the difference that a time can make.

Like I said at the top though – on the road again.

Life continues coming at you, and continues to move through the field of vision, you now?  At some point, all we can do is follow the steps for survival (or treatment, or whatever word we want to put there) and get back on the horse and move forward.

My favorite line from the Christian Bale Batman series is when young Bruce Wayne has fallen down a well and is rescued by his father.  After he’s been successfully pulled out of the well, daddy Wayne says, “Why do we fall Bruce?” and they say in unison: “To learn how to get back up.”  

And get on the road again.

Why do we fight?

Why do we fight the battles in life?  The literal battles, the ones where we are slogging through the mud, and have bloodied knuckles and feel like we’re barely surviving.  For some people, those fights are real and the mud is there and the knuckles really hurt.  For others the battles are less literal and more figurative – the mud is just the goings and comings of life happening around us.

We fight traffic; we fight to provide for ourselves and our families; we fight to defend who or what we are; we fight to make healthy choices; we fight to keep weight under control; we fight to make a difference in the world; we fight to be remembered; we fight for our sanity; we fight mental illness; we fight depression, and anxiety.

But do we fight for ourselves?

For me, the fight that I’m waging today and every day is a descent into madness.  Manic depression, more commonly known today as bipolar disorder, when left unchecked is the gateway into a potential madness.  I’ve been there, and it’s not a fun or safe place to be.  Hence – the fight.  But the point of today, and every day, is to figure out the why behind the fight.

For me, the fight is worth it for many many reasons.  First and foremost, I am someone who is blessed with great family.  They have been my support through this first post diagnosis year, and they are the biggest reason that I am putting forth that effort.  Secondly, the why to my fight revolves around the fact that I’ve stared into the face of the monster.  Being in a highly manic state and not able to control thoughts, and acts, and emotions  is fun for a moment, but it’s a slippery slope.  Having seen the worst of bipolar disorder in the mirror, I know what to look for and how to fight it when it’s seen.  Finally, if we are putting things into a list, I fight for the ability to help others fight.

The chance to be someone else’s chance to survive helps me fight harder.  I have to survive so that perhaps I can figure out how to help other people get through this and all other forms of mental illness.  That’s not a case of savior-complex either – it’s simply me wanting to be able to positively impact the world around me, and acknowledging the fact that my world has a portion devoted to mental health awareness and advocacy.

So many have fought for me.  It’s hard not to feel the call to fight for others.

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