I had a breakthrough of sorts in therapy this week. It’s much too long a story, and way too personal to share here, but it was a realization of some things that really explained a lot about how I feel and why I do what I do. Being bipolar is the cause of many of my behaviors and thoughts, but living with the illness for so many years I’ve developed other forces that also come into play. And Monday, I gained some important insight into them.
But is understanding enough?
It’s kind of like having a chronic cough that you can’t seem to shake. You try cough drops, over the counter syrup, prescription drugs and antibiotics, but nothing seems to help. Finally, you find out you have cancer. That explains it all, and now you realize why nothing else has worked. You have insight and understanding.
But you still have cancer.
All the insight and self realization is good, but it really doesn’t do a thing to take it away. My experiences haven’t changed. What has been seen cannot be unseen. The influences and forces that come from all the things that happen in a life can’t change. My realizations this week have made a lot of sense as to why I do what I do. They are a justification of sorts. No, I don’t see this as an excuse; there’s nothing to blame here. I’m still responsible for my actions, and the consequences of my behaviors. But at least I understand why. The question is, what do I do with this new found knowledge?
Frankly, I haven’t a bloody clue.
If I could figure that out I could write a book, make millions of dollars and retire early. I think that so many of us are dealing with the same thing. I know a lot about myself and how I got to where I am, but I am still bipolar, and I still have the personality traits and bad habits I’ve developed along the way. I tell myself that understanding is the key to overcoming; and there’s probably some truth to that. But is it enough truth? In spite of this self awareness, I continue to repeat bad behavior over and over. It’s like my brain turns off and I forget everything I’ve learned and I just plow ahead without a thought. I get totally lost in the moment, make bad decisions and do stupid things. It can happen in a flash. Everything can be going along well; I am in control and doing what I’m supposed to do. Then BAM; out of nowhere common sense goes out the window and I lose control. Other times I am aware of what I’m doing, but feel powerless to change it. The bipolar brain is very strong, and like a magnet pulls metal my brain pulls me back into the depths of my illness. Someone once told me; it’s like watching a bad accident. You don’t’ want to look, but you just can’t look away. I see the depressions coming but all my skills and abilities can’t stop it from happening. The mania completely takes away reality and I get completely lost in it. I may know that a relationship is unhealthy, but I’m unable to end it and it goes to the bitter end causing way more pain and unhappiness for both than it should.
No matter how much control I have, I’m just a hairs breath away from being out of control.
But there is something I can do with my wisdom. I can remember. The times I’ve gotten into the most trouble is when I’ve completely given in to the disease and quit trying. I may or may not even know what I’m doing, but it doesn’t even matter. I do it anyway. But if I can keep my guard up I’m much more likely to head off problems before they happen. I can tell myself to look ahead to the end result if I don’t do anything. And I can only do that if I hold on to the sanity and do my best to stay proactive. I might not be able to stop the train, but I can release some steam and at least slow it down. When things are going well it’s very easy to forget all the pain and suffering of the past. It’s very common that people who are bipolar start to question their diagnoses and believe that they don’t need any treatment. I’ve done that myself many times. “I feel really good; maybe I was just going through some bad times that were misinterpreted as bipolar.” But it always comes back. So no; I can’t do anything about what has happened in the past. I can’t change the way my brain is wired or the chemistry makeup of the disease. All I can do; all anyone can do and stay alert, recognize patterns, and never ever forget that this is a lifelong disease. It will not ever be completely successful. It will never go away. But forewarned is forearmed. Without knowledge, understanding and awareness there is no hope.
But I hope to always remember.