Sunday, June 17, 2007

Accepting My Limitations

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.


Meredith said...

Congratulations! That's a distinction I've been trying to make in my own life for a while. I'm still fairly new to this BPD thing, so I'm trying to make the best of it still.

Also, I wanted to let you know that I have a new blog, The Mental Feminist, focusing on mental health issues (I'm bipolar), and that you're on my blogroll! I love reading your posts, and hope you'll check mine out.

BPpro said...

I liked this post. It has an accomplished tone.

Syd said...

Contratulations, Susan! I can understand and empathasize with your feelings of accomplishment and completing your class. I also understand how our expectations and our measures of success change as circumstances change. Congratulations also on recognizing that you may have been starting to over-commit as we often do. That in itself is another great accomplishment!

marja said...

And congratulations from me as well. This truly shows you are learning to - as my favorite supporter always warns me - "pace yourself."
I myself also had to drop something important today. I had planned to go to a writer's conference to try and find a publisher for my book - I felt I had to do it. But my life is getting so complex I can't even think of it now. The conference would be too stressful. I'm going to have to pray I will find a publisher some other way.
I'm sorry, but relieved at the same time.

Mel Avila Alarilla said...

Hi Susan,

Accepting our limitations is a very positive step towards wellness and coping in life. Instead of taking a trip to an imaginary world to escape the bitter realities of being bipolar, you did the right and logical step to coping. Don't worry if some people will not understand you and your situation, they have their own problems and burdens to carry.
Now you have found that there are other suffering people like you who will love you and care for you, for who you are.

When depression sets in and no relief can be found in sight, why not "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." (1Peter 5:7) Jesus loves you more than you'll ever know. It pains Him so much to see you suffer. Did He not die for you? Why not trade all your pains, your sufferings, your fears, your soul longings for the overflowing joy of knowing Jesus intimately. "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness." (Jeremiah 31:3b) Smile.