For the last seven years, I was more stable than in the past 20 all put together. Nearly three years ago, I started eating more healthfully. A year and a half ago, I started running and strength training. Then I started obsessing over my weight and my food and increasing my workouts to one hour seven days a week on top of working a full-time job, a part time job, going to graduate school, taking care of a son, and being a wife. I was running in circles – literally and figuratively. I started feeling the stress of life when I was training for my first half marathon. I was tired, but I was afraid to stop. I was afraid I would disappoint my family and my friends, my coworkers and colleagues, and most of all myself. I was afraid of being a failure. I was afraid of getting fat. I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. So, I pushed myself harder, longer and farther. Everything started suffering. My school work seemed harder. I couldn’t focus on my tasks at work. I couldn’t run as far or lift as much and I got no pleasure out of it. Even eating became a chore.
Then I broke. Not just cracked – broke. Into a thousand pieces. Mentally, physically, spiritually – all broken pieces of the shell that used to be me. My supervisor told me that I needed a break and to take some time off, so I called my husband and told him to meet me at home. I packed a bag and he took me to the ER. I was admitted into the inpatient psych unit. That was the best suggestion, and the best decision. I desperately needed help – and I found it there.
I am not sure if I overdid things to cope with my bipolar moods or if my moods caused me to overdo life; either way, I broke and it gave me the opportunity to grow and learn and take back my life. I learned many things during the three-week partial hospitalization program, but one of the biggest things that really touched me and helped me glue myself back together is BALANCE.
I looked at my way over-full schedule with the nurses, social workers, and occupational therapists. They all asked the same question: where was the balance? It is all work of some sort – paid job, schooling, exercise with goals in mind. There were no hobbies, no meditation, no time to just do something fun. I had literally filled in every second with something to do – my only down time was sleeping. I even worked or studied during meals. I rarely saw my family. I NEVER spent time with ME.
The staff at the hospital had me fill out lots of worksheets about what kinds of things make me happy, what my ideal day would be like, what my favorite things to do are, and so forth. My favorite time was group time with the occupational therapist when we got to do art projects. I felt at peace with a paintbrush in my hand. I had forgotten how much I love art. And I worked hard on just doing it and not judging myself. It doesn’t need to be perfect or beautiful. It only needs to make me feel peaceful and alive and whole. For all of us, they explained, there are activities that are outlets to help us relax and things that we can do to restore ourselves and our souls.
Balance is the key to a stable life. Work some, play some. Not everything is roses and sunshine, but some of it should be. For some it is fishing, for others it is running or painting or reading or sitting in the woods or sitting in the library. There are so many options. There may be many things that you like to do – great! Everyone has something, and it’s usually not too hard to find. These should be healthy activities – drugs, drinking, sex, gambling, and similar activities do not count. And, again, it’s balance – these healthy, fun activities are recreational, so they should be done in addition to work or school or other daily activities. A little bit of this and a little bit of that makes for a balanced, happy life. Following this advice has made a world of difference. Carve out some “me” time every day to keep in balance.