When I say I like to be prepared, it is an immense understatement. I take pride in being prepared for the known, and the unknown. I obsessively play the tape through every possible scenario knowing that being fully equipped for each one will boost my mood up a notch. But in all actuality, I obsess over having to know what to expect at every turn, from hour to hour and day to day. My routine and planning consumes my thoughts. So while I feel I cannot rest until I am prepared for every task, every day, every adventure…I never really feel prepared. Never at rest. There is always something tugging at my nerves.
The up side to the obsession is that I usually actually am prepared for most of what comes my way. I by far do not live by “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” Quite the opposite. Rather, I thrive by the words, “it can always be better.”
Recently, my need to be intensely organized was called upon in aces. I traveled far from home to journey from Saigon, Vietnam across land through Cambodia into Thailand, with a quick trip through Singapore on my way home. The good part is that I use to be an avid traveler. I lived in Singapore for two years, surrounded by a time in which I traveled through many countries in Asia, sprinkled with as many trips as I could manage since then to new lands.
I spent a month planning and packing for this recent trip. I thought of every possible situation including every possible illness I could be stricken by. I started by making elaborate, yet organized, lists of what I needed to pack broken down by categories. I got early refills on every medicine I was taking, or could possibly need, for the trip. Paranoid that I could lose my luggage at any given part of my trip, and honestly, quite a rational thing to prepare for; I packed enough meds for my two-week vacation threefold. I placed one set buried in my suitcase, one in my first-aid kit, and one in my backpack that never left my side. I figured if all else failed, as long as I had my passport and meds, I could survive.
The more I prepared, the better I felt I could take on this journey on my own and actually enjoy myself. I was meeting up with a small group tour, so I was not anxious about being on my own. I feared the worst though from my moods. Surely traveling 30 hours each way would weigh on my mental health, not to mention physical health. And it did. But the excitement of the trip took over once I arrived at a small, dark hotel in Vietnam at 2 am. I knew I could do this. I knew I was prepared. And so the trip unfolded. And I was absolutely prepared! I kept my sleeping on the schedule of my arrival destination from the time I left my house. I took just the right amount of extra sleep-aid with my meds to rest at night. I snacked on my homemade protein snacks I brought in between local meals. I kept myself hydrated in the suffocating heat, including dropping my electrolyte tablets I brought into my water everyday.
I felt amazing! For the first six or seven days. At one point, I thought that maybe traveling like this, exploring new cultures in an adventure-like environment was the cure. The cure to my horribly unmotivated days, my painful depression and dysphoric manic episodes. Feeling empowered by my extreme preparation, I felt on top of the world. Which meant what came next was absolutely natural for me.
I came down from that high and sunk back into reality. And it hurt. I wasn’t at an all-time low or deep depression. But I was back where I was before I left for the trip. I was tired, sad, unmotivated, and uninterested in everything. I was just there. It didn’t matter where I was, but my bipolar was with me. And I guess I was prepared for that too. It was merely a fleeting second that I thought I could beat the disease. And it was an amazing fleeting second.
I did the only thing I knew how to do, and that was to keep going. I got up everyday, but didn’t join my group for all of the activities. I listened to by body and did what was best for me, which was mostly rest. Being alone to recharge. I continued to eat the best I could, slept as much as possible during the night hours, and push through conversations with my co-travelers as pleasantly as possible as to not stand out. I pushed my moods down as far as they would go in order to “enjoy” the rest of the trip.
And I continued to be rational, what I am best at. I excel in preparing and handling situations rationally; coming at them with solutions, as I have gotten used to problems unceasingly coming my way. I decided that traveling was not the answer to my problems. That the short elated mood I experienced was amazing, but not the end-goal. I knew that if I was to make peace with myself, to accept that my bipolar is everywhere I go, I had to take something else from this trip back with me. So I focused through the familiar haze to find what I could bring back from this wonderful experience that would enhance my life today. I took back the knowledge I gained about extraordinary cultures and shared it. I took back the humility I learned from the people in the towns I visited that I spent time with. And I took back an elevated sense of mindfulness that I had tried to harness before, but could only really grasp with true practice.