“Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be.” ~Sonia Ricotti
I hate my life! It’s a phrase that’s used by teenagers and adults alike. Sometimes we use it for dramatic effect and sometimes we mean this literally.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago and said “I hate my life!” I meant every word. I hated it so much that there were times I didn’t think it was worth living.
In order to stay alive, I had to accept my illness, let go of what I wanted my life to be, and have faith that the future would take care of itself.
Here are five things I’ve learned so far on my journey of accepting a life that isn’t fair and never will be.
1. Recognize the problem.
Right before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I tried to be everything to everyone. I gave 100% at work, I gave 100% to my family, and I gave 100% to whatever else needed me.
I came to find out that giving 300% is impossible. Something had to give. That something was me.
I had a breakdown. Several of them, actually, because right after I recovered from one, before long I found myself going back to giving 300%. I lost count of the number of times I was admitted to an acute treatment facility for days at a time.
At last I realized that living life this way was going to kill me. I couldn’t accept that I had an illness. I couldn’t accept that I had to slow down. I couldn’t accept that I wasn’t perfect.
Because of that I didn’t want to be alive. The pain of living with a mental illness can result in that type of thinking.
Sometimes we have to make a choice: pretend that nothing is wrong and then continually deal with the consequences, or acknowledge the problem and face it head-on.
2. Do something about it.
Once I accepted the fact that I wasn’t like many people who can handle work stress, be a part-time single parent, and do whatever else is needed, I grudgingly started making changes. I resigned from my job as a newspaper reporter, left co-workers who had become good friends, and started working at home.
I spent more time taking care of myself. I started meeting with a meditation teacher who taught me how to accept what is. She showed me ways to calm anxiety and ride the wave of depression, knowing that it would eventually pass.
When life changes, we need to become aware that there are always more choices. They might not be the choices we want, but there are always choices. Open your mind, look around, and you’ll find many more courses of action than the obvious ones in front of you.
3. Let others help.
When I was going through depression and was unable to do everyday tasks or even take care of my children, it was hard for me to ask for help.
“I should be able to do this on my own.” “I don’t want to bother anyone or be a bother.” These were my thoughts as I beat myself up after I had to ask for help.
It occurred to me after awhile that most people enjoy helping others. It makes them feel good. I know whenever someone comes to me asking for help, and if I’m able to, I feel good about myself afterwards.
In fact, altruism is one of the main factors in achieving happiness, according to a book I read called What Happy People Know by Dan Baker.
Just think, by asking for help you may actually be helping the other person.
4. Take ownership.
After I sought out psychiatric help for my illness/behavior, I expected my therapist and doctor to make it change. I insisted they make it change. I got angry because they couldn’t change it.
“They weren’t trying hard enough.” “They didn’t understand me.” “If they would just listen!” These were the thoughts that I had as I struggled during the roughest times of my illness.
Finally I was able to grasp the fact that they couldn’t change it. At first it frightened me. These were professionals. They studied, worked, and knew more than I did and they couldn’t fix it.
Wait a minute. Then why even bother dealing with them? It was useless, hopeless. I wasn’t strong enough to handle this.
These were all lies I told myself. Because after eight years of therapy I actually knew quite a bit. I learned skills that had helped me through the darkest moments of my life.
Just like a teacher can’t follow a student around for the rest of his or her life reading books to them and watching over them as they write a paper, my therapist couldn’t come home with me and hold my hand through every problem I faced. She is the most supportive person in my life, but she couldn’t do it for me.
Eventually it was up to me to use the skills I had been taught.
When my anxiety rose to excruciating levels, I remembered to go to a quiet place (usually my bathroom) and breathe through the panic until it subsided. I learned that it wasn’t going to last forever, eventually it would pass and I just had to ride it out.
It’s important to learn skills from people who have more experience with your problem, but it’s up to you to put them into action. It will be scary at first doing them on your own, but the more you do it the more confident you will become.
5. Change what you can and accept the rest.
I was forced to make changes to my lifestyle in order to achieve and remain stabilized. I may have lost my job, but I gained a life.
I accepted that I have an illness that isn’t going away. There is treatment but no cure for bipolar disorder. I have faced the fact that I will have to deal with depression, hypomania, and anxiety throughout the rest of my life.
I learned coping skills and take prescribed medication to minimize my symptoms, and it’s made living with the illness bearable.
Acceptance didn’t make my illness go away, but it relieved a big part of my suffering as I became aware of the steps I had to take. I have faith that I will be able to live with the unpredictability of my illness.
These are five steps to accept you are not where (or who) you want to be.
Acknowledge the fact that you might have to come up with another plan. Before you know it, you may find yourself thinking about the past and wondering why you didn’t want it to change, because your present definitely works better.