Earlier this week, I had a… “heated discussion” with a friend of mine. We were arguing so intensely that it nearly cost us our friendship. The conversation ended with insults, “Goodbye”, and being blocked on Facebook Messenger.
I was devastated that I’d lost a friend, but I read back over our conversation and was convinced that everything I’d said was true. I couldn’t understand his reaction and the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Why couldn’t he just accept what I was saying? Why would he feel the need to minimize my feelings and completely negate my thoughts so harshly?
The next day, the two of us spoke on the phone. We started off with apologies and then processed what had happened. As it turns out, we were talking about two entirely separate things and assuming we were on the same page. Both of us were so adamant that we were right because we both were – about the topics we were arguing. The problem was, we were not arguing the same topic.
During that conversation, we both lost perspective. We lost the ability to step back in the moment and ask for clarification. We lost our mutual respect for each other in our need to prove our respective points.
It got me thinking about how a lack of perspective in general can impact our lives. And, in a more specific sense, our recovery. Living with mental health diagnoses can, by default, make things like perspective difficult. Our brains are working against us most of the time, and perspective is a frame of mind.
Recently, I came across my intake paperwork for the Partial Hospitalization Program in which I was enrolled at this time last year. If you’ve ever received mental health treatment of any form, you know that clinicians set goals and projected outcomes of said treatment. Frustration and embarrassment and shame slammed into me all at once as I realized those goals, set for me a year ago, were almost identical to my current treatment objectives.
It’s been a year and I’ve accomplished nothing. I thought, disgusted with myself. The spiral continued (as it tends to do when you don’t challenge your thoughts.)
I thought of how incredibly different my life was just a year and a half ago. Before the hospital. Before losing my job. Before needing to leave school. Before the months of intensive treatment. Before the medicine. Before the foodstamps and medicaid. Before all of it.
And then, I started comparing. I compared where I am now, to where I was then. I have a job but it pays substantially less. I have less treatment, but I still need treatment. I have correct diagnoses, but that just means more meds, more appointments, more possibility for future crises. I am not in school. I am not financially self-sufficient. I am not better. And I never will be. I told myself all of that, in rapid succession. Naturally, I spent the rest of the day feeling like complete shit.
When I compare my life now to my life prior to the PTSD symptoms and the manic episode, I feel discouraged. I feel frustrated and angry and pathetic. Because it seems like so little progress has been made. I’m still no where near where I used to be. And that is beyond infuriating.
This line of thought fuels my self-hatred, my self-doubt, and my lack of faith in recovery. It leaves me stuck in complete despair, soaked in tears and ready to put my fist through a wall. I’m not being over-dramatic when I say those things, either. I’ve literally sobbed and wallowed and punched and screamed and cursed.
These feelings are natural, I think. And valid. I don’t imagine that they are dissimilar to the feelings of someone who’s suffered an impactful physical injury. I refuse to minimize the sense of loss and anger that come with losing capabilities or dreams or simply the life you were living. It is tragic and unfair to be moving through your life, in the only way you’ve ever known to live it, and have that way of life ripped away in what feels like an instant. I believe that grief is natural in such circumstances. Comparing your progress in recovery to who you were before the change is normal. Sometimes, for me anyway, where I was feels like the only real bar by which I can measure progress. But I’ve realized recently my perspective is wrong. And it needs to change.
I’m comparing two entirely separate things. Two wrong things.
What I need to compare is where I am now to where I was a year ago. That is when my mental health took a sharp downturn, and that is the period from which I am recovering. When I look at it through this lens, there is simply no denying that immense progress has been made. Tangible progress. Objective progress. No longer are the hours of my days punctuated by body shaking, vision blurring, muscle tensing panic attacks. Horrific flashbacks to childhood and my marriage are no longer daily occurrences. More often than not, I get more than a few hours of sleep a night. I am not the person I was before I went to the hospital, that’s true; but neither am I the person who left the hospital. I’m not the person who entered a partial hospitalization program, nor am I the person who was discharged from that program. I am not the person who met with crisis counselors in March, nor am I the person I was when I first started meeting with my current therapist.
Do I still have panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares? Yes! I do! And they are just as exhausting and brutal as ever. But they are less. Am I symptom free on the Bipolar front yet? No, I’m not even on the right medications for my particular “bipolar brain” yet, so I still have hypomanic and depressive episodes (thankfully, the medications do, at least, seem to hold off full-blown manic episodes), but I’m working with a competent psychiatrist to get those medications right. Am I where I want to be? No, I’m not. But I’ve come a hell of a long way.
I’ll be honest here. I’m always going to wish that I could go back to the Sheila I was before all of this stuff happened and my brain freaked out and the chemical make-up of my mind shifted. I’ll always hope to one day be “that person” again. But the truth is, the events leading up to my hospitalization were a turning point in my life. A switch was flicked which cannot be unflicked. Living with bipolar disorder, I will need medications of one form or another for the remainder of my life. PTSD is incurable, though the symptoms can be managed over time. There will always be the possibility of those symptoms being triggered again, though. I am not the same person I was before I went to the hospital, but one things for sure, I’m not the same person I was a year ago, either. And that is significant and encouraging.
Do you ever struggle with perspective in recovery? Is there a distinctive “turning point” in your life that you know has changed you forever? Do you struggle with comparing past you to present you in your journey? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please drop a comment below or Tweet me @paradichotomy.
Thanks for reading!