So here I am in this… zone. It’s a zone that I’ve been in before, although not for as long this in years. I’m scared to write about it actually in case drawing attention to it bursts the bubble.
I’m not brilliant. I’m not asymptomatic. Things can throw me off course. I’m looking over my shoulder all the time. But I’m OK. I am (relatively) stable and I am (relatively) productive. And I would like to stay here please. I just want to stay here.
I’m not asking to be back to full functioning. That’s a kind of a dream my psychiatrist still has for me but one that I let go of years ago. I have accepted that I will have a limited range of functioning for the foreseeable future and that in order to maintain this I will have to carry on taking 12 pills per day as there is no way I dare rock the boat. But within this limited range I feel that currently near the top of the window. In other words, this is the best it’s going to get. And I don’t mind that, I really don’t.
I’m not asking to be 100% free of bipolar symptoms. My anxiety is much reduced but in certain situations can still overwhelm me. I still have scary delusional thoughts, but far fewer than before and I am more able to put some distance between the myself and the thought. I am no longer scanning the pavement for banana skins. A recent family emergency resulted in me crying continuously for six hours. I have the odd low moment when I worry I am sliding down, the odd euphoric moment when I wonder if I’m heading up. But I don’t think I am.
And I’m OK with being OK. One of the first ever self-help books I ever read (this was right after the bipolar diagnosis was restored in 2011) stressed the value for bipolar people of seeking contentment, of detaching from the thrill of the roller coaster ride and seeking something more sustainable and less damaging. I kind of knew what the authors were getting at but it seemed completely unattainable. It is something I am only really experiencing now, and I’m relishing it. I’d rather be snuggled on the sofa with Tom watching TV or wandering around a National Trust property (because I really am that middle class) than whirling around like a Tasmanian devil cleaning, writing, exercising, singing, arguing, banging out tweets every few seconds. I’m thankful that I’m not conscious of using the TV programme as a distraction, that when it ends I won’t have to face suicidal feelings.
This new zone is safe yet allows for some challenges. It’s making me think about what goals I could have, and whether they are reasonable within my current limits. Now I’m OK, what do I want to feel more fulfilled?
There’s a lot I’m really not asking/hoping for. I’m not asking to be the dedicated full time professional I used to be, the one who juggled a lot of unpaid overtime in addition to the 37 hours. I realise that I am still a long way from even being able to work at a regular part time job for an employer. I’m happy enough to go on as I am, self-employed and undertaking research, training, consultancy, freelance writing. I don’t go out and aggressively pursue work, I let it come to me and I try really hard not to work more than two days per week, preferably non consecutively, because more than that and I start to become overwhelmed. I get as tired by two days’ work outside the home than used to after a full week. And of course I don’t earn that much. I am in the very fortunate position of being pretty much supported by Tom, but it’s hard for me to feel OK with that as I have been economically independent ever since the children were small. Earning a little bit more now is good for my self-esteem. As well as buying my wedding outfit and the kids’ I was able to pay for the cake. Not much, not in the wider context, but it meant something to me.
I’m not asking to have the kind of active (hectic?) social life and hobbies that I had in the past. I used to sing in three choirs every week, one a tough, audition-only a cappella group. I’m not expecting to ever be able to go back there, but I really would like to just slot back into my friendly local choir where I have friends who know about my condition. Looks like I missed the boat again for this term – my sight reading’s pretty atrocious, so once the first two rehearsals have passed it’s very hard for me to jump in. At least this year it was for reasons unrelated to my mental health as wedding/honeymoon stuff took over. I’ll wait for January and in the meantime I’ll try and play my ukulele more! Meanwhile I have lots of friends that I don’t see very often, so I’m making a conscious effort to meet up with people. Only a couple of times a month, and not for dinner or cocktails these days. And I might not be up with the latest movie releases any more but I did enjoying to the cinema on my own one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve just booked to see the Royal Academy’s Wanderlust exhibition before it finishes (again, alone, but I’m honestly fine with that – another thing I’m content with).
I’m not asking to be the woman who trained to run a 10k race on top of the unpaid overtime and the three choirs and the cocktails and the films. But I am enjoying doing aerobics DVDs three times a week and I’m really tried to walk more. I would like to explore whether other form of exercise are something I would enjoy and find helpful right now. I’m just about to start yoga classes after many years and I’ve ordered some swimsuits for the um, fuller figured woman because I want to see if I still enjoy swimming. When I was first on sick leave I got into walking 8-10 mile walks from the Capital Ring and I’d like to do some other parts of the route I’ve not yet explored.
My other goals are similarly modest. I would like to learn how to make rag rugs. I would like to meditate again, even if just a couple of times a week for a short period. I would like to make better use of my colouring book. I would like to shake mealtimes up a bit and make better use of the lovely cookery books I was given for my birthday. That’s about it, I think. Struggling to think of anything more.
I don’t ask for the moon.
Oh Charlotte, that stuff about contentment could not have been written at a more helpful time for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You may be writing about yourself but you have helped at least one other person. And that is pretty amazing work in my humble opinion xxx
IT’s really hard but I am missing the hypomania less and less as time goes on. The pendulum is swinging less wildly. I hope it comes to rest xxx
I’m just thrilled to hear how much better and content you are feeling right now, hang on to that, it proves you can do it and be ok. I try and read your blog every time you post, and sometimes I am so upset for you I just don’t know what to say, but today, my heart is lifted and I’m smiling outside and in and am so pleased for you. Remember when things do get a bit dark again, the light is not going to be that far away this time xx
It is/I am a work in progress! But I feel more hopeful than in a long time xxx
To an extent, I know how you feel. I am on CPP Permanent Disability and wish so badly that I could work. The first question people ask when they meet you is,What do you do? Do I answer I just hope that I can get out of bed in the morning. Thanks for your article. It helped.
Even though I have some work now, I still don’t know “what I do” in that it’s all so built around my MH that there is no one neat and tidy thing that fits in the boxes. What label I throw out depends on what day it is!
I’m with you! Being OK is OK! If I can get there I don’t need that recovered bliss everyone talks about! More than anything it would be such a disappointment to lose that!
It’s good to hear you doing OK, you’ve had a stressful few months and things have been bumpy. I hope OK lasts for a while and gives you some respite!
Thank you! Trying to just enjoy it…!
‘OK’ is where I’m currently striving to achieve with my own condition. Accepting what I have and learning to live with it, manage it and lead a fulfilling life in spite of it. You’ve given me some hope that this is possible, and it’s lovely to hear you write about being content with the more subtle things in life.
Best of luck to you , Charlotte. May this period of ‘ok’ continue.
It’s so new…. I am scared all the time that I have reached my ‘personal best’ in terms of how long I can go with this! Trying to be positive and hopeful.
So pleased that you’ve found some stability. Hope the pendulum swings are smaller and slower from now on. Recovery never means symptom free in mental health. Finding your own way of being “well enough” seems to be more realistic. I’m in that place myself at the moment, after a Summer of struggles. Let’s pop a virtual bottle of champagne together!
There needs to be a “like” button on the comments section!
Your writing is brilliant, thank you so much for having the courage to share. I really appreciate it
Thank you so much ☺️
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I chanced across your blog and I’m so happy I did. I can relate to a lot, especially the part about being afraid of being ok… Am I really? Will it last…
It’s so hard to just…carry on!