After so many years of being sick, it's difficult to describe what it's like to be well--most of the time. After so many years of feeling like there were no other BIPS (bipolars) in the universe to whom I could relate, it's difficult to describe what it's like to find a community of people who share my feelings, concerns, and attitudes about this illness.
After so many years of having to refrain from taking classes because I felt so terrible when I had to quit due to illness or I knew my expectations were unrealistic (because prior to the class I hadn't been well for eight straight weeks for 14 years), it's difficult to describe my feeling of accomplishment when I completed my photography class a few weeks ago.
It's easy for others--who are not bipolar or who don't truly understand the heartache of this illness--to minimize my success. It's easy for people who knew me before my illness spiraled out of control to wonder why completing a class at a community college would be a "big deal" when I have a degree from UCLA and three published books and many magazine articles with my byline.
It would seem like my former accomplishments would dwarf this one. But I am as proud of this as I have been about anything else I have achieved. Different times require different expectations.
It's easy for people who are not bipolar or who don't know me to minimize my success because they have no idea how devastating my failures were--for me.
For those of you who understand the feelings of excitement that accompany a hypomania (even a fairly benign one), you undoubtedly understand how delighted I was to sign up for the next class in the photography certificated program, which starts on Monday. But as all of you--who regularly read this blog know, I also have a huge writing assignment that's due on Wednesday. And my manuscript for my memoir is due at the publisher's on July 1.
It's 12:45 in the morning. I've only been asleep for an hour, and I just awakened because I realized that I can't possibly take the design class, which starts on Monday. I cannot commit four hours a day, four days a week for the next six weeks. I can't possibly lose the 12 hours I badly need to work on my writing assignment nor the subsequent hours I need to finish editing my memoir.
I awakened because I suddenly realized that in my excitement to continue pursuing my goal (even though it's just for fun, not for career advancement), I have taken on more than I can realistically hope to accomplish.
For me, recognizing this limitation and accepting it is a good thing. And it's okay to feel a little disappointed that I won't be moving ahead with my new hobby. It's okay to feel a little sad that I won't be able to meet a whole new group of fellow photography students.
It's okay to feel a little proud that for the first time in a long time, I am realizing my limitations and accepting them. For the first time in a long time, I'm making a decision based on my desire to maintain wellness, not due to the constraints of illness.
It's a somewhat bittersweet realization but an important one nonetheless. It's the first time in a long time that I feel I'm postponing a goal rather than failing to achieve my objective. While people who aren't bipolar or who don't know me might not recognize how important this distinction is (for me), I recognize it as a small miracle.