Today, I was sitting in the lobby of the hospital where I'm receiving my outpatient treatment, trying to hold back tears while quietly eating my lunch, and I watched people coming in and out of the elevators. As I watched them a curious thought popped into my head, "wow, I can't imagine being really sick right now." And then I corrected myself, "I am really sick right now." I had spent time feeling sorry for all of the people who came into the hospital that were battling diseases, injuries, and pain, and had somehow excluded myself from that group. But, I am very much a part of that group.
I think I'm in denial.
For all of the words that I've written to try to fight against stigma and make people more aware of mental illness as a real and valid illness, I think I still have a hard time believing it myself. I still have a hard time believing that my illness is just as valid as any other illness, and deserves to be treated as such.
The other day, in a group therapy session, we were talking about definitions of "wellness" and what it means to be well. Someone brought up the notion that living with illness can be a part of living a life of wellness. This made my brain explode ever so slightly. ILLNESS as a part of WELLNESS. How can this be? Aren't the two opposites?
This is when I realized the whole time I've been in therapy (years and years of therapy), my goal has been to get rid of my illness: fix it, cure it, move on, be well again. I had the crazy notion that this was a possibility. But, after being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I've realized this is not an illness that can be cured, fixed, or that I can move on from. Until science can pull some ninja moves, I'm going to be living with this illness for the rest of my life. That doesn't mean that things won't get better—I have faith that they will—but it does mean that on that day when I feel "well", my illness will still be there as a part of me, and I have to learn to be okay with that.
So, what do I do with all of this?
First, I think I need to acknowledge that I am sick and allow myself to be sick. This depressive episode I'm in has been kicking my ass, and there's no sense in trying to deny it.
Second, I think I need to allow myself to take care of myself because I am sick. My counselor at the outpatient program told me to care for myself as if I had the flu. And even though part of me wants to resist it, I have to recognize that my mental illness deserves the same amount of care and consideration as any other illness.
Third, I need to learn how to factor in my illness when I get to that point where I can consider plans for wellness. I need to accept that it's going to be there, and accept that that's okay, and that I can still be well even if I have an illness.
Lastly, I need to accept that I have Bipolar, not that I am Bipolar. I have an illness, I am not an illness. I have to remember that it doesn't solely define me—that I can have a full and well life, of which my Bipolar Disorder is only a part of.
And, above all else, I need grace and patience with myself. Grace and patience. I need to give myself grace as I navigate all of this, and be patient as I do so. It's going to be raw and painful and shitty for awhile until I can be well again. It's okay to admit that I'm sick, it's okay to take care of myself, and it's okay to remember that it will get better. At least, I really hope it gets better. I think it can get better. Dear god, please let it get better.