For me, the primary trigger of both my depressions and my hypomanias is relationships. Whether it's a romantic relationship, family interaction, or relationships with co-workers, bosses or clients, relationships (or perhaps more accurately, my perception of those relationships) have brought great joy and tremendous pain.
When I reflect on my various "relational challenges" with honest eyes, I can see that though faces, places, circumstances and outcomes may have been vastly different, there was one common thread existing throughout - me. No matter where I went, or with whom, I was always there. Yes, I grew older, and in some ways wiser, but fundamentally, each situation was merely a variation on the same old and painful theme.
There are some who believe that God (or "the Universe" as some prefer) gives us the same lessons over and over again until we finally learn them. It's taken me far too long, and the costs have been great, but I think I've finally gotten it. With few exceptions (murder, incest, rape and other heinous crimes), events are not "good" or "bad". They just are. It's the way we perceive them that determines how they effect us and how we react in response. This may appear to be a trivial exercise in semantics, but it's far from that. It's HUGE! Why? Because we can't always change the circumstances we find ourselves in, we can't always predict or alter the way people treat us, but we CAN change how we chose to perceive those events. And therein lies the key!
I'm big on lists, so I can sum up the key points of my new outlook on relationships (of all types) as follows:
- It's not always about me. Despite what I may want to think, everything is not about me. I do not have a monopoly on "issues". Just because someone is upset about something, even if I'm involved, it's not necessarily my issue. I'm finally learning to discern those issues which are mine and those that aren't. And as a result, I've been pleasantly surprised to discover that the less time and energy I waste on internalizing and trying to resolve someone else's issues, the more time and energy I have to devote to my own. I need to pick my battles. I used to respond to every issue, every insult, every slight, with equal indignation. Not only is this useless, but it's exhausting and totally counter-productive. Some issues, and some people, simply are not worth it. Period.
- The devil is in the details. I used to spend countless hours ruminating over all of the miniscule details of all of the mistakes I've made. I'd go over them in my mind again, and again, and again. While I succeeded in making myself feel miserable, all my efforts did nothing to change the past, not even a little bit. Finally I realized that what's done is done and that what's important is not what happened, but what I learned from it. When I changed my persective on this, those "mistakes' lost their emotional chokehold and I'd even dare say that I now see even the really bad things as valuable learning experiences. The worse the tragedy I survived, the greater my resolve that I'm a survivor and that my life has purpose. After all, who better to help people who are hurting that someone who has been hurt?
- Is it really "true"? This is a BIG one. One of the symptoms of being bipolar, at least for me, is that I sometimes perceive events through lenses distorted by my emotions. When I'm feeling depressed, the glass is more than half-empty, it's drained dry. When I'm feeling up, my glass runneth over. In the midst of the moment, my thought processes and my interpretation of the events at hand seem totally logical, but often in retrospect, I realize that the situation is rarely as bleak, or as rosy, as it appeared. Armed with this new-found knowledge, I've learned to rely on the advice of a few close friends whom I trust to be able to provide a clearer (or at least a different) perspective when I'm at risk of misinterpreting what's going on in my life. I've also learned to force myself to broaden my own perspective by asking myself some tough questions about the situation. Is what I'm thinking really true? If I believe that it is, how do I know that? More often than not, it's virtually impossible to know if the way we perceive a persons' feelings or their intentions are "true". So, if I can't be sure that what I'm reacting to is the truth, then perhaps it's not worth getting so upset about it. So, if I can't be sure that the perceived slight that I'm reacting to is "true", then there must be at least one other possible interpretation. What other possibilities could there be? I'm finding that even though I may not know what the ultimate correct answer to this emotional multiple choice question is, the fact that I can train myself to see more than one possible motivation makes mu much less like to get so bent out of shape about one, and that it turn makes life so much easier for me.
- Sometimes it's better to be happy than right. I'm not always right, but I am a lot of the time (smile). In high school I was on the debate team and I loved it. Perhaps it's a latent desire to be a kick-ass attorney. I don't know. All I know is that I used to love being right, and believe me, I made sure everybody knew it. But as time goes by, I'm learning that being right isn't as important to me as it once was. Don't get me wrong, there are certain issues of integrity for which I won't budge. There are lines that I won't cross. But when it comes to the day-to-day stuff, I've decided that a lot of it really doesn't matter. The bottom line is that for the most part, I'd rather be happy than right. So if that means keeping my mouth shut sometimes, even when I know I'm right and can prove it, and I avoid an argument, a debate, or an unnecessary confrontation, that's not such a bad thing.
Perhaps I would have eventually figured out these lessons and all the others I'm learning had I not been diagnosed with BP. To be honest, I'm not even sure that the diagnosis is completely accurate. While I do have many of the symptoms, I am clearly atypical, both in terms of my symptoms and my responses to the medications. Just as with insomnia, systemic lupus, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and all of the other things I've been diagnosed and misdiagnosed with in my life, I never seem to fit neatly into any diagnostic box. I've reached the conclusion that I'm never going to get a neat and tidy diagnosis for whatever it is that ails me, but I'm not sure that it matters so much anymore. What matters is the lessons that I'm learning in trying to make the most of the hand I've been dealt