There’s a thing I’ve noticed.
In blogs, books, conversations, TED talks, inspirational words, people are giving thanks for their mental illness. I just can’t get behind that. I feel like I’ve made peace with it, but I’m not thankful for it. Please bear with me and continue reading. This comes from a place of strength, not bitterness.
“I’m thankful because it’s taught me what real suffering is.”
I have a problem with classifying suffering as “real” because it puts emotional pain on a comparative scale. Please don’t do that. Suffering and pain is relative to the person experiencing it. I grew up with that comparative scale and it was worn like a badge of honor by those who deemed their suffering more worthy of triumph. Soul-sucking I tell you.
Everyone knows suffering. I firmly believe that if I didn’t struggle through this, I would struggle through something else. Life, friends, family, acquaintances, hope, faith, prayer–they teach us to persevere through suffering, not illness. I have made peace with my illness and have drawn strength from those around me. Really, I’m thankful for those who have taught me peace and the universal nature of suffering. Because that means I’m not alone, no matter the reason for the pain.
…it makes me appreciate the good times more.
I’ll admit it. I used to say this, and liked to pretend that I believed it. But I don’t. The one time I distinctly remember saying it (and believing it), I was in the midst of rapid cycling depression/hypomania triggered by a misdiagnosis and the wrong medication.
For the longest time…stretches of life, whether days, months, or years where I experienced little to no symptoms were fraught with the fear of relapse. Or confusion. I couldn’t understand why I felt fine, and then hours or days or months later suddenly I didn’t. While I was grateful I didn’t feel like crap, I sure as hell didn’t praise the bad days for making the good days better. In fact, I stopped trusting myself altogether. I’m thankful for the people who helped me understand what was happening to me and showed me that the bad days didn’t invalidate the good ones. That is what made me appreciate the good days more, and even feel hopeful during the bad ones.
…it’s taught me to live with less.
I’m not so sure I have the right to comment on this one, because I’m able to hold down a full time job and my own apartment. My budget is incredibly tight, but that is more of a result of my job choice than my illness (although that does contribute to it), and I never was a big spender to begin with. For me its more of I’m thankful I don’t have any other health problems. Because if I did, well, back to the parents house I go.
…it makes it me able to empathize with other people.
I’ll be honest, this one stops and makes me think. I had to look up the definition of empathize to make sure I understood the statement correctly. (For those that are curious…Empathize (v) to understand and share the feelings of another). In some ways its true. I can most definitely say I have a much better understanding of what someone means when they say “I feel depressed” or “I have bipolar” than if I didn’t have my own experiences.
But the sharing part…I had to be taught how to do that, as much as I don’t want to admit it. And it was people who taught me how, not bipolar. I’m thankful for the patience and example of people who took the time to empathize with me and in turn taught me how to do that with others. And I have to throw out there…some of the most empathetic people I’ve encountered have no experience with bipolar or even mental illness, and some of the most unhelpful were those who should of understood the most.
…it makes me who I am.
I know this one is highly subjective, but I call bullshit. No doubt bipolar is a part of me and shapes my thoughts and actions, I’ll give you that. But I am who I am in spite of my illness. I have fought like hell to get where I’m at. I have fought like hell to finish out grad school and find a job. I have fought like hell to push through the fog and be productive and not give up hope for myself. That is me, not my disorder.
My strength, my hope, my fears, and my dreams. That is what makes me who I am, and that is what I am thankful for. I am thankful for the people that wouldn’t let me forget that. Bipolar complicates the whole lot and frequently makes it a hell of a lot harder to function, but bipolar is not who I am. And when I lose sight of that, I lose sight of recovery.
And I guess its this last part that is at the heart of why I am not thankful for my illness. I’m learning to accept it, and slowly making peace with it. I’m learning how to make it a part of my life without it taking over. I’m learning how to make the best of it, and how I can still live the life I want to lead.
But if I start giving it thanks for things that I see as the core of my being, I give it ownership and control over my life. And the day I do that is the day I stop fighting.