A few nights ago my wife and I were talking, as we have a want to do. It’s very rare that we will sit and watch TV together; we prefer to talk... and laugh. Anyway, as part of this conversation my wife asked, ‘Do you know what you bring to my life?’
‘Trouble’ I answered, half-jokingly.
‘No’ she smiled, ‘you bring spice.’
‘Oh, okay. I think that’s good. Do you know what you bring to my life?’
‘It is very good and what do I bring to your life?’
‘Structure’ I said, immediately regretting it, seeing the look on her face. Her eyes were smiling but she feigned disappointment. I quickly explained that it obviously wasn’t the only thing but it was alliteration with her answer and more to the point that it was important to me in living a fulfilling life. Yes, it wasn’t the most romantic thing I’ve ever said to my wife but it contained a significant truth that has helped alter the course of my illness although, obviously, it hasn’t completely eradicated it. In addition to the right medication regime this structure and stability in my life has given me opportunity to do things that my previous chaotic lifestyle would have never allowed and has given me time to think deeply about my illness and how I deal with it. Firstly, I will write about those understandings and then about the type of structure that shapes my life and how it helps.
One of the things I’ve come to notice as I’ve browsed the bipolar corner of the blogosphere is that the majority of posts expound the difficulties of living bipolar. Now, please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying this is wrong or anything pejorative - it is important to have an outlet and I, along with many others, have found it a useful tool. Take a read through my previous blogs. Most, if not all, of my previous blogs have expounded hardships so I’m definitely not criticising anybody. However, what I am saying is that the tribulations (the times of absolute horror) are only part of the story – albeit an important part. It is possible to have a rich and fulfilling life even with a diagnosis of Bipolar. In fact, in my humble opinion, it can make life more fascinating and certainly increases depth. ‘The Who’ – the English Mod/Rock band wrote a rock opera called ‘Tommy’. One of the tracks was called ‘Amazing Journey’ and contained the lyric, ‘Sickness will surely take the mind where minds can’t usually go. Come on the amazing journey and learn all you should know’. I’ve certainly found this to be true and believe that my Bipolar mind has given me a deeper insight into the human condition than is usual, not that I think this makes me better in anyway. Of course, if I could have the mind I have without the violent mood swings and subsequent change in thought process then I would take that but I don’t think it’s possible. The question ‘Where does Bipolar end and where do I start?’ I’ve come to think is a moot point and I don’t worry about it. I am who I am and that includes having Bipolar. Also, more importantly, the crucible of suffering is actually good for making better human beings. Victor Hugo wrote, ‘Adversity makes men [humans], prosperity makes monsters’.
Without doubt I recognise that there are plenty of sufferers for whom this illness is a living hell. They haven’t found that right regime of medication, their lifestyle presents stability, episodes have destroyed their lives and/or they are rapid cycling. I understand this and truly feel for them because the episodes are hellish but I still maintain that for some – who strike on the correct medication and lifestyle that helps them – without ever being totally free of episodes, it is possible to have bipolar and live a complete (and then some) life, exactly because of what we’ve been through and had to work/think through.
Whilst I don’t like the interruptions of depression or mania I actually enjoy my life. (Now, you could be reading this and thinking I don’t have a very severe form, which you’re quite welcome to presume... but you’d be wrong. However, I have no intention of listing all the things that have happened to me because of Bipolar; that’s not what this blog post is about). Due to the meds and structure (which I’ll come to in a moment) I have the life I want. I’ve removed as much stress as possible, most of my time is spent reading and writing, I spend most of my time with my wife and I have my children stay over every fortnight. I don’t bother with friends and only spend time with whom I want to; basically the people I’ve mentioned, my step-daughter and her husband, and my mother-in-law. I cook my wife’s tea everyday and we eat well. We go out to eat occasionally and we visit different places. We go to the theatre and comedy events. We have holidays (which I plan once we’ve chosen a destination) and are actually going to Krakow for a week on Sunday. We also do things round the house but to be honest I absolutely loathe DIY and just do it for my wife... but then life can’t all be pleasant things and I don’t think I do bad. In short, how I live and what I do may not be to everyone’s taste – I wouldn’t expect it to be; we are, ultimately, all different – but I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life and that’s down to the meds and the structure my wife has helped me build into my life.
My wife and I are alike in many ways but very different in some, which is good because you tend not to learn anything from those who are exactly like you. It would be unfair to say she is inflexible because she isn’t. We compromise on many things as any married couple should. It always worries me when there is a dominant one in a relationship, but I digress. My wife also couldn’t cope with the type of structure she’s helped me build and nor could I live with the routine she lives by. Julie likes to do things at the same time at each day, in the same order and certain things done on certain days of the week. She would feel a bit irritated if she got through a day and hadn’t achieved anything but that wouldn’t work for me. A routine would cause me just as many mental health problems as the chaos that ensued before I met Julie. I would find it stifling and way too restrictive. So, instead, to stop my life just being chaotic or shapeless or, even, purposeless I make use of a structure. Let me explain. My days and weeks have a structure; particularly the mornings and evenings, which is vitally important. I go to bed at the same time each evening and read for a while then I take my meds and read for a little while longer before turning the light off and going to sleep. I get up of a morning, will have a cup of coffee in silence and organise my thoughts, decide what I’m going to do in the day then have another cup of coffee while I watch the news. I will take Julie to work, come home and start on the things I both have to do and those I want to do. I do not ever turn the TV on during the day; I will mostly write (a novel at the moment) or read. If I sat watching TV all day it would destroy my mental health; I find most TV incredibly irritating. But the joy of a structure is that there is room for manoeuvre within it. I can change the order of doing things or change what I do (even doing nothing if I’m having an off day) but the mornings and evenings always stay the same, which keeps the structure in place and allows me to change setting (like go on holiday) without too much trouble. Whilst I would rather poke a wasp’s nest with a stick with a head covered in jam before adopt the strict routine of my wife I do need structure and I have learnt the benefit from my wife’s practices.
It isn’t that I will never have another episode; I will and I have. It’s simply that this works for me and if it doesn’t for you, I hope you find something that does.