I finished Cognitive behavioural therapy a few months back for the major anxiety I was trying and failing miserably to deal with in my life. You could have knocked me over with a feather when the psychologist started the session with ‘not everything in your life is bipolar related and not every expression of anger or sadness is bipolar induced’. In all my life, and in all the decades of therapy I have had, not once was I told I was allowed to be angry, or that some anger is justified and some sadness is just a result of my life experiences. I shouldn’t have to be told that, it should have been obvious to me, but I obviously needed to hear it.
I have spent my life thinking everything I did, said, didn’t do, didn’t say, was all a factor of or symptom of my illness and that is just not the case. It is very easy to decide to paint over everything in my life with the bipolar brush. I used it as an excuse, as a reason, as a symptom, as justification and explanation for every little thing in my life that wasn’t right or perfect. But I have learned over the years that life isn’t perfect and neither am I. And my illness is not responsible for every single thing that happens in my life. Irrespective of my illness, I would have most definitely felt sad, angry, annoyed, bitter and euphoric over the course of my life because that IS life. It is a journey, a shifting path where things don’t remain the same for long. And that is okay. Learning to be okay with that has taken my over two decades. I can’t control everything. I can only control my reaction to things, to people, to circumstances I feel are not good for me. I can’t control what others think or do or say. But I can choose to either react or not to react at all. I say that and in my head I am screaming “do you know how hard it is to actually do that”… screaming it.. because it is hard, because having bipolar complicates things, relationships, huge big ones and tiny ones that shouldn’t matter at all but somehow do.
I know I am oversimplifying things here. I know that there are some who may read these words and think, ‘yeah, she’s finally lost it’, but I don’t think I have. I think at last I finally get it. I am allowed to be human without being judged as a nutter. I try very hard to turn the other cheek when someone hurts me, I try very hard to approach life from the view point that if someone is really terrible to me, that they deserve another chance, and another and another, because no-one knows what’s going on behind closed doors or inside their head. I have off days, I have off months and sometimes years – where would I be if no one gave me a second or third or forth chance. Some people haven’t and my life is I believe emptier because of their absences. I have lost some people who I considered closer than my own family because I was not strong enough to deal with them and I ran out of chances. Others still just seemed to drift on out of my life and while it is sad, I’m not grieving over it.
I didn’t learn one damn coping strategy at CBT. We never got around to breathing sessions, or sending your mind elsewhere or focusing on the positive or any such stuff like that. But I learned something vastly more important. I learned that it was okay to be emotional, that I can be emotional outside of my illness and it is not always as a result of my illness. My awesome psychologist was just gorgeous. She was such a warm person, I felt completely at ease within the first half hour. After three months, I knew we were coming to the end of our sessions and each one was all the more bittersweet because of that. And I know that as a client/patient/whatever you want to call me, I was forming an attachment to her, and even that was okay – understandable even. I poured out my heart. I was completely and utterly honest with her in a way I am not with other people, because there was no consequences to that honesty. And had we met under different circumstances I think we may actually have been friends. But what I did learn was ‘Hope‘ My awesome therapist gave me a courage to face the world differently, a faith in myself that I am human and its okay to be flawed, a desire to be better than I have been, more kind to myself and a trust in myself I have not had in a very long time. My bipolar illness is still there – I am not cured, but she wasn’t dealing with that. I will always have bipolar, I will always be ‘off’, but I learned to love myself a little better and that makes all the difference.