Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Reentering Life (Part 4)

After all these years, I have to admit that while I think it's very important to reconnect with friends and family members after a depression ends, I also believe it's important to periodically think about the people with whom I'm reconnecting.

I ask myself the following questions: Are they life-affirming or are they part of the problem? If being with them is "making me sick," are they worth it? Do I love them? Do they love me? Have I tried to resolve things? Have they? If they stopped being part of my life, would I miss them? If I was "on my deathbed," would I want to see them? What would I say to them? Can I say it now? What are the repercussions of ending this relationship? Am I currently depressed or hypomanic? (If so, I don't do anything until I'm "normal.") Do I need to discuss my feelings with a therapist? A clergyperson? A friend? Have I done everything in my power to try and make this relationship work? If not, what more can I do?

Through the years, I've discarded friends and in most cases, there was a good reason. Although it took a long time for me to figure this out, the people I used to befriend during a hypomania were rarely people I liked when I was "normal." Actually, my husband used to tease me about finding people during a hypomanic episode whom I could "save." And he was right.

What I learned was that while it may initially feel good to think I'm strong enough to "save" someone, it never turns out for the best. The truth is that I really do believe that people need to "save" themselves. While those of us who feel stronger can offer support and solace to others, in fact, we can only "save" ourselves.

There are a few people I "dropped" whom I shouldn't have. If I still cared about them and wanted to try and salvage those relationships--even though years had past--I made the effort. I felt great when it worked out. When it didn't, I felt good that I had tried.

The problem was that since it took 25 years for my illness to be diagnosed, I didn't realize that my moods went in cycles. And, before therapy, I found it difficult to tell people--even those I truly cared about--when they did things that really bothered me. I would wait until I got so angry that I couldn't stand being their friend for one more minute. These days, I am quite able to express my feelings, positive and negative. I feel that my ability to do this is one of the best outgrowths of my illness and the subsequent work I did in therapy.

In terms of family members, after years of anguish and thought, I have changed my fundamental beliefs about the sanctity of family, and my actions. When I was a child, my father taught me that nothing is more important than family loyalty. While I loved my dad dearly, I no longer agree.

I have stopped believing that I must love and forgive family members because of our "blood" relationship. I now believe that when family members are toxic, when they have taken advantage of me because of my illness, acted selfishly over and over despite my remonstrations, and have been deceitful and dishonest, it's healthy and life affirming to eliminate them from my life.

I realize that some of you will disagree and I can certainly understand why. But, rest assured that my feelings are based upon years of reflection, thought, and prayer. I have not taken this position lightly.

Because of my depressive episodes, I have lost "years of my life." In the time I have remaining, I intend to spend it--within reason--with those people I love and who love me. And actions speak louder than words. Whether the people I truly care about are related by "blood" is less important to me than how much they care about me (my husband and son), whether I trust them, whether I feel good when I'm with them, and whether I can count on them during the bad times as well as the good.

When I think about what I like best about my friends, for some reason the following poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow comes to mind.

The Arrow and the Song

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.


jane said...

My gosh, this post is loaded with wisdom. My mom is like your dad & the "family" thing. At times, it's really difficult.
Your wording is so right on & to the point. I don't know how to say exactly what I'm trying to say...see what I mean about your wording? You do say precisely what you intend to.

marja said...

I agree with Jane, you express yourself beautifully and precisely.

I guess I'm one of those people who would disagree with you about forgiveness, though - something taught me by my faith - something that works for me.

I have some family members that are not a joy to be around, but I do try to stay in touch and try to understand why they are the way they are. Usually there is a reason why they're difficult or depressing in their attitudes. I just don't call them too often...and then, only when I can bear talking with them. My mother is terribly difficult and self-centered. I think she has BPD. But there's a reason for it, I know. Yet I try to love her. And if I look for good in someone, I always find it.

But I do hate losing friends. Am very sorry when that happens. I'm probably sounding very Polyanna here, but that's just me. Amazing how different we can all be from each other!

Syd said...

Another totally on-point post, Susan! Like Jane, I can relate to so much of what you've said, and as always, you've left me with a lot to think about.

I share your perspective on toxic family relationships and while I know that deciding to let go of them is often difficult, and painful, sometimes it's a necessary part of the healing process. Certain behaviors are inappropriate and unacceptable, regardless of whether or not the person is a family member. It's interesting that so many of us were raised to believe that a shared bloodline and/or a marriage license gives people a free pass to do or say whatever they want without consequence.

I'll be watching your "rentry into life" now that you're feeling better. Please continue to post about your progress. Hopefully I'll be feeling well enough again soon to practice some of what I'm learning from you. :)

PS I still owe you an off-line e-mail. Soon, I promis.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Thanks Jane, Marja, and Sydney,
I so appreciate your comments. I also realize that my "forgiveness skills" leave something to be desired.

Yet,for most of my life, I was forgiving to family members--if not always to friends. But a few years ago, due to a number of incidents, I finally decided it was time to stop being the person who was always so forgiving.

In truth, it was making me sick. The same people do the same things time after time. I finally decided I'd had it.

They had to do some very unpleasant things to lose my "unconditional love." But they did...over and over again.

Marja, while I think it's probably better to have your attitude in this--but I must tell you that I've never felt more "free" in my life.

Yet, one of the items on my list is to read more books on "forgiveness" so we'll see how all this plays out.


P.S. Sydney, it's okay to write when and if you feel like it. Don't pressure yourself. I understand.