Here are the perfect ingredients for a bipolar recipe:
Depression keeps you sad because you’re stuck in the past.
Anxiety begs you constantly to worry about the future.
And baby, mania is just a euphoric dreamland where you don’t sleep.
Managing expectations of yourself and of others doesn’t eliminate any of these symptoms but at the very least, it can help to maintain some perspective and balance. The only problem here is self-judgment. And personally, I’m not great at managing expectations too. I can’t help but feel like a failure when I check my social media feed and start to compare myself to others and what they can do. I expect myself to be as productive; I tell myself, “Everyone has their battles, so why can’t I get it together?” Before I know it, I’ve trapped myself in this circular argument. At this point, I truly feel defeated when I can’t even get out of bed on my days off of work. I also occasionally have mean friends in my head that cruise in to create giant waves and destroy my ocean of rational thoughts. I’m fighting all the voices and myself again, making this getting-out-of-bed affair even more impossible. The only escape is to go back to sleep.
I’ve found it helpful to manage your expectations before those bad times and bad buddies come to haunt you. It all begins with reflecting to discover what you ask of yourself and others. It is literally life saving. If the detrimental whispers of “why me” are familiar to you right now, kick them out immediately. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Don’t even compare yourself to someone you know who has mental health issues. Don’t, because they can be symptom free at this point and time, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have their battles too. There will be a time where all of it will pass and you will tread above water again. This is about you, and all that you need and want in order to make yourself as healthy and happy as you can be.
So what do you expect of yourself when you, or a family or friend, has to cope with mental health issues? And how does that compare to what you can realistically expect?
After 10 years of battling, I’ve had to admit this much to myself. I might be permanently stuck on this terrible bipolar roller coaster with a ball and chain around my ankle. There is no magic pill that can dissolve it or enough therapy sessions that can help me problem solve through it. My will to live is the only expectation that I can manage and that is the only small win that I can call mine. Despite how invasive this illness is, it will never consume me so long as I can help it – as long as I can brave to accept it and not fight it. Yet I expected that the wonderful advances of science and modern medicine would fix most of my issues. Now I’m glad it can’t because it allowed me to learn that my pitfalls aren’t a reflection of what I was or wasn’t doing. It is the reality that I have to entertain and embrace as part of this new bipolar identity that I never asked for.
After I tried to manage the expectations I had for myself, I untangled some of the people in my life. All my riches and gold are buried and kept safe in the relationships that I nurture, mend and sew. Even the strongest bonds require some work every now and then. When everything came crashing down two years ago, I was shocked at how all of them changed. It wasn’t until recently that I processed how badly I was hurting from all of it. It wasn’t enough to open my eyes to see this though. I regained my mental sanity when I ejected myself from them and cashed in whatever chips I had left after gambling for so long.
Now I try my best to juggle what I expected from myself, from my relationships, and from my own day-to-day tasks and goals. I stopped expecting that I could hold on to all the lists, the tasks, and the relationships. It’s enough to expect myself to be able to roll out of bed every morning without the anxiety and voices weighing me down. I also have to expect that I would drop some balls too. No matter how much I try to juggle, life isn’t a circus act and I am definitely not coordinated enough to be a circus performer.
I’m only human and so are you. Whoever you are – if you’re coping with a mental illness or if you’re a family or friend cheering for someone else, you are human. It is absolutely okay to surrender the things that are damaging to you. Happiness and peace belong to us all. Not every relationship was meant to be and not everyone is able to cope with someone who lives with a mental illness. Sometimes letting go of the expectations you can’t control is part of defining your expectations and boundaries too. You can begin to hurt, instead of heal yourself, when you feel pressured to obey your obligations and kneel to destructive relationships. Invest in yourself now by making a list of your internal and external expectations and envision a life that you want. Then dial it down a few notches. That is managing your expectations.
Stay honest. Stay realistic. Forgive yourself for all the expectations you couldn’t meet and refine them to expectations you can accept, execute, and fulfill instead. Truth is subjective and I hope you can find yours within your own lived experience.