Experience in life is invaluable; there really is no substitute. There is not a moment that has gone by, in my 36 years, where there wasn’t a lesson to be learned. I realize this theme more and more as I get older. When I was 18…I had all the answers. Now, just having celebrated my 36th birthday, I’ve found that there is an unending supply of questions to pry into, most of which don’t have explicit answers.
I couldn’t do justice the amount of lessons and insights I’ve gleaned over what I’ve experienced the last six or so months. As I sit here writing this, while texting with friends and watching hockey, I feel right. I feel a lot better than I did a year ago, when stress and anxiety made up most of the excess weight I was carrying back then.
When I began writing and blogging about myself, and more specifically, the depression I was going through, I remember thinking that I needed to dramatize it, partially because I wanted to practice writing…that’s what writers do. I needed to create the experience for the reader to go through with me, so they could understand how impactful and powerful the feelings were in those moments for me. Now, even when I filter through some of the caricature imbedded in those posts, the intense contrast in mood, now versus then, or August versus December, hits me like the first breath in a sauna.
I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life; either the mentally-heightened state I seemed to have soared through, nor the intense crash and depressive period that followed (which felt almost identical to a hangover). Up until recently, I don’t think I would have believed such a natural state of emotional fluctuation could exist. I always assumed mind over matter prevailed, but now I understand that the flow of affective energy works in both directions.
Always know that certain people, at various points in their life, may be struggling with a natural chemical or circumstantial depression. They aren’t faking it for attention, and feeling sorry for themselves is not a purposeful action or a sign of weakness. The real sign of weakness lies within those people who are quick to point at and judge others, instead of recognizing the flaws in themselves. Help others around you, and those actions become reciprocated, probably when you need it the most. That’s Karma.
I realize now more than ever, the inevitable balance to the universe is as unavoidable as life or death. Whether it’s feeling up, then down, or having good days, then bad, everything always seems to even out. I haven’t been told specifically, “You are bipolar,” and I’ve researched it enough to know there aren’t any defined lines drawn to outline a spectrum, but it’s obvious my mind needed some type of normalization to take place. If someone is hanging out in a swamp full of anxiety, stress, fear, or countless other negative emotions, like half the world seems to be now days, for too long…one of two things will eventually happen. The damn will break, followed by a flood of negative ailments; serious physical illness like heart disease will set in, self-destructive behaviors take over, and relationships become tarnished forever. Or, on the other hand, that person can regain control of the steering wheel, throw all the negativity out of the boat, and pop out of it like a life jacket under water.
Actually, I didn’t understand that entire concept until very recently, but life has a funny way of presenting its rationale for those key moments, sometimes in a way that could never be ignored. As I sit here today, in this perfectly imperfect existence, I’m much wiser for the wear, for a handful of reasons.
First and Foremost, Stigma is very real.
For me personally, this is the worst part at the moment. Probably more obvious a concept to people being stigmatized, but not a groundbreaking thought. By all accounts, if I am bipolar, I’m on the very mild end, but I can tell people still look at me differently. Some people even seem hesitant to talk to me; like they think they might offend me somehow, or I’m somehow more mysterious than before. The ironic part is…sometimes I get self-conscious that people are looking at me through a microscope, or judging me because they don’t understand, and I end up stigmatizing myself by allowing it to touch my thoughts, even if it’s only for a minute or two.
At first, I was very self-conscious about how the people closest to me would perceive me. I never really cared if they thought I was different, or didn’t know what to say to me, and I certainly don’t care what rumors have spread about me. I cared if people around me thought I was incapable of doing, anything in particular really. I’m stronger now than I ever was.
Eventually, my fears evaporated, for a few reasons. When I talked about what I went through, in complete detail, and with upfront honesty, people all around me opened up to me, confided in me, and talked about their personal battles as well. Almost everybody I spoke with has something they go through that is extremely difficult. Problems are all around us, and the only way to fix them, is to work on them head-on. It has become somewhat of a connecting point for me with some people; they know I’m not going to judge them, and they can open up about things that weigh on their mind. People fear vulnerability. Personally, I think it is a sign of genuineness.
In my experience now, the people who don’t know if I’m a different person, or don’t know what to think exactly, are the people that haven’t spent any time around me lately. My capabilities never wavered…change was what scared people.
I felt really guilty, and still do, about hurt I caused people. There’s no hiding from it, and it wouldn’t be beneficial even if I could hide, but taking full responsibility for my actions is the only acceptable recourse. It’s actually the one time in life where the ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ routine is completely accurate. I joke a little, but my fiancé deserves a public (anonymous) and enormous thank you. She was and still is the biggest weight-bearing support beam for me the past four months, when she didn’t need to be. She has spent more time than anyone…by far, talking to me about anything and everything, including my feelings and insecurities, and also a few embarrassments.
She knew what I was going through, but it’s tough to explain to a four and two-year-old why Dada is crying. On one hand, it’s completely endearing, because they don’t care…kids are more forgiving and loving and accepting than most adults could ever hope to be. But, I felt so incredibly guilty about it; them seeing their hero in tears, sometimes slumped over in despair, while their heroine comforted me. I hated myself for that at times, but my fiancé always knew when to step in.
She would tell me, over and over, how great of a father I am, and not even just that, but also how great of a father her mom and dad think I am. It’s one thing coming from my own parents or relatives…what else are they going to say? But hearing outside opinions like that, including from other friends and outside acquaintances, and even strangers sometimes, meant the world. That was the stigma I hated the most; the notion that I wouldn’t be able to take care of my family. My fiancé and I talked about how she would way rather have me cry in front of our girls than feeling like I had to act like some fake, macho guy, because kids need to grow up knowing it’s okay to express emotion. It’s healthy, and it’s authentic.
Now, I feel guiltier about how when I was away writing the world’s greatest novel, as it were, I wasn’t around to support my fiancé, when she had those rough days, and when she was self-conscious about those same moments of sadness in front of the kids. Balance is normal, ups and downs are iron clad guarantees in life…it’s not unhealthy, it’s human. It’s unhealthy to bottle it all up, as I can personally attest to.
That’s what families do, and that’s how humans should behave; you pick each other up. Humans were meant to live as teammates, not individuals. I look at everybody differently now. I think all people carry burdens around with them, along with the fear that comes from worrying about what others will think. Love and support eliminate the fear. That’s how I’m going to live. Everybody is on the same team. Nobody is better than the person standing next to them. Give, and you shall receive. Help and support, are reciprocal. Nobody should be left behind. Everybody can live within the same boundary…live on the inside.
It’s stigma to judge from the outside.
To be continued…part 1 of 2