Learning To Be Present

It’s been months since my last full scale manic episode. However, the road to today has been paved with mixed episodes, depression, and frustrating medication changes. Some days I despair that life is passing me by whilst I wrestle with the utter exhaustion of having bipolar. Then there are other days I get a glimpse of life beyond the walls of bipolar.

I have a 2 year old daughter and I rarely get time away to see old friends who live in Far North Queensland, where I used to live. But last weekend I made the trip to see a friend in Cairns for her birthday. She does not suffer from bipolar, but has her own battles with anxiety and depression.

It had been about a year since we last saw each other. In the week leading up to the trip the excitement of the journey elevated my mood, and I was struggling to keep a lid on it. My body revolted against me as well as my mind. I felt anxious, excited, giddy, and nauseous all at once. But the day of the trip arrived, and after a cab, two trains and an airplane, I made it safe and sound.

When my friend picked me up from the airport we were both very excited, and embraced as good friends do. We went and did a couple of things and arrived back at her place. It was only then when I looked at my friend that I could read the wide eyed stress on her face. Instantly I felt for her and understood how she was feeling. She plays her cards close to her chest but some things are hard to miss.

The realization that my friend was struggling hit me hard, and I resolved to do my best to contain my own issues for our time together. I remember saying to myself; Stay in the now Nic, this is what is happening, embrace it! Some other of our friends joined us for pizza and it was a really great night, lots of laughter and dancing.

The next day we went to Fitzroy Island and the beauty and natural wonder hit me like a wall. I get overwhelmed emotionally by just about everything. It doesn’t always show outwardly, but inside I feel as though I can’t contain myself. I knew what I had to do. As soon as we arrived, I headed straight for the ocean. Swimming is like a religion for me and each time I immerse myself I feel whole and am taken by a peacefulness I crave each and every day.

It’s moments in life like these that remind me of the beauty of life all around us. I spend way too much time ruminating and obsessing about things I cannot change, and not enough time seeing what is right in front of me. I think seeing my friend and going to the island woke something inside me.

Since my return I am starting to feel more joy about everyday living. I see very clearly that everyone around me has their own problems and they don’t need to have bipolar to struggle. I think the key to allow myself to feel joy is to not isolate and to protect myself from known stresses and triggers. If I can achieve this I believe I have a much better chance of living fully while having bipolar.

One example of a tool I am using to prevent stresses is my cell phone. I have put a screensaver on it that says “NO !”, and every time I feel like I’m taking flight I look at it to remind me to stop and think about what is going on around me. This helps me to consider what I need to do to get back to the present.

I must do whatever I can to keep the stress down and learn to focus on living in the moment, and being mindful. I learned about mindfulness in the hospital and am yet to fully grasp it. I largely understand what it means, but practicing it is another thing altogether. I still find it difficult to focus, concentrate, or read, but I am improving all the time. It actually amazes me I can write these blogs, but I like to think they are a type of mindfulness I can practice to encourage healing.

The message I’ve gotten from the people I’ve heard speak about mindfulness is that it is all about being present in the moment at whatever you are doing. Doing things that are positive for your own well-being is also important.

So what has happened since I got home? Well, the first thing I tried to focus on was cooking a meal. Sounds basic doesn’t it? At first it was like overcoming a brain roadblock of well-worn scattered thoughts, but I keep on charging at it. Depending on what I’m doing, sometimes it works, other times I cannot gain focus. I will keep at it as I believe I can try to train myself out of old patterns and into a mindful way of looking at things.

And I’ve started swimming twice a week too.

I think this fight is going to be the biggest of my life.

Bipolar wants to win the battle, but I’m still here and I’m going to win the war. I have to.

Read more of Nic’s posts here.

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