Not all bipolar swings are inherently negative. A downward swing towards depression, if examined from an objective standpoint, can be a time for reflection and constructive introversion. Sometimes, one has to distance or disconnect oneself from the usual stimuli of the outside world to take stock, recover strength, and realign thoughts and goals. By the same coin, a upward swing — not necessarily into full hypomania — can be a boom time of great creativity, channeling energy into endeavors that suit one’s goals.
This takes time, practice, the help of a therapist and loved ones, and a good amount of hammering out new pathways in one’s thought processes and emotional self-examination. It isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.
It also eats up a bunch of spoons.
If you’re not familiar with the Spoon Theory, I expound upon it (and reference its source) here. Most spoonies deal with a purely physical ailment — fibromyalgia, endometriosis, auto-immune diseases, etc. Mental illness can qualify as well — bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety, and so on. If you get a flashback, a sting of anxiety, or enter a mixed state, you have to spend time and energy dealing with that state of being before you can move on to something like sleeping, or eating. You spend spoons you’d otherwise spend elsewhere.
It can be easy to realize, in retrospect, that we haven’t taken steps towards reaching our long-term goals. We might even look around us and see all sorts of things that could be addressed, in terms of chores or self-care. I feel that it’s important to keep focus on the fact that our worth is not tied to our productivity, no matter what this modern capitalist dystopia in which we find ourselves might say. We can, and should, find self-worth in who we are and what we cultivate in ourselves and the world around us.
There are two factors that inform the ways in which we contribute to the world around us: willingness and ability. If we have the willingness to contribute, but not the ability — be it because of spoons, money, skills, or other resources — that has worth, in and of itself, and in my opinion, does not get recognized as much as it should. On the flip side, if one has the ability to contribute, but not the willingness… well, that’s a completely different kettle of fish.
In the aftermath of those moments of introspection and personal re-alignment, the next step is to examine what is worthy of focus, and what can be set aside, at least for now. For example: I haven’t spent as much time writing as I have in gaming. I even tried my hand at streaming Hearthstone again over a couple of weekends. The thing is, there are only so many hours in the day and I only have so many spoons. And, let’s be honest, I’m a better writer than I am a gamer. I may get myself to Legend rank in Hearthstone, but I doubt I have the time and bandwidth to both cultivate tournament-level skills in that game and finish the writing projects that may actually achieve my long-term goal of writing novels as my primary means of income.
So it’s time to focus on that, and get the words out, and get this shit done.
For whatever it’s worth, May is Mental Health Month, and as we go through it, I’m going to also take time to reflect on how I’ve been improving over the last few months, what I can bring up in therapy, and how I can continue carving new and healthier neural pathways. I hope these experiences, and my words, prove helpful to you. It can be difficult for me to remember that focusing on myself and the way forward is not selfish, in and of itself; rather, if I do not build myself up, and celebrate myself, the world will be all to happy to tear me down and strip-mine me for useful material the way they have our planet.
It’s a statement I’ve said many, many times, especially in the last year or so. I said it several times when I wrote this post back in January. Even in these last few months, I’ve changed, I’ve moved forward — even away from that very post! — and come more to terms with who I used to be and how I’m not the same. Those around me can see the change, and they’ve celebrated, even as the change has continued on a daily basis.
I want to believe other people can change, too.
People who love me, who have been there for me, and seen these changes, have said that not everybody can do what I’ve done. That there’s something special or singular about how I’ve seized myself, pulled myself apart, and discerned what about me was toxic and needed to be discarded — and, to be clear, there were indeed ugly parts of me that spread toxicity and had to be destroyed — and while I deeply appreciate that, the way I’ve moved forward has come down to belief in myself. And I believe, if I may talk circularly for a moment, that anyone can believe in themselves, and foster their better natures.
It has been hard for me, there’s no mistaking that. For years, I relied more on the opinions and support of others, even going so far as to turn down my own feelings to make room for those of others. Among other learned behaviors, I’ve had to face that one down, and shake it off to the best of my ability. This one in particular is weird and sort of sticky, and it still comes up now and again. But I’m still doing the work to get myself free of it, once and for all.
As hard as it’s been for me to find the ways and means within myself to believe in myself, I know that part of it, at least, has come from others believing in me, even when it hasn’t been convenient, or when others might have told them that I’m not worth it. And what was said was not entirely without cause.
I’ve shed so many useless and toxic and ugly parts of who I used to be. Even now, I look out for them and put them down whenever I can. Because the world deserves better than that. And, given the chance, I show who I have become, in contrast to who I was and the thing I was reported to be. I grab hold of my light and push it upwards as a beacon, throwing back darkness that I might myself have perpetuated at one point. I stare into that darkness, seek to banish it, to drive it away from myself and those I love.
I ask that toxic ghost, straight up, who the hell it thinks I am.
In the midst of the darkness I once threw over myself, some people still held on to the belief that I was worth it, and their belief in me. It protected and kindled that spark of light within me; it fostered in me this belief I now have in myself. It’s helped me get and be and do better. I might have arrived here completely on my own, and there’s a lot of work I had to do for and by myself, but knowing that someone, somewhere, believed in me, even in spite of my failures and ugliest moments — that made things easier, made my goals clearer, motivated me to work twice as hard.
That’s what I’d want people to do for me, even — or especially — when I’m at my worst.
And that’s what I want to do for the people I care about, even — especially — when they’re at their worst.
Maybe it’s a waste of my time. Maybe it won’t be worth it in the long run.
But it’s something about me that hasn’t changed.
And I don’t know if it will. Or if it should.
People out in the world chose to believe in me, because they wanted to believe I could be better.
And they were right.
I want to believe in others. In the world. In you.
And I really, really, want to be right.
So here I stand. Holding up this light. Hoping. Believing.
Because I want to believe.
I challenge you to believe, too. And if you can’t believe in yourself, believe in me.
It’s a question I’m asking myself on a daily basis. Months after so many people made up their minds that the answer was a resounding ‘NO’, I’m still asking it. I lose sleep over it. I wake up with my guts in knots thinking about it. I find myself disengaged from the world around me, trying my best to lose myself in work, and distracting myself with media and gaming to avoid the question. But I keep coming back to it.
I want to believe that I am. I want to believe that just by asking the question, seriously pondering it, at least shows a glimmer of hope that it might be true. It’s a spark, the embryo of a flame, and if I can hold on to it, nurture it, stoke it with the right questions and breathe life into it gently, it will grow, and maybe shine a light that will show my true Self, even to those who made up their minds.
People can be wrong. I have been wrong. I’m trying to make it right, as much as I can, without imposing myself or pushing for unwanted direct contact or making people uncomfortable. I’m trading my discomfort for the comfort of others. The way I’ve always tried to do, even if it’s proven unhealthy for me. My brain’s wired for that behavior, and rewiring it has proven very, very difficult.
How could I ever put myself over others?
That’s the question this line of thought brings to mind. In moments of weakness, of hypomania, of knee-jerk reactions, I know I can behave rashly, even put what I want or feel above what others want or feel. But how can that be, when the other 99% of my life is spent worrying myself literally sick over what others think and feel? How is that I can, and have, lost my grip on my empathy? Is there a way for me to prioritize myself, my health, my well-being, in such a way that such an awful thing never, ever happens again?
I’m scared. I’m scared of a lot of things. Running out of time, losing what little I have left, failing and falling again to the point I don’t see a way out, with no strength left to save myself.
I’m scared I’ll never fully recover.
I’m scared I’ll lose my way again, in spite of the progress I’ve already made in the Work.
I’m scared that, in trying to prioritize myself, in convincing myself that yes, I am in fact a good man, I’ll get too caught up in my positivity and hype, to the point that my privilege and intelligence and empathy become things I exploit; I’m scared I will truly, thoroughly become something I loathe, that I would never, ever choose to be.
I know people exist who feel no guilt or remorse for the choices they make. The people who twist the facts to fit their own narratives. The people who never check their perceptions against a sequence of events or the proven nature of the people around them. The people who are so wrapped up in themselves they give nary a thought to the feelings or well-being of others. Their only goal is self-advancement; their primary concern is how far they can propel themselves above others. They leave reputations, relationships, communities, even bodies burning in their wake, and they are so myopically focused on their own goals they do not smell the rancid smoke for which they are responsible. And I’m scared of becoming one of them, rather than merely being accused of being one of them.
I’m scared that no matter how ‘better’ I get, it won’t be ‘good enough’. It won’t be proof enough that I’m not who they have said I am, who they may still believe me to be.
Why do the opinions of others matter?
Being honest about my role in the discomfort of others has been taken as implicit confession of guilt towards simplistic accusations. Maintaining distance and holding space has been seen as ‘ghosting’ or disposing of people I still consider important to me. Expounding upon my moments of crisis have been called ‘manipulation’ and ‘attention-seeking’. Asking for help is seen as weakness, and an excuse to scapegoat me, gaslight me, and kick me while I’m down. Openly seeking discussion about my thought processes and unresolved guilt, and fighting the stigma of my bipolar disorder, are categorized as trying to weasel out of taking responsibility for my actions. Why do I care about what people like that think?
Anybody who knows me, who has taken the time to engage with my Self, knows all of that is bullshit. Some who have made efforts in the past to forge a friendship with me that goes beyond public perception have fallen in with the toxic thinking that fueled the ways I’ve been used and abused. Even as some write me off, I struggle to understand them, to imagine them complexly, to comprehend their motivations. Some said what they said to further their own agendas, some reacted out of triggered disgust, and others merely disengaged to avoid dwelling on painful or problematic subjects. Why do I still hold space for them?
It’s been asked of me by people who have shown they truly care about me. True empathy has been expressed by those still connected with me who’ve seen the evidence of the Work but have also been privy to me asking these questions, struggling with these concerns, ruminating over these opinions. Why do I devote any firing of synapses to people who have shown me how little I actually matter? Why do these phantoms take up any space in my head or my heart? Why can’t I just write them off, let them go, move on with my life?
“I know it’s easier said than done” tends to follow those questions, and I know how true that is. Anybody acquainted with the grief that comes with the loss of a close family member or friend knows that it’s not a once-and-done obstacle that you just ‘get over’ and you’re finished, congrats, here’s a medal. It’s cyclical. It comes and it goes. You miss people, you miss them every day, sometimes just in the back of your mind, sometimes like a vice grip on your heart leaving you unable to move. January is particularly hard for me because of grief like that. For me, for a couple of people, the grief is worse because I know they’re still alive. They’re still out in the world. I know they’re hurting. I know they’re dealing with pain, loss, and questions that I understand, that I experience myself, that I might, just maybe, be able to help with.
But I don’t know if I can. I err on the side of caution. And it breaks my heart all over again.
Even if I felt I could, would I? Or would I keep my distance because I’m too scared of fucking it up again and causing more pain and who knows if they’d be open to that sort of interaction anyway?
Should I even be writing this here?
Even now I’m questioning my motivation for putting this out into view of the public. All of this is rooted in my struggle (and occasional inability) to cope with everything that’s atypical of my neurological system. Bipolar disorder, PTSD, social anxiety, the massive guilt complex — it’s no more ‘normal’ than the political situation in our world today. I’m on medication; I’m in touch with professionals; I’m studying meditation, neurological solutions, psychology and everything else that makes up the Work. Writing is a part of it — it’s a part of me — and a contribution I can make towards both my well-being and awareness that helps the well-being of others is to fight the stigma by talking about it.
I know that a lot of this stuff can or would make people uncomfortable if they bothered to read it. Hell, writing it makes me uncomfortable to the point I’ve put off writing it, even longhand in a journal, to say nothing of on this silly blog. Causing discomfort in people in general, especially people I care about — even those who might have stopped caring about me some time ago — falls squarely in the category of ‘shit I don’t want to do.’ For all I know, all of this claptrap about the Work and how I feel and what I’m dealing with may get extrapolated and twisted around into ‘yet another bid for attention’ and thrown into the mental garbage along with the person so many people decided I was, without bringing things directly to me or imagining me complexly. This might challenge those perceptions, which will make people uncomfortable, and much like I do with my guts in asking these questions, they’ll twist themselves around to avoid that discomfort and maintain the illusion that they know exactly what happened and exactly who this or that person was and exactly what the facts are despite not having all of them.
But I also know that without discomfort, there is no growth. And as much as I want to, as deep as I have looked within myself, I have struggled and failed to find the answers for the questions I’m asking. And I have to keep asking questions, deep ones, uncomfortable ones, if I ever want to untangle those knots, heal these wounds, kindle that beacon, progress in this Work. Which brings me to the last one.
Am I asking the right questions?
Right or wrong, for better and for worse, I’m going to be struggling to find the answers for a long, long time.
Getting to a point where I can post here on even a semi-regular basis has been a very long road. Even before my most recent traumas, just a few months ago, I was climbing my way back to a place of relative stability from the rock bottom I’d hit last year. My focus has been sporadic, my productivity inconsistent, my motivation coming and going along with the swings of my mood. I’ve questioned my actions, doubted my sanity, and struggled to hold onto things like joy and hope.
But I’m getting better.
“That’s all everyone wants for you,” someone told me a few months ago. “We want you to get better.” I feel that they’re one of the few people who meant it. A bunch of folks paid lip service to the idea of Josh getting better; in retrospect, more than a few of them saying “We want you to get better” really meant “we want you to get lost.” Especially if the anonymous, threatening messages I got were any indication.
For a while, I was incredibly concerned about how I was being perceived and, moreover, why individuals I continued to try and imagine complexly refused to extend me the same courtesy. Instead of holding space for me and trying to understand me, I was demonized and made out to be, if not as bad as, worse than Donald Trump. “A broken stair,” said one individual. “A monster,” said an anonymous message. These aren’t people who want me to get better. These aren’t people who care about me. This was a feeding frenzy of drama. This was a mob of perverts for failure. This was gaslighting, plain and simple.
So I’m getting better.
While it was unnecessary for me to get raked over the coals in this abusive manner, the aftermath of this brutal annihilation of my Persona, as well as my social life, meant I had all the more bandwidth and capacity to step up my game in what I have come to embrace as “the Work.” Like all of us, I am a work in progress. In retrospect, a good portion of that work leading up to the gaslighting was half-done or, like the accusations of the mob, built on sand. So, I scrapped it. I started over, diving into new areas of research and growth, to get better.
In doing so, I’ve realized three things.
1. The perception of others is secondary to my perception of my Self.
2. Representing my Self as authentically as possible is the best foundation for my Persona.
3. The more I try to unearth my honest Self, the more the insecure and false will rail against me.
Even now, writing this out, part of me worries that it comes across as pretentious; you, reading this, may think I have my head up my ass. But I have worked very hard to be introspective without putting my head up my ass to look within. And I won’t stop now.