I compare myself to my family members and friends all the time. I spend many unproductive hours beating myself up because I need to rest but feel it’s a waste of time. I feel guilty when I rest and am unable to rest because I feel I should be doing something constructive. I should know better by now. When I’m tired I get symptomatic. I have bipolar disorder and I take medication for it but when I don’t rest the medication has a hard time working for me.
One of the many doctors I’ve spoken to says ‘sleep is medicine’. I know it is but… I know I have to take care of myself but… I’ll just finish this or I’ll just do that THEN I’ll rest. In the meantime my symptoms raise their ugly heads. Confusion, dizziness, nausea, feeling separate from, feeling like I’m in a fish bowl looking out are all symptoms I feel when I’m overtired. I also have an almost overwhelming urge to flee wherever I am, to be quiet until the feelings pass. Husband #5 found it disconcerting that I would crawl into our closet and shut down; I felt safe in the dark, on the floor, even when I was lying on shoes. If I don’t respect the fact that I’m symptomatic I get worse and basically am not worth much to myself or anyone else. So why is it so difficult for those of us with mental illness to take things easy?
Many of us have family members who are creative people with daunting energy. In my family it’s my son Sander, 28, who is prolific, my sister Glenn and my powerhouse father, who died two years ago of a massive heart-attack. I have envied those three and have watched their successes when I could barely put two sentences together (depression) or was as wild as a hare (mania).
But wishing doesn’t the person make. I remember telling my mother that I was going to study French and flying so I could be a translator/pilot. This was a long time before we knew I suffered from bipolar disorder. And I told her I wanted to be a doctor like my father. I’ll never forget her looking at me, both times, and saying, as kindly as she could, that “I don’t think that would work for you.” I met the same discouraging attitude about many ideas I had, manic or not. My parents knew something was wrong but didn’t know what it was. My mother saw me go through so many cycles that she would try to shut down my ideas before I got in too deep. Whatever it was, my mother knew my high energy would sooner than later turn into what she called ‘exhaustion’ which is what we now call depression. We were all bewildered back then.
Now that I know what it is I’m dealing with I can approach my chosen activities and work with the humbling knowledge that I must pace myself: I must weigh what it is I’m doing with everything else I’m doing, in other words, I mustn’t overload myself. There are few things that I dislike more than resting or putting something aside, even when I know it’s best. When I delve into my feelings it becomes evident that I’m embarrassed to not be working myself sick. It’s a bitter pill to swallow that others can work themselves into the ground without becoming ill, especially when they’re family members. I’m a competitive person but competition isn’t the name of this game. I’m certainly vain but vanity has no place in this. Staying alive and living well is what it’s all about. I believe that my family and friends understand more than I give them credit for. I believe they are thankful that I have learned to pace myself and know how much I dislike limiting my workload. It must be a relief for them. I know it’s a relief for me.