Years after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and gaining the tools and support to manage that disease, on some unconscious level, I stilled fundamentally believed that losing weight would “fix” me. The fly in that ointment was that whenever food was restricted, the underlying issues were still bubbling, just below the surface.
Merriam-Webster defines illness as, “a specific condition that prevents the body or mind from working normally.” If this is true, then how do we succeed in a world designed by and for “normal” minds? Here’s what I think: We do it like McGyver, with nothing but a safety pin, a stick of gum and a thimble. We do it like Ginger Rogers, dancing backwards, in heels. We do it like Joseph Friedman, who thought straws should be bendier, just because. For both the famous and the unfamous, success often requires a great deal of creativity.
Here’s what she said, “If you have pleased everyone who has asked something of you, you are doing something wrong. It’s ok to say no. You’re good at what you do, but you aren’t the only one who can do it.” I know she’s right but I can see this might take some practice.
When you tell someone new that you live with a mental illness, there’s always the risk that they’ll get “that look!” I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. It’s a smile that begins and ends on the lips. Everything else about their face says they’re afraid, and also a little embarrassed.
When I consider my life, it is usually divided into two parts: Before and After. Before – before a proper diagnosis. After – after a proper diagnosis. This distinction isn’t some fleeting thought I have when I open a scrap book. It’s the way I tell my story, to myself and to others.
Last Tuesday, I sat on my psychiatrist’s couch and explained everything. I told him all there is to tell and he said what he has said so many times before, “Begin again.” That’s the exciting, daunting, stupid, fantastic news. When this happens, no matter how you got here, the only thing to do is begin again. This treatment plan, Begin Again, can feel insultingly oversimplified, but it is the truest thing I’ve learned about my illness.