I think one of my biggest strengths is the ability to honestly and objectively look at myself and at others. The closer I look at myself the better I am able to understand the motives behind my thoughts and behaviors. And the more I understand, the easier it is to control them. Or at least live with them. Likewise, when I can figure out where others are coming from, it makes me more tolerant and empathetic.
The key for me is to be brutally honest with myself. I think the tendency for many of us is to justify and explain away emotions and actions without ever really considering the ‘whys’ behind them. It’s a lot easier to have an excuse for our behaviors, and releases us from the responsibility. I try to be honest with myself about others as well. Without putting the energy into figuring out what is behind someone’s behaviors or actions it’s too easy to become judgmental and intolerant. When I’m too quick to judge I make decisions based on my emotions rather than an objective and fair perspective. All too often making decisions like that end up costing opportunities, friendships and relationships.
Here’s an example. My very best friend has a problem. She is completely miserable with her life right now. And because she’s so miserable, she is making bad choices which only end up propagating her misery. Like abusing alcohol. She’s always been a heavy drinker, but lately it’s become more and more excessive. When she drinks she used to be a ‘happy drunk’… the alcohol helped her forget how miserable she was. But lately, she’s become very abusive. More specifically, she’s become very abusive towards me. It’s like a wife beater… he gets drunk, beats the shit out of his wife, then when he sobers up is horrified by what he’s done and promises never to do it again. And she’s becoming like that. She drinks too much, and then starts texting me with the most horrible accusations and feelings. It’s really brutal. And over the years we’ve been the very best of friends; sharing an emotional intimacy that even many married couples never have. For her to attack me like she does really hurts. And it really pisses me off. I’ve never been anything except supportive and caring of her; I really don’t deserve to be treated this way. I should be the last person she goes after.
But I understand where’s she’s coming from. She’s still deeply in love with the man she had a 15 year relationship with that ended two years ago. She just can’t get over it. And there’s a lot of anger that comes from the loss of what she thought was real and true. And I’m the target because she knows I’m safe. She knows me well enough to know I won’t throw away the relationship we’ve shared the last 10 years just because she’s being so ugly. And she’s right; I won’t. That doesn’t mean I have to accept her behavior. She’s unhappy because she chooses to be. She is making no effort to move on, but is allowing herself to wallow in her misery. I won’t accept her abuse, and I won’t condone or enable her growing alcoholism. I can’t fix her; I can’t force her to make better choices. But I remove myself from her, staying out of reach except for encouraging her to get the help she so desperately needs. The easy choice for me would be to just end the relationship and move on with my life. I’m going to protect myself, butI’m not sacrificing her In her darkest hours.
Likewise, I have to keep it real with myself. I can always justify my thoughts and behaviors and absolve myself from any responsibility for the results. But if I do, I’ll never give myself the chance to improve myself and alter my behaviors. When I’ve been manic for example, I could easily explain to myself that I was out of control because of my disease, and therefore I can’t be blamed for what I’ve done. But I have to face what I’ve done, and take ownership of my illness to do what I can to prevent it from pushing me out of control. I can’t be responsible for my actions when my brain has taken over and lost touch with reality. Where my responsibility lies is to carefully monitor my mood, understand the changes and listen very carefully to my signs. And do something about it before it becomes a problem. The nature of this illness is to believe that you’re okay, even when in the back of your mind you know that you’re headed for trouble. Even when I know I’m headed into a depression or mania, I don’t want to ask for help or acknowledge that I’m not dealing with my mood effectively. It feels like a weakness, and I want to believe that I’m strong enough to keep it in check. But that’s where the honesty comes in. If I look at my history, if I acknowledge my disease, if I admit to myself that I can’t do it by myself, I can take positive steps and reach out for help that just might prevent it from getting too bad. I can force myself to continue taking my medications even though I don’t want to believe that I need them and resent the fact that I do. I have to share exactly what I’m feeling and keep not secrets from my therapist and seriously contemplate her insight. I have to take that good hard look at myself and not allow myself to bullshit myself. I gain absolutely nothing to delude myself.
I believe this insight I’ve cultivated over the years is one of the reasons I’m getting closer to managing my illness. If I’m honest with myself though, I have to be careful not to kid myself. I’m not there yet. And truth be told, I’ll never really be there. This is going to be a fight to the death… this is going to be my struggle for the rest of my life. By treating my friends and family with the tolerance that comes from empathy, I can maintain and preserve the relationships that I need most. Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has their own opinions, and everybody sees life with their own perspective. Accepting my own condition and approaching it head on gives me the best chance I have of living a healthy life. When it’s all said and done, I guess I understand.
I’m trying to anyway.