Minding myself, minding others
Gavin T. Murphy keeps a blog on ilovebipolar.com and he looks to Ignatian Spirituality for strength and inspiration.
As I reviewed the statistics on my blog with regard the number of readers and the popularity of blog posts, I came to realise that the theme of relationships is particularly important for living with bipolar. I also know this to be true for myself as I often spend a lot of energy connecting the many webs of relationships in my life. With this in mind, I explore how I live with others in this blog post, and I will write about how others live with me at a later date. I hope that this focus will help people with bipolar and those who live with them (and indeed others) to experience ‘balanced mood for a balanced life’.
Letting go of my agenda
On the one hand, it is good for me to share my mental health condition with my family and friends, for example, when a medication change adversely affects my sleep. On the other hand, it is not good to overburden them with my pressing issues and concerns. They may not be ready to hear my story due to their own emotional needs, etc. However, there is usually someone available to help carry my cross; I usually decide to contact a person who actually wants to hear from me. I am rarely left to my own devices. When I express myself fully with this person and breathe a sigh of relief, I try not to ruminate over my problems – a never ending cycle of negative thinking that gets me nowhere.
A teacher once told me that we can get caught up with our own ego when we force our agenda onto others. Declaring that my opinions are more important than other people’s opinions attracts enemies and fierce resistance. I need to find a way of interacting with people in a cooperative manner. For example, if I am at a meeting it is best to share my view – to agree or disagree if needed – and to then let go of my thoughts and feelings like clouds that come and go. My voice becomes part of the collective voice when I am humbly assertive, and I can rest assured that peace and serenity are just around the corner. Moreover, I can trust that the process of recovery has been initiated when I unload my burdens, and I can be confident that the sun will rise again.
Not isolating myself
I try to be both vigilant and mindful when I find myself not interacting with colleagues during the working day. I gather that most workers enjoy and appreciate company, but I certainly need it to live well with bipolar. I try to take charge by meeting with colleagues during tea break or lunch break, and it warms my heart to share in their everyday stories. I usually listen as best I can, and I chip in now and again to the office gossip. I feel part of a community when we catch up with the weather, news and celebrity gossip.
I experienced great consolation recently when our team came together. I was getting bogged down with tasks that were tedious and unchallenging. I began to feel very alone. But my spirit lifted tremendously during an inclusive and liberating conversation – talking about our passions and desires which went beyond our to do list for that day. I experienced an equilibrium in my mood where I was fully present to my colleagues with a clear and open mind. And I was given enough battery power to get through the rest of the day.
On a need-to-know basis
A recent incident with an aggressive woman, as recorded in The vigilant warrior blog post, highlighted the need for me to be careful around disclosing my perceived weaknesses. While many people may be supportive upon hearing of my mental illness, some may take advantage of this knowledge and as a result adversely affect my mood. Generally, strangers such as bus drivers or taxi drivers (no offence intended!) do not need to know my diagnosis; I am better off keeping it to myself and guarding it to some degree. Other times it may be beneficial to disclose my illness, for example, with my employer so that I can be accommodated with extra short breaks and calls to my support persons.
Saying this, I am obviously very open about my illness through writing on this blog. It is part of my mission to share with readers that when you start to love your bipolar disorder (or any relatable experience), you start to love your life.
Something else I need to be careful about is in relation to the pub scene in Ireland. Often, people ask me why I don’t drink alcohol while they knock back beer and wine themselves. Sometimes I say that I can’t drink because I’m on medication. Other times, I say that I just don’t want to drink. And often I feel like saying, “Mind your own business!” People seem to react aggressively to my non-alcohol drinking because it highlights their own alcohol dependence. I probably need to stand my ground more on this issue – to give myself permission to be myself while having a soft drink, and not feeling like I need to join in on hysterical laughing.
In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius Loyola recommends that we join with Jesus in his emotional states as recorded in the Bible. In turn, it is hoped that we join with Jesus as he is perceived through others in the world. I know that it benefits others when I share wholeheartedly in their emotional experiences. When they feel down, I join in their sadness. When they feel anxious, I express my concern. When they are unmotivated by the humdrum experiences of life, I enter into their space and occupy it with them. In fact, I find that their needs become my needs in an interconnected way. This sense of communion translates as loving-compassion in the world.
My experience of romantic relationships tells me that there is a special sense of communion with a lover. I take chances to reveal myself because it is necessary for emotional intimacy. I give of myself, and I dare to love and love again. I share the details of my illness at my own pace and in my own time. I have been told to be cautious if my partner also has a mental illness. Our vulnerable moods, for example, can feed off each other and bring a heaviness that may be hard to lift. Perhaps it’s not an impossible situation, but I need to be aware of it. The best thing for me is learning to know each other better than we know ourselves.