Category: Strategies for thriving with mental well being

Unforgettable teachings from my bipolar patient

Except for the fact that I didn’t own the Bates Motel, for a long time I felt just like Anthony Perkins, hearing crazy voices from the room upstairs. For many years, the fact that I had bipolar disorder filled me with a corrosive and crushing shame. I lived with an endless narrative loop in my head that was harsh, cruel and replete with self-reproach. I avoided getting treatment for far too long for this reason. Let me share with you the unforgettable teachings of my bipolar patient.

Picture of lightbulb to denote ideas and learning
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My bipolar patient teachings

This all changed when a warm and wise woman who suffered from bipolar disorder came to see me for a consultation a few years back. She relayed her story to me and it was remarkably similar to mine. Years of self-loathing and fleeing from accepting her diagnosis. I felt that it was a privilege to be invited into her inner world and empathized with her struggles. Rather than seeing her as damaged, I saw her merely as being scared. Rather than seeing her as pathological, I understood her vulnerability. It was her humanness that resonated with me. And then, what I had previously been blind to came into clear focus.

For years, fueled by shame, I had been running away from myself, trying to stay one step ahead of my “badness”. But what this admirable patient awakened in me was something I had known all along. We humans can have kindness and compassion for others that we don’t often enough bestow upon ourselves. I thought that surely I could find a way to rewire the way I spoke to myself, replacing the voices of self condemnation with ones imbued with the compassion and humanism I felt toward her. This was obvious, but back then it felt revelatory. Sounds trite but it was empowering to realize that I held my identity in my own hands. This finally allowed me to usher in an affirming sense of self.

A healthy inner story

I had found my way out of the darkness that had plagued me and was able to claim an inner story line that was healthy, undeniable and freeing. This has required me to continue to make active and conscious choices to picture myself through a lens colored with decency and fairness. My road toward health has not been a spectator sport.

During challenging times, I sometimes still hear the self-imposed crazy voices originating from the top floor of the Bates Motel. But whenever that happens, I reflect back on that brave patient of mine and remember the kind narrative she elicited in me. It works much better than living in a world where Norman is messing with my mind.

Any one have narratives (like mine) that have caused grief?

Click here for more unforgettable teachings from my bipolar patient.

One step at a time toward mental wellness

My turtle

When I was young, I had a turtle in an aquarium in my room.  It didn’t move around too much but when it did, I’d watch as it slowly swam about, occasionally pulling itself up onto the little rock that served as it’s island, in search of food.

picture of 2 turtles walking one step at a time
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One step at a time toward mental wellness

It took my psychiatrist almost a year and a half to stabilize me on medications for my mood swings. That is not a very unusual amount of time but it sucked.  I know how I survived.  For those 18 months, I regressed on the evolutionary scale and became a primitive reptilian creature.  My brain’s cortex vanished and during that time, my deep, reflexive, subcortical brain structures automatically took over.  That little turtle hatchling, swimming toward some unseen rock was who I became.  I did not have a single sophisticated thought in my head about what awaited me that day or the next.  

The fog lifts and my treatment worked

Quite simply, survival was deep in my DNA.   Without any reflection or plan, I did nothing more than show up every day.  That’s all I did.  After this interminably long time period, the fog lifted, the waters became clear and I finally felt better.  My treatment worked.

All we can do is paddle through our waters when relief can’t be found, when comfort eludes us and when inner peace is nowhere around. We can summon our courage, take a leap of faith and simply put one flipper in front of the other, each day, every day and swim on. One step at a time toward mental wellness.

Do you find that one step at a time is the way to go go or…big.leaps?