Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lemons, Luck and Freedom

I wish I had written this, but I didn't. It was written by friend of mine, Sean, a fellow journalist and writer in Tacoma, Washington.

Many of the bpers I've met seem to fall into a few categories.


1) embrace their illness and try to find the positive in it (turning lemons into lemonade)

2) try their best to live with it, despite the challenges (striving to turn lemons into lemonade, sometimes more successfully than at other times)

3) are simply resigned to it (knowing they've got lemons, but believing there is nothing they can do about it

4) fight it (wishing the lemons weren't there, but since they are, hoping the lemons will turn themselves into lemonade)

5) deny it ("What lemons?")
I realize this is a gross oversimplification and doesn't take into account financial circumstance, trust in pdocs, mixed dxes, level of functioning, severity of episodes and so forth. But when I look at that list, I can't help but wonder if the primary distinction between each of the items is a bper's attitude toward his or her illness. If it is, there's good news: Attitude is the result of a choice that we are free to make.

I had a professor who survived a concentration camp, where he was subjected over an extended period to the most painful medical experiments imaginable. During one of the most excruciating experiments, he found he had suddenly stopped caring about the pain.

The pain didn't go away, obviously, but it became more bearable because it taught him that there was a part of his character that the Nazis could never reach: his attitude toward his treatment, and that was fully in his control. He later described that realization as the most liberating moment in his life. Despite barbed wire, attack dogs, crematorium and armed guards, he never felt more free in his life.

My epiphany in this regard came in a far more benign environment -- at work. I was never a morning person, so I didn't especially like getting up and going to work each day. I also have a limited theshold for idiocy not of my own making, and hated stupid obstacles created by others and got easily frustrated.

One day, the business' head honcho asked me how I could possibly go through life with such an outlook. The way he looked at things, we get a finite number of days in our lives, and he couldn't understand how a person could stand to waste a single one. (I think his attitude was shaped in part by the fact that he'd lost several siblings when they were young.) He said he couldn't wait for the alarm to go off every morning so that he could get to work and tackle the challenges.

Scott Carson

He didn't see problems the way most of us do. I remember early one morning, when I could tell by the tension in his jaw that he'd just been on the receiving end of a particularly unpleasant telephone call with a corporate honcho. I said something like "Well, it doesn't look like your day is off to a great start!"

He looked to me as if I was nuts. From his perspective, that phone call brought him an unexpected problem that would require him to use intelligence, creativity and working with others to solve. That was NOT the attitude I brought to my work and my life, but over the course of the four years I worked with him his attitude rubbed off on me and others around him.

Realizing that we control our attitudes can give us a whole new way of looking at ourselves and the world. It changes EVERYTHING. Because of that change in perspective, I found myself feeling downright LUCKY when I was dxed with bp.
Lucky that there was now an explanation for my chronic depressions, my manic antics and my abusive behavior.

Lucky that bp was treatable, and that I lived in a time when medications could bring it under control.

Lucky that it brought me in contact with other bpers, both here and IRL.

Lucky that, because of bp, I had to face and learn to overcome challenges that other people would never know.
Once I thought of myself as lucky for such a dx, I became free to feel a sense of pride in achieving even the simplest everyday task during a depressive episode. Sometimes just crawling out of bed requires a good deal of willpower, when all my body wants to do is sleep, and knowing that I really won't feel like doing any of the things I need to do once I get up. So getting up can be a significant achievement.

I feel lucky to have such supportive friends here on MG who gave me such encouragement when I was on the downslope recently, and who show appreciation on those occasions when I can contribute something of value to them. I would never have had such friends except for bp, and my life would be so much the poorer.

It takes courage to be a bper. It takes resilience. But it needn't require resignation. I like to believe it is possible for many of us to embrace our illness, appreciating the advantages it's given us and looking for ways to mitigate the disadvantages. If we've been given a lot of lemons, we may not be able to make a lemon-chiffon pie, but lemonade may be within our reach.

We don't get to choose bper-hood. But as my professor observed, we are free to choose the attitude we wish to bring to any situation, no matter how terrible. And that, in his view, is the very definition of freedom. Our attitude is within our control, and we can make a tremendous difference in our lives if we exercise that choice.


Dano MacNamarrah said...

Susan~Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. He is spot on.

There are such wonderful gifts that come with having a mental diagnoses. So hard to remember when we are down.

I know that I can see things that many can't. Sometimes they are terrible, traumatic and frightening.

But most of the time, I'm blessed. I could look at the black fur of Hello Newman and see entire rainbows in his individual hairs.

When I'm not plagued by horrendous music playing in my head; recollections from the shite they play in supermarkets, I can hear symphonies, Gregorian chants and operatic movements.

Some people take drugs to see what I see. I can taste hints of cinnamon in Snickers bars, which makes me hate this time of year. The markets surround their doors with cinnamon scented brooms, a painful nasal assault for some one like me.

I can mix paint like no one's business. I can look at colours and see how they were made. I can walk some one through their house and see what they need. Even my hyper-controlling neighbour Robin listened to me, and agreed after I'd run through the swatches she'd chosen. My choice impressed her. One that she'd not looked at.

Painting a family's door, down in their basement, I saw the ghost of their cat. I asked them if they'd had a cat. Yes, and she loved the basement. I hear voices from a Shaman who cares for my friend Betty the Siggi.

Why? Because the Shaman tried to reach my "higher self" when I was suffering, being "treated" to shock-therapy. Apparently my higher self said to get lost. But that's not the point, really.

The Shaman, Dianne died. A year or so ago, I was over at Betty's house. I was shocked to recognise a photo of a woman. Shocked like I'd seen a picture of my own mother. I knew her vision like that.

I asked and Betty told me the story of Dianne and her attempt to help me. Years later, I heard from Dianne, when I was cleaning the bathroom. Both were odd and unlikely experiences.

She let me know that Betty was in trouble. It was true. But here is a belated point.

Native Americans have always accepted those of us with different visions. We should learn from them. All of us.

Mark p.s./Mark p.s.2 said...

I loved the list!

Wellness Writer said...

Thanks for sharing this. I do believe that attitude is everything. I know people who use their illness as an excuse for everything that's lacking in their lives. I wonder what their excuse would be if they weren't clinically depressed or bipolar.

There are others who are upbeat and positive and see their symptoms as a challenge rather than a disability.

The older I get, I realize I no longer have the time and energy to devote to the former--even if they're related to me. Life is just too short.


NerdOneirik said...

I too wanted to thank you for sharing this post. I was recently diagnosed with Bipolar II and have discovered many a wonderful blog about living with it. I have a blog of my own chronicling my journey through the up's and downs and the discovery of what a true friend is.

It's amazing what you can achieve when you just try. Though sometimes it's incredibly hard to deal with people that just don't understand that our brains are wired differently. That getting up can be a huge challenge and we're usually exhausted before the end of the day trying to keep it together.

While being bipolar can sometimes be terrifying, I think it allows us to understand a bit more of the world and just how fragile humans are. I've learned to take nothing for granted.

Three cheers for realizations!

bexter said...

I seem to bounce between #1 (less frequently) and #2 and #3 as a unit (more frequently), with an occasional, passive dash of 5) thrown in. That is, I know I'm stuck with this--and that is sometimes how I view it--but I don't necessarily see this is limiting.

So my beverage-maker tends to turn lemons not into any one fluid but into a bunch of them at once: a certain amount of the fruit becomes sweetened lemonade, but depending on how I'm doing, there's also a substantial run-off of plain old concentrated lemon juice as well as a splash of something that smells suspiciously like piss.

Border Life said...

Thanks for this post! I always looked askance at Sartre and his assertion one is free, even when imprisoned. I suppose today, I would look to the concept of radical acceptance, more "I have lemons"- no embracing, no condemning... The depression monster has been chasing me though... so this was great to read!

Ana said...

The post and the comments.
You all touch me a lot.

s said...

Thanks. I needed to hear all this right now.

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