You may have noticed lately that we’ve been busy—traveling to and fro, camping, birthday-partying, wedding-ing, family reunion-ing, visiting friends and family, even Disneyland-ing! And locally, we’ve been hitting up the playground/library/family-friendly-activity circuit more than usual over the past few months.
And I can gladly say that all of our activity (my activity) is not rooted in mania; just in the enjoyment of life. I am even more elated to say that I feel mentally healthy—more than I ever have in my life.
Once upon a time I hurried through life, operating on Shoulds and Have Tos, unaware of my feelings and the stress I heaped upon myself, suppressed, fighting through life, against myself. I’d say part of the difficult and desperate life I lived was due to my bipolar diagnosis—the chemical imbalances, the moods, the high and low extremes I worked so long, alone and helplessly to moderate.
The other explanation for the life I led is that I was just so damn hard on myself. I had unrealistic expectations of myself, of my life. Perfectionist expectations I could never live up to—that kept me from ever being happy, from ever accepting myself as I am, from ever feeling I was or had enough, from ever experiencing my own life.
And then there was a time when it all crashed down upon me. I felt hopeless. And I know I’ve told this story before, but looking back on the past year, reflecting on the darkness, it all feels like yesterday.
When I think about the pain I felt, my lack of desire to live, my inability to care for you, let alone myself—those feelings all come rushing back. I’m transported to those days of panic and depression, those days I rocked myself back and forth, unable to leave my parents’ guest bedroom, hardly able to watch anything but Storage Wars because anything else reminded me of the life Outside—a life I felt undeserving of and unable to live anymore.
And then there was the time when little by little the panic and anxiety dissipated. I took my medication and I worked SO SO SO SO FREAKIN' hard in talk therapy.
And now here I am. And mostly, those dark days and thoughts never cross my mind. There are days when I leave the house, when I go visit friends or family, when I plan and execute and celebrate a grand third birthday party without any thought of anxiety, without any worry.
I ask for help when I need it. I navigate stress better. I’ve learned to say “no” when needed. I’ve learned to plan better. I’ve learned how to identify and work through manic or depressive episodes. I’ve learned to accept my reality, to stop comparing my life to the lives of others.
I’ve learned to accept that my self-worth is in no way connected to the undone dishes, to the amount of TV you watch, to my education, to my employment, to how much I sleep, to how much I do or what I get done. I know now that I am enough—enough Mommy, enough wife, enough daughter, enough Lauren.
And that revelation is such relief. I feel lighter. I feel free.
So now, most days I leave home without my Emergency Just-In-Case Supply of Xanax. That may not sound like a big deal if you’ve never dealt with anxiety and I don’t mean to sound like I have or ever did have a pharmaceutical dependency, but for the last year I have made sure to never leave home without my medical equivalent of a blankie: teeth brushed? Wallet? Cell phone? Drugs? Check, check, check, check!
Whether or not I used or needed Xanax, every morning for over a year, the possibility of panic crossed my mind. And no matter how far in the past my last panic attack was, I was compelled to think that it could happen again at any moment. Even as days turned into weeks and months and over a year, a pall was cast over every day. I lived, if not in constant dread and fear of panic, at least under its shadow.
But now, I feel like things are not only “normal” once again, but also better than ever. I am better equipped to handle stress, to handle feelings, to handle crowds and panic triggers, to handle my own life.
These days, I take my mental health for granted the way that I imagine most people do every day of their lives when they wake up and make their coffee and welcome the day ahead.
And it feels great.