Losing hope is so easy. I’ve spent so much of my life listening to myself and the friends in my head beating me down. They tell me that the depression and anxiety would never end, and all my efforts were simply worthless. Yet those thoughts hold so much truth; reality has justified and cemented those thoughts. My depression and anxiety has been worse when the emotional wave raptures my mind for weeks and months at a time. After 8 years of coping without any medications, I was then hit with the fun that came with discovering the bipolar nature of my depression and anxiety too – also known as the impulsive insomniac behaviour. Now 10 years later, the depression and anxiety hurts my mind and body much more than it did, let’s say 7 years ago. The one special ingredient in my brewing pot of mental health issues is resilience.
Resilience is the strength to persevere and endure through the challenges that are thrown at you. I believe that the two most significant pillars beneath this giant umbrella term is having faith and grace.
Let’s start with faith. Faith and hope are essentially synonyms to each other. I’ve personally chosen faith because of the passage, “Walk by faith, not by sight”. Much like the passage itself, my interpretation of faith is to trust the future despite all the unknowns. When you live with a chronic illness like bipolar disorder, all the unknowns construct the anxiety crawling beneath it. It extends from questions like, “What will I do this afternoon when I’m feeling so depressed and useless?” to, “How many more weeks am I going to be stuck in this rabbit hole of depression, mania, anxiety etc.”. Anyone who has been in either hypomania or mania knows that the ride is fun and you’re high in the sky, but the fall is the absolute worst and you’ll never see it coming. It can be a matter of days or weeks.
I recently lost sight of the future. My tower of faith tumbled down and all I saw were clouds amidst a fog. It was a brutal month. I was strapped down in bed by my sad blue-grey mind and aching body, and my anxiety stopped me every time I had an idea to do anything. All I wanted was to be outside and enjoy summer but my mental strength was deflated and consequently, I became physically disabled. On my days off from work, I cried and panicked and medicated then slept, and it went on and on. When I told my mind that the only option was to get out of bed, I escaped the bed but I also saw my legs mold into jello and drag behind me. I visited my psychotherapist every week that month and nothing helped. We combed through every possible huddle I may have been facing and brainstormed all the skills I hadn’t applied yet. I tried to see my psychiatrist but I had to wait another 6 weeks. I searched for faith and found nothing even between the parts where the sun don’t shine.
Let’s be honest though. Anyone living with a mental illness is constantly struggling with their life long commitment of building, deconstructing, and rebuilding am I right? I eventually developed faith in myself and my mental health again by starting with very small goals and taking life in small strides. I set my expectations pretty damn low because I hit rock bottom. I learned to be proud of myself if I accomplished one thing that day; maybe it was making the bed, enjoying a meal, or going for a walk that didn’t include taking the dog out for toileting purposes. Whatever it was, it just had to be one of those. It was worthy of a champagne celebration when it happened because anything I had tried before had completely failed. I didn’t even accomplish this teeny tiny goal within days of gaining this faith. I just waited and held on with the hope and belief that the nasty tsunami would pass, and eventually it did.
Holding onto faith is about all you can do. There is no one-way to fix the challenges that come with mental health, even though this is all we want to do. Our immediate instinct is to fix everything but sometimes that makes it worse. It frames these mental health challenges as a problem meant to be solved when there is no solving. And to be honest, it can make someone feel really shitty. Some people take it personally while others don’t. Despite that there is always a passing thought of feeling like a patient, an outsider, or a burden again. Dear family members and friends: sometimes we just want to be listened to and hugged because it’s hard and endless. We want our feelings to be acknowledged because sometimes they feel like a nightmare we can’t escape. Sometimes we don’t want to talk about it at all because discussing it reminds us that there is no solution, and that is frustrating. We just want to know that you understand it’s real. Medications help but they are definitely not the cure. I also know what the struggle feels like to watch someone you love experience so much pain because I’ve walked in those shoes too. Maybe you blame yourself for not trying hard enough to help them overcome these bad icky episodes. Yet the most helpful you can be is to support them by listening to their needs and being there unconditionally. We love you. We also love when you believe that we know what our body needs too.
This brings me to giving yourself grace. The way I interpret grace is not the technical definition of grace whatsoever. However, I’ve always visualized forgiving yourself as giving yourself grace so let’s roll with that. Forgiving yourself is so taxing. You have these characteristics that you believe are flaws and again, you have a natural instinct to fix, fix, fix. Giving grace is much like having faith. It’s about letting go of the things you can’t control and just trusting yourself and time. I suggest to not fix it at all when you imagine yourself as useless or a permanent ugly stain. Let it go and just focus on doing your best by trying to eat, sleep, and continue with your daily life as much as you can. I know there is a lot of coaching out there that will tell you to embody positive reinforcing phrases as a means of kickstarting your life. But I don’t believe in pushing yourself as an immediate response when your shoulders weigh a bajillion pounds and you feel like poop. I believe in giving yourself grace by allowing yourself to let go for once. When you live with a chronic illness, you’re continually fighting to be the healthiest you can be. You’re never still, and I think this applies to a lot of chronic illnesses in general. Imagine having arthritis. It physically modifies how you open a jar or move things from point A to B. You eventually become accustomed to these changes because humans are adaptable but at moments, you’ll always notice the difference. There is a you and them dynamic.
My strong and hardworking survivors, family members, and friends – if you haven’t tried investing in faith and giving yourself grace, I urge you to try it. From my experience, you’ll just drive yourself into the wall if you solely focus on trying to fix yourself and all those mental health challenges you might be encountering. Try to let go of all the expectations you have of yourself and others. Just do you and focus on your needs. Make a list of all the fucks you can give and when you’ve reached the end of that, stop. I can’t say this enough but everything will begin to fall into place when you start to love yourself by feeding your needs first. Get hungry.