The Biggest Lesson I Ever Learned, Part II

Author: Angela McCrimmon

Read Part I here


In laying down my resilience, I found a new “normal”. I developed new routines and I learned what feels right for me in my body, mind and soul. 2021 was an awful year in many ways, but it was profound in the lessons it taught me. Here is the path I took to find resilience that prioritized myself….


My fingers shook as I prepared to send the email that would free me from all my commitments. While it was only voluntary work, I am fully invested in being a good, reliable, steady volunteer. I loved being involved in lots of different projects and helping others in various ways. I kept the email short – said I needed to take a break and apologized but didn’t follow the apology with a list of justifications. My stomach did a somersault and a triple back-flip when I hit the send button, but I knew I had to do it. I was free now, free to piece myself back together with real love and kindness to myself. It really was all about me from here on.


Although I had been discharged from hospital with my hope of recovery restored, I knew I wasn’t ready to interact with the world yet. I took 2 or 3 night breaks to any nearby hotel, at a price I could afford. Sometimes I would literally be a few miles from my home, but with the freedom I felt from the world, I could’ve been in outer space.


I wasn’t totally disconnected from people. I would keep in touch through text message, so they knew I was safe. There were even a few people I did video calls with. Everything that I did was on my own terms, and that was quite a new experience for me. Quite an empowering one.


I eventually was reunited with my dog, because I hadn’t been well enough to look after him for a few months. My best buddy and I loved our adventures. We walked in different places with the wind blowing any cares away, cuddled and played with his toys for much longer than I’d had time to do if I bounced back to my normal pace of life. I didn’t have to talk to a soul and with each little 3-day break, I could feel my fuel tank filling up. Partly because my medication was reaching the therapeutic dose, and partly because I had slowed down and stepped out of the world.


I treated myself too. I ran myself luxurious baths with aromatherapy oils, and during the day, I would choose essential oil blends for my diffusers that either energized the body, alerted the mind, or calmed anxiety. My home smelled absolutely delicious, whether my senses were being awakened or soothed.  I listened to hours of audiobooks, with a mixture of comedic autobiographies to books about “befriending your nervous system.”  I started doing yoga online with an amazing teacher, who lead the practice like a guided meditation, explaining what each movement and position is doing for us. While previous attempts at yoga bored me, this one engaged both my body and mind.


Over the few months that I had made myself commitment free, I enjoyed starting AND completing multiple craft projects. Diamond Art Painting was hugely successful at keeping me anxiety-free. I would end up so absorbed in sticking the intricate diamonds in place that I didn’t have a single thought or bodily sensation. For the first time in a very long time, I felt truly peaceful. I handmade all my X-Mas cards this year with diamond art. Each card took about 1.5hours, but I got the therapeutic benefit, while the recipient got a beautiful and unique card. I had time – my time. I also spent hours and hours baking in the kitchen, having decided a homemade gift for Xmas would come with more love and effort. I found the process of baking therapeutic as well, so I was more than happy to have an excuse to bake and give it all away.


I journaled as if there was no tomorrow. I would have multiple journals all for various things, but the practice allowed me to monitor every step of my recovery and increase my self-awareness.


Each night I sprayed my feather duvet and pillows with a sleep mist, which made going to bed something to look forward to. I had time to realise how good it felt to have so much time to invest in myself, and I knew this was something I had to keep going when the New Year arrived.


I arranged to meet friends and had better quality time with them, because I was not squeezing our meeting in between somewhere else I had to be. Generally though, I learned to be much more present and in the moment, rather than being aware of time and having half my concentration focused on what I would be doing next.


I realized how much of my energy I had been giving to other people. It was time to give myself at least an equal amount of attention. I reflected on the various projects I’m involved in, identifying which ones drained or rejuvenated my energy. The former ones had to go. I realized during this “all about me” time, I’d had no anxiety, because I only did things that I got full enjoyment from. Again, this habit was going to have to come with me in the new year.


Putting my resilience down made me pause long enough to come to realizations that I would have overlooked before. I was so caught up in the need to function in the world as if I didn’t have a mental illness. I wasn’t appreciating that sometimes my functioning has to look different than someone who doesn’t live with Bipolar Disorder.  I have to make decisions that are “all about me”, so that my tank can be refilled and I can be a better friend, daughter, sister, and person. When I woke up on the first morning of 2022, I felt excited, yet with an inner peace.


I never did awaken the resilience I had put to bed for a few months. Laying my resilience down last year was the hardest thing to do, because it conflicted with my fear of if I don’t get back to “normal” as fast as possible I might lose myself forever. I realized that by forcing myself to step back, I learned a brand-new way of being resilient. This resilience put my recovery and myself at the center of it, without feeling selfish or not meeting the needs of others. I learned that I need to meet my own needs first.


Now if something feels overwhelming to me, I step back. I’ve declined opportunities I would have grabbed before, but in doing so, the world has offered me new opportunities that are in line with my attempt to soothe my nervous system. My old resilience kept me stuck in fight or flight survival mode, and it was exhausting. My new resilience ensures that I’m inspired and engaged in what I’m doing but not so much that my nervous system takes hours to recover. For once, I didn’t jump straight back into my life after being unwell, and it was the scariest yet most empowering thing I’ve ever done.


I would challenge you to reflect on your own resilience. Just check in with yourself, to see if maybe you bounce back from things a little too quickly. Now reflecting, I see that, yes, I had amazing resilience for all that life threw at me – but it was an unhealthy level of resilience. My psychologist even confirmed it was actually a symptom of my PTSD! You can be grateful that your resilience has helped get you to where you are today, but I promise that you may find a resilience much more beautiful and in line with what is best for you. Life will then feel so much easier, because any time your tank feels low, you’ll have learned much more fulfilling ways to top it back up.


I’ve let go of the resilience that has helped me stand here today, but as I move into a new year, I have endless gratitude for discovering a healthier kind of resilience that I didn’t even know existed. Who knows what 2022 has in store for me, but I’m ready.

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