Earlier this year I set a goal to stay out of the hospital or a hospital program this spring. Three out of the last five years, I’ve ended up there. It’s a good thing, really, to know when to make that call. Lots of folks with mental illness aren’t able to do that for themselves, so I feel lucky and proud of the work I do to hang onto a little insight during the worst of times.
However, the program I’ve used in the past was eliminated, like many of the behavioral health programs across the state, because psychiatrists fled Iowa like rats on a sinking ship (some problem with Medicare reimbursement). If I needed serious help now, I’d have to drive across the state and admit myself into one of the few psych wards left. I’d rather not, really.
I needed to change things up—not just my perspective, but what I do to manage this transition from winter to summer. I found some new resources this year to help—Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation (IPR) and Integrated Health Services (IHS). Both are new state programs trying to fill the gaps left by the psych docs. Also, with my mom’s passing last summer, I now live frugally instead of crushed by poverty. It’s a huge difference.
So, with this new net under me, I started to address the critical and disapproving voice in my head. I started to wonder if my drive to do more and be more was actually another facet of that mean voice. I watched how I withheld comfort, left no room for rest or rejuvenation, and squeaked by on the least.
I wondered how it might feel to do the opposite—to be kind and gentle in my self-appraisal, to be generous with my time and money. I wondered how that voice might sound. I wondered, for instance, what my grandma might say to me when rapid cycling ruined all my plans for the day. Or what my friend, Lily, might say about me going to Ireland next year.
Whenever I started to hate on myself, or rail against the unfairness of living with bipolar disorder, or scold myself for going to Des Moines twice in one week, I tried to stop and conjure the people who love me. Their kind and gentle voices filled my mind. Their immediate generosity helped me breathe.
Over the course of the spring, I’ve tried to make those voices strong in my mind. This is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. I’m steeped in self-violence. Recognizing the lie in that voice when it slithers into my thoughts takes time. Then, countering it with petal-soft, open-armed sweetness is like speaking a foreign language. But, I’ve learned a few words. And my vocabulary is growing.
Being kind, gentle and generous to myself doesn’t alter the course of my bipolarity. Rapid cycling fogs my brain and leaves me exhausted. Emotions flip and tumble like Olympians. Chores overwhelm me. But, today, I have hope that I can navigate the hard road through Spring. In my mind, I’m holding a warm, gentle hand. It fits perfectly in mine. Because it is mine.