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Mindfully Bi-Polar

I was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder in 2000. It is likely that I have had Bi-Polar Disorder, or as some may know it, Manic-Depressive Disorder, since childhood. I have seen many Psychiatrists, Psychologist, and Counselors. I have been hospitalized over seven times in the past ten years. I have been written prescriptions from Abilify to Zyprexa. Shock therapy has even been suggested at one point, though I did not consent to treatment. Though in twelve years it has never been suggested that meditation, the practice of Yoga, natural herbal supplements, and other forms of alternative medicine, such as Accupuncture and massage, might be helpful in the treatment of mental illness.

I find this not only disappointing but alarming. Ancient practices that have been utilized by millions of people for thousands of years are regarded with indifference, apathy, and sometimes disdain by Western Medicine. 

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As someone who gets caught up in worry and rumination, The practice of mindfulness really speaks to me. The act of mindfully breathing in and out, being aware of my breath, and my body, quiets my mind and centers me in the present moment. The times in which I have practiced mindful breathing and meditation I have been reminded that Jesus encouraged us to stay in the present moment; that tomorrow will handle itself and the past is the past. I find it amusing that so many Christians are quite resistant to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness though it reinforces the very teachings, the very essence, of Christ.

I started reading “Living Buddha, Living Christ” by Thich Nhat Hahn. Thich Nhat Hahn relates the practice of mindfulness to the presence of the Holy Spirit, and both as ways of approaching the mystery of God.

I am excited about the healing possibilities that the practice of mindfulness, Yoga, prayerful meditation, and various other Alternative Medicines might bring me.

Specifically, I am excited to see how the practice of mindfulness and meditation might help foster self-love and acceptance. Many with Bi-Polar Disorder live in shame. I know I have. I have been ashamed of my mental illness. Embarrassed of it. The embarrassment and shame has led me, at times, down paths of self-hatred and loathing. Unfortunately, the culture in which I live makes it so easy to think in these ways. Mental illness is still a largely taboo and misunderstood subject.

Many approach the topic of mental illness with taught misconceptions and/or lazy ignorance. I have sat through many awkward silences after having educated my friends at the dinner table about mental illness, and why the joke they just made is neither accurate nor funny.

That is why I write this blog. I write it as an act of self-love, self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and for the opportunity to educate and inform.

I will leave you with a quote from “Living Buddha, Living Christ”:

          “in Buddhism, we speak of touching Nirvana with our own body, In Christianity, you can also touch    the Kingdom of God with your body, right here and now. it is much safer than placing our hope in the future. If we cling to the idea of hope in the future, we might not notice the peace and joy that are available in the present moment. The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.”

 

Sometimes I sit and think about all of the little different ways my life could have been different. I’ll wonder what would have happened if I had gone straight to college from high school. Eventually I close my eyes and drift back to the time when I was nine years old. I watched a documentary on brain surgery and I fell in love with Neurology and Nuero-Surgery. The brain fascinates me. Its so full of mystery and new discoveries are limitless. My nine year old self was very certain that I would be a Neurosurgeon. I still dream about going to school and becoming a doctor. Then I reality-check myself and realize that I would not be done with school and a residency until I was beyond forty years old. And if I wanted to add a surgical residency onto that, well I could be well on my way to fifty. And then it sets in: the overwhelming sense that I have squandered my youth. Carpe Diem becomes a haunting and taunting Latin phrase that I imagine I have considerably let-down.

Or have I? Maybe my understanding of Carpe Diem has been warped all these years. Inevitably so. I grew up in a culture that has told me time and again that my worth and value as a human being is in what I do to make money. I’ve been taught that climbing some corporate ladder, assuredly propped against some corporate skyscraper, will bring me all that I want in life. In the same vein, I’ve been told that all I want in life is to have “this” and “that”.

Maybe for me, Carpe Diem is learning to let go of all the failed expectations…let go of expectations altogether (both mine and others); a sort of Hindu practice of detaching from results. Maybe Carpe Diem isn’t about seizing at all. Maybe its about letting go.

 

Today I barely survived. I barely got out of bed. There was a tsunami of suicidal thoughts today. As you can see, I’m still here. If you have ever been to see a Psychiatrist or Counselor you probably have been asked if you are going to harm yourself or someone else. A savvy mental health patient will always say no. An even savvier mental health patient (enter me) will say “not today.” It bothers me that I cannot be fully honest without risking being placed into a locked-down environment. Some, probably most, believe this is the solution for a suicidal person. Take away their freedom and access to any and all items and objects they could use to harm themselves with. I disagree. It would be nice to be able to say, “You know what? I am feeling suicidal in this moment. I could really use someone to talk to for the next three hours. I could really use some company.” Here’s why: eventually, the thoughts pass. Usually within a 24 hour period of time. Even more quickly if there is someone around who really listens and takes the time to invest in just being with me. Today, as I lay in my bed, trying to take my mind off of the overwhelming chronic pain in my body, I am thankful that while I was assaulted by thoughts of suicide, I was also reminded of just how much my husband and some very dear friends would miss me. I’ll be honest, if there wasn’t anyone here to stay for, I would have already been gone. If you have a chronic illness, along with a depressive disorder, then you’ll completely identify and understand. And that line of thinking isn’t about pitying myself. I merely recognize that the stubborn hold most have over their physical lives, here on this earth, while precious, isn’t the end-all be-all. I’m glad I was born. But I’m also glad that this life will end one day, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to sleep through the night sans excruciating pain and wake in the morning without the dark ominous black cloud hanging over my head. Image

 

Depression never becomes comfortable, at least not for me. I suppose there is an uncomfortable familiarity with depression though it never becomes that unwelcome guest you eventually grow to love. With each onset of a depressive state I am once again surprised and broadsided by the sheer depth of its reach into every facet of my daily life. There is no getting up on the right or wrong side of the bed because depending on the day there may be no going to bed or getting out of bed. In fact, the notion that one can get up on the metaphorical right or wrong side of the bed is to say there is a choice present. Not so with depression. It is not something you choose. It chooses you. This is especially difficult to come to terms with in our society where pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is aspired to and commended. What many fail to understand is that there are no proverbial bootstraps with which to pull myself up by nor do I possess the strength or motivation to do so when depression sets in. It is much like a hurricane: I must simply ride it out. I think the most tortuous aspect of bipolar disorder is knowing that the other side of a depressive state is a state of euphoria with no knowledge of when one will give way to the other. But euphoria, better known as mania, has its precious price. When I finally crash, I burn. I return to a depressive state, often much worse than the one I left for my fifteen minutes of heaven. There is also a great loneliness that this mental illness has burdened me with. I feel at a loss to connect with others. And I get the sense that others find it difficult to connect with me. It is most alarmingly lonely in the wake of my utter refusal to cover-up or hide my true self from the world around me. The world seems uneasy with my honesty and vulnerability. My solace is found with the lovely consistencies in my life: my husband’s presence, the heat of my dog laying on me, good music, and the tender words of dear and cherished friends (though few they may be).