This is a very exciting time for me. In my 60th year I am defining the work that I will do for the rest of my life, and it is very deep and comes from decades of working, studying, honing skills, and developing my writing, teaching and healing practices. And the thing is that it is crucial that I do get my business going because it is fundamental to my well-being that I am able to support myself. The issue for me has been that being bi polar and having a few other issues that I deal with I can get swept away by the intensity of my feelings and lose myself in anxiety, depression, anxiousness and fear. However at this time I am creating a whole new paradigm for my life, and the harder I work to build structures, self-care practices, and routines that define the parameters of my day, the better I will do.
I had my session today with my wonderful business coach and mentor, Dr. Rachna Jain, and it was fabulous. We have been working together since the end of July and have been on quite a journey to find the form for the work that I will be doing and we both felt, today, that we have found it, it was a thrilling session. And I told her that the thing with living with bi polar disorder is that I do much better if I have structured work to do, a purpose, a goal. The thing that undoes me is that free-floating state of anxiety when my life feels like an amorphous blob of uncertainty about what I am doing. However I have to be vigilant in managing my life to stay steady and productive. Lying in bed yesterday morning something hit me.
It seems so simple and yet some of the most important concepts and discoveries are just that. Too often we make our lives far more complex and difficult than they need to be. What I have come to understand is that having lived all of my life so far in my feeling side that it paralyzed me the feelings prevented the doing. I am finding that with conscious effort, and my mindfulness practice, I can get my feelings in check, find my center again, and move from drowning in the overwhelming feelings, which lead to my mind going wild with the what if’s and the oh-my-Gods leading into such intense anxiety, depression, and despair that I am too frozen and numb to get anything done, into a state of calm, and clarification about what the real truth in the moment is, and that I am fine, I am solid, I have work to do that I love, and that in doing the work the feelings that keep me off-center subside. They will rise up again and again but the more I stop and get myself centered in the present moment the farther apart are the periods of being nearly swept overboard. I have gone from several times a day to once every day or two and sometimes longer than that between the hard times, and being vigilant about my mindfulness practice is the key.
Doing is gaining on feeling and the days are now incredibly productive for someone who has been nearly paralyzed for several years in the tangle of mental health challenges.
I cannot speak for anyone else. Bi Polar disorder like other mental health issues is a spectrum disorder and some in really extreme places on the spectrum may never be able to get to a place of enough good days and a fairly consistent sense of well being that they are able to accomplish what their heart longs to. Too, there are people with this disorder that deal with less severe flare ups than I do but for me I find — and it takes constant effort and as I said above being vigilant — that the knowledge that I have choice, and that it is up to me to a large extent just how well I can be, has been life-saving. I am no longer suicidal. On the worst days I know that I will make it through, that there is an end in sight, that this rough patch will pass.
That does not mean that I will not have bad days and even more prolonged times when I am not able to get on a firm enough footing to do these things but the more consistent I am with my practices the less severe they are when they do arise. I have made a lot of hard, or to some people unusual or odd choices for my life, like leaving the world and living in solitude and virtual isolation because I need to to be okay. A trip out into the world is very rare, accomplished only with medication, and takes a great toll. I do get lonely sometimes but for the most part I am more at peace than I have ever been in my life.
One of the best descriptions of the way that I live comes from a poem by my mentor, muse, and dear friend in the last years of her life, May Sarton. I had loved and taught her work for decades and our meeting, and her subsequent taking me under her wing, reading my writing and talking to me about it, and talking to me about our lives was life-changing. I thought back in amazement, a couple of years after leaving my marriage, remembering what May had said to me more than once. She would say, “You are so like me, a lot more than you realize now, but you will come to understand it in the years to come.” I spoke to her for the last time in 1995, three weeks before she died. Three years later I was on my way out of the marriage. I have lived for nearly fifteen years alone, moving farther and farther away from the world. And here I have landed, and here I will stay, and I thank God I have found this life because it allows me to work in a way I never have before, but it has been a very long time working through layers upon layers of life to get to this point.
The poem that I mentioned is one of May’s best loved poems, Gestalt at Sixty. [Reading back over this in the editing phase I was startled to realize that I am about to turn 60. May was right.] To hear her read this poem aloud was nothing short of thrilling. I will share a few lines with you here, it is a very long poem, but these two stanzas capture my life here in a way that better expresses it than anything I could say…
“Who wakes in a house alone
Wakes to moments of panic.
(Will the roof fall in?
Shall I die today?)
Who wakes in a house alone
Wakes to inertia sometimes,
To fits of weeping for no reason.
Solitude swells the inner space
Like a balloon.
We are wafted hither and thither
On the air currents.
How to land it?
I did not come here for society
In these years
When every meeting is collision,
The impact huge,
The reverberations slow to die down…”
This is true of my life, as it was of May’s, and for me, as it was for her, it is the work that steadies and saves me. She taught me that it was following a rigid routine that was what got her through, and that was always true for me but moreso after my marriage when I started to live alone, no husband or children, and having to work from home you can get lost in the hours. The routine is what holds me together and makes my life possible. And within these hours I have developed important self care practices, the most importance of which is mindfulness. I must bring myself back to the present moment over and over again, but when I do, each time I do, I am saved and have a grace period where the hours or days that follow are far more manageable.
And so now I focus on doing, not getting lost in feelings. It will be a constant, ongoing effort, but it is worth the work involved, and it brings me peace, and even joy. I am finding my way, day by day, and I shall not give up. Ever.