As I strive to raise my daughter the best I can, I am beginning to realize that love is not enough. If I could will her a wonderful life with my love alone, I would. Her mother and I have had a gradual awareness that has reached a peak as our little one is turning 5 years old, full of curiosity and an emerging personality. But no matter how much we love her, we still need to give her more.
If love was enough, there wouldn’t be distraught parents all over the world crumbling and defeated when their child self-destructs from the onset or persistence of a mental illness. If love was enough, I never would have contemplated taking my own life, over and over again as the waves of despair have crashed over my life unpredictably. And if love were enough, we wouldn’t need any other tools like patience, knowledge, and determination. But love is not enough.
Love has kept me alive, on some level, surviving. The kind words and warm hugs and genuine concern from people that love me has kept me holding on by a string all these years. I can imagine that without multiple interjections at just the right moment, I wouldn’t be here. But unfortunately, love from others hasn’t been a strong enough power to make me want to thrive. It wasn’t until I had tools that I could master and manipulate that I began to want to try a little bit harder to do more than survive. Before, I just stuck around for the people that love me, feeling obligated to stay alive to thank them for their unwavering love. I figured I didn’t want to disappoint them anymore, so I would try each day to continue. But now, I get up for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t love and live for my family and loved ones too. But for once, I live for me as well.
Love from others can only get you so far with a mental illness, that is, in my own experience. Sometimes no matter how much people love us and believe in us, we still don’t want to or can’t love and help ourselves. And sometimes, I’m not sure who it is harder on: me or the people who attempt to love me unconditionally. I actually find it hard to believe that anybody loves me unconditionally. And honestly, I don’t blame them. I am difficult. I can just barely begin to love myself.
These tools, though, that I have picked up fit perfectly into my quirky illness and its intricacies. Obsessed with systems and organization and regimens, it was physical tools that allowed me to help myself. Sleep, exercise, routine, diet and meditation. These were things that only I could control. And every day, I truly get up only to attempt to master each one of them a little more than the day before. After a couple years, these tools have given me a reason to live and over time, have collectively worked together to make my illness more manageable.
Imagine controlling the factors that add to your disease. If you could master these factors to eliminate their negative influence on your disease, wouldn’t you be intrigued? For example, the tool of exercise. It may not be considered a traditional tool by any definition, but it is a tool for me. I know that when I exercise one to two full hours every day, I feel better. That doesn’t mean my moods don’t still come and go. It means that by utilizing this tool every day, I know that my physical body is at its best and can no longer be a negative influence on my disorder. I know that whatever fluctuations come and go with my moods, it is not because of the lack of exercise or physical self-care.
This tool alone doesn’t allow me to master or ease the afflictions. But when I add in the tool of nutrition, and only put healthy, whole foods in my body with medicinal attributes, its adds in another layer of protection. Add in a clean and sober lifestyle, a systematic daily routine, a healthy amount of sleep each night and a constant mindfulness throughout the day; I have essentially controlled the factors that weigh heavy on my bipolar disorder. There are absolutely days where I fail to use one tool or another. And the best part about that is I can feel the difference. If I don’t exercise at all for two or three days, I can feel the heavy weight in my body which leads to a heavy weight in my mind. Which quickly steers me back into using that tool. In essence, it is like a checks and balances system for my body and mind.
I love my tools. Without them, I feel helpless over my life like I have most of my days. Until recently, I have felt powerless over my own disease. I have felt sorry for myself and sorry for those that have attempted to lift my burden with little success. But now I can confidently say that I play a part in my disease by continuing to master these tools. Which in turn, has made it easier for my loved ones to love me and for me to see worth in myself.
As for my daughter whom I love, I also make sure to remain mindful of the tools I can give her now that she will be able to use as she continues to grow. I now know that I cannot control her life with the power of my love. I cannot predict or dictate her future with my unwavering love for her. But with my love for her and my love for myself, I can give her new tools every day that she will in turn be able to use throughout her life to master her own fate. She will be able to conquer problems with solutions instead of defeat. She will be able to empower herself with action to make life decisions. So I continue to love myself so that she can love herself too.