Triumph and Loss: Emotional Stability and the Price We've Paid

A friend, or rather an acquaintance, once suggested — not jokingly or kindly — that, in short, I was kind of a mess. Not only a mess, butRearview mirror elephant a mess with a persecution complex. To be fair, he wasn’t far off, at the time. Back then, I was experiencing a full-blown depressive episode with anxiety, which – again to be fair to my friend – is difficult to understand if one hasn’t experienced it. Just because I’ve been officially (“officially” means medical professionals have deemed it so) stable for three years doesn’t make it any easier to manage now. I’ve lost long-term relationships because of it. Hell, in the past, I’ve lost apartments and family support over it.

The worst part of my predicament is that I was never addicted to drugs or alcohol. I never stole from my family and friends, and I never lied to them. I never had to leave a marriage because of a sudden divorce, which, by the way, is probably more horrible than some of the trauma I’ve lived through. But I was homeless, I was alone, and I was helpless for a while. The worst part of being emotionally unstable is that there’s no one and nothing to “blame.” People look at you and wonder why you let everything go to hell. You look at yourself and wonder the same thing. Here I am, and I have faulty brain chemistry. I’ve had it approximately since puberty. When I look for reasons for my past maladjusted behavior, I usually just see a distorted reflection of myself. Like a carnival trick, you get a twisted version of your own reflection: your behavior is not the same as your personality, but you will find yourself and others mistaking it as such. It’s tough to face these ideas and admit that, impaired as you might have been, you are the author of your own pain. Even tougher, however, is simultaneously realizing that your brain chemistry is not your fault and you must move forward.

I know other people are doing the same. They’re looking themselves in the mirror, and maybe, like me, after a long battle, they’ve achieved emotional stability. They’re looking back at everything they’ve lost, and they’re wondering what the hell happened. They’ve pushed everyone in their lives away, or some of their friends and family may have pushed them away. These people, these emotional survivors, may not even have a safe space to contemplate how they will – they must – move forward and gain power to manage their own disorders. Once I was able to see and think clearly, I spent days astounded by how much my brain chemistry could distort my reality. After that, I had to deal with everything I had lost. If you go for years without proper care, that loss can be significant. Some of it is not important, like material things. Some of it is very important: interpersonal relationships can sometimes be severed irrevocably, or years can be spent cultivating relationships with people who don’t have your best interests at heart. It can be painful to contemplate all the time you could have spent cultivating real relationships. And its okay to contemplate our loss, for a while. It’s okay to feel the loss and mourn the loss, but after an appropriate time, we need to move on.

Learning to manage a mood disorder is only one of the steps on the path to change mere survival into a living a good quality life. Survival is easy because it is reactive. We pride ourselves on survival. “I survived,” we say with satisfaction, as if that accomplishment is finished, done. What is more difficult comes after survival. Living is not reactive. In order to live, we must take active steps forward. When surviving, we have small goals: get through this minute, get through this hour, get through this day. When living, we have something much larger in mind: make our lives into something we value. We’re no longer focused on “getting through.” In fact, if your life is something you just “get through,” you’re missing it!

So what happens next? How can we continue to manage our mood disorders and, at the same time, live an active, fulfilling life? The answer isn’t simple. We have to find a way to incorporate managing our illness into our daily routine, rather than have it take all of our time and attention, and we also have to do a little soul-searching to discover what it is we really want out of life. Even if we know what we want, it’s still possible to get set back or even derailed completely. But just because the journey is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible!

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