Do I Want to Get Better?

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34: Do I Want to Get Better?

2 Feb 03

A lot has happened in the last week. Probably the most important was that I ran support for my cousin for a marathon. She’s just about 5 feet tall, is the mother of two kids and she ran 26.2 miles. Right. I want to be like that. All I was able to do was half that – 13 miles.

Still thirteen miles wasn’t too bad. More importantly, I was able since before Christmas to stay stable enough to take part in the training for the marathon and take part in it. This is a far cry from the November experience when everything failed me. Perhaps things are looking up. I’m optimistic but cautious. When I stay this stable for about six months, then I’ll feel that I’m getting somewhere.

Meanwhile, there is a four hour adventure race taking place in May and a 100 mile bicycle race taking place in July and I want to participate in those too. Ye hah!

In case you are wondering about the sudden spurt of exercise, I have happened to have fallen into a group of friends who take the exercise stuff seriously. Well, not too seriously because we have a fun time doing it all. Still, we are running and cycling and kayaking when we can. And because we aren’t competitive with each other and because we provide lots of support for each other, we’ve built a cohesive group and we spur each other on.

I’ve been realising that groups are my salvation for stability. I am able to spread any support I need among many people instead of burdening any one person. Also because in any group people often take a week or two off and then rejoin, my absences due to depression aren’t as problematic. The group continues even if I am not there. And it is there for me when I’m no longer depressed.

21 Apr 03 – Diary

I don’t want to stop being bipolar.

Now, there’s a radical thought. Given what this has done to my life – wrecked my career as a City Planner, created confusion with my relationships, lowered my self esteem, arrested my way forward in life for about five years, and generally acted as a stumbling block for everything I do, the one thing on my mind should be to not be bipolar.

But there is a logic to it.

Probably the first thing I should mention is that I am reasonably stable these days. More importantly, I don’t get days of depression any more, just the occasional day when things are slower than usual. So I can afford to be a bit complacent about being bipolar.

But I still need to spend a substantial amount of time monitoring myself, and I still fear that I will do something that will cause me to destabilise, as I do every holiday weekend, and I still spend a substantial amount of money on medication. All of which could perhaps be used for better purposes – I would love to use my drug money to buy a new bicycle (hmm, that doesn’t sound exactly right).

The reality though is that I have been substantially shaped by being bipolar, and I as long as I am exhibiting some signs of being manic depressive, I will be shaped by it.

I often talk about my being bipolar as a thing apart – as if the disease is something other than me, as if it was a flu virus I am fighting and I can get rid of. The reality isn’t so clear cut though. I need to think of being bipolar as an entity separate from me because if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to analyse it and take action. But I am very much aware that being bipolar isn’t separable from me. Whether I like it or not, I have adapted over the years to being bipolar, and for good or ill, many of those adaptions are part of who I am.

One example is that I have a tendency to be extremely ordered in organising my house, desk, etc.. This tendency is very much a learnt one – if I didn’t always put my house keys in one place I’d never find them, or if I didn’t put the file next to the car keys, I would always forget to carry it to work. Another example is that I am much more accommodating of the quirks of others, having had so many of them myself.

Some of my adaptations are good, some have become bad habits, and some are just peculiar quirks. The point is that these adaptations, and the way they make me who I am, are as much symptoms of being bipolar as depression is. My personality and the person who I am have been very thoroughly shaped by my being bipolar. My greatest source of inner strength and the most solid sense of self I have has been brought about by having fought being bipolar and winning (a truce at least, if not the battle).

So, the idea of taking away my disease is a bit unnerving. I may be better of without it, but I don’t think I would be me. I am reminded of a story I read in which a deaf woman is upset by the discovery that there would be a cure for deafness in unborn kids. For her, this was not a triumph for society, but a destruction of the rich nuanced deaf subculture. I think I feel the same way. Being well might be advantageous to me in that I would not suffer the effects of depression, but the cost would be the destruction of the complex internal life and outlook that being bipolar brings. I might become stronger in some areas, but I feel I would become narrower and less diverse overall.

And quite frankly I don’t think I would be as good a person as I am. Having a constant reminder to be humble, to be empathic of other people’s problems, and to realise how precious each day is, is no bad thing.

17 May 03

For those of you who need a bit of encouragement, I took part in a 6 hour adventure race – running and riding off-road. My recommendation is never to torture yourself doing this, well, unless you really like to. But taking part and finishing the race did prove a point to me, that I can plan to take part in a future event and stick with it.

Of course, I was able to do so only because I am now taking Wellbutrin and it works in stabilising me. It took me five years and quite a number of trials and failures to get a medication that actually works, but I now have proof that if we experiment with our medications (with medical advice, please) we can eventually find one that works the way we want it to. So keep on truckin’.

For me, the great thing about the adventure race is that I’ve finally gotten proof that when I am stable I can do exceptional things and do them well. That’s really reassuring to know. I am not a loser.