This post originally went live on mydnyht.wordpress.com on 7 March 2013.
Today, I want to talk about a milestone that I reached. It probably doesn’t sound like anything huge to a neurotypical person, but for me, this is pretty big.
On Tuesday, for the first time, I had a lazy day that didn’t automatically fall into the category of “off day” or “bad day”.
Let me explain: I have bipolar disorder, and as such, functioning on a carefully crafted schedule is pretty much mandatory. My fiancée was a big help in creating this schedule for me, even if all she did was encourage me to get up earlier than I normally would have. Wake up at ten, take a shower if it’s a shower day (I like hot showers, so showering every day would dry out my skin too much), exercise, get breakfast, do chores, watch the Ellen show, and spend time with my family. Do my bedtime routine, get into my pajamas, spend time with family, wind-down time, and go to bed at ten. If I’m not functioning within the confines of my schedule, it usually means I woke up late because I was having an “off” or “bad” day. For me, this can include suicidal ideology, crying, general feelings of depression and worthlessness, etc. These feelings are compounded by the fact that I wasn’t sticking to my schedule, and I then feed myself thoughts that consist of “you are a terrible person who cannot maintain status as a functioning member of society.”
But today was different. My alarm went off at ten, and since I hadn’t slept well the past few nights, I decided I was going to sleep in to make up for that fact. When I woke up, several hours later than I normally would have, I got breakfast and decided to relax upstairs in my room, engaging in various computer tomfoolery and just generally relaxing. I decided that today would be a lazy day – a day where I could break from my carefully crafted schedule and be nice to myself, without all the feelings of guilt that would normally accompany it. I know that tomorrow I’ll be back on my schedule, and I feel more confident knowing that, yes, I can have days where I break my schedule and still find it easy to get back on track once I’m done with the change.
This probably seems like a really normal function for someone who is neurotypical. You go to work, and maybe one night your coworkers want to go out to the local townie bar. You attend, not having to worry about social anxiety or the anxiety that comes from breaking your schedule. You go and you have fun, stay up past your normal bedtime, and return to work the next day. It seems like a pretty easy process, but for someone with bipolar disorder, it isn’t always so simple. I’m at a point now where spending time with people I’ve known since I was five can cause anxiety, simply because it’s shifting my carefully maintained schedule, which every doctor ever and every person who struggles with mental health says is so key to the process of “recovery” (and I put “recovery” in quotation marks because I hate the phrase and can’t understand why it’s been adopted by the community – it makes it sound like I’m recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction; like there’s something fundamentally wrong with me having bipolar disorder. But I digress). Seriously, pick up a magazine that’s supposed to offer helpful advice to someone with bipolar disorder, and flip through it and read about how many “recovery” stories feature people sticking to strict schedules. It’s pretty much all of them. And when you’re in your mid-twenties like I am, you don’t always want to stick to a schedule. Sometimes you want to go out with your friends. Sometimes you want to have a lazy day where you relax (although, being on disability, my definition of “relaxing” is probably much different than a neurotypical person’s).
Knowing that I have the power to break my schedule – while still having a good day – and get back on it is monumental for me. Not everyone with bipolar disorder can do this, and it makes me feel that much closer to getting to a point where I can do things that a neurotypical person can. Things like working, or going to school, or having an active social life, or having interesting hobbies. Instead of living in my little bubble of isolation that is only broken by religious involvement and visiting with my fiancée, I can have something close to a “normal” life that isn’t affected by my disability. And it’s pretty fucking awesome.