Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. —Lao Tzu
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Change is hard for me. I guess it’s hard for most people. We get comfortable in our routines, settle in and snooze. Life rolls along in a predictable way that’s soothing and reliable.
Change requires attention, energy, planning, and action. It shakes us up and makes us re-evaluate everything we’ve taken for granted. It knocks us out of that fuzzy comfort zone. Sometimes it’s painful—letting go of ideas, people, places, things we hold dear. Sometimes it rocks us to the core.
Part of my bipolarness is the need for routine—a generally consistent schedule to my day or week. My routine comforts me. It soothes the anxiety and agitation that are constant companions. It gives me a way to move through the day when that seems impossible.
Also, my routine helps me maintain my priorities and meet my goals. When the mood swings start looping one after another, it’s hard to move forward. Routine is like a light over a familiar off-ramp that I can’t see in the dark. Instead of driving around and around on the Rapid Cycling clover leaf—not able to focus, not able to make a choice about what to do—I can maneuver my car to that off ramp with my routine’s help. I can keep moving forward, however slowly.
Big changes to my routine can trigger a blow-up of my symptoms. And, since nothing stays the same except change, I’m discovering I need a strategy to manage those times.
Last week I had to quit my beloved deep water aerobics class. The routine had changed over the summer from mostly cardio and core work to more arm exercises. Too much of that makes my bum shoulder worse, so I tried to adjust my workout, ask for help, do my own thing. But I wasn’t getting the workout my brain needs, so today I went back to the shallow water classes.
I’ve made good friends in the deep water class. We created a tight community that supported each other. But I know how important a hard workout is to my brain chemistry and to my over all health. The decision was excruciating. Not just because of what I had to give up in the class, but because it mucked up my routine.
Add to that my homelessness in terms of a coffee shop/writing aerie, my conversion to a vegan diet, and developing several new friendships and my routine is pretty much shot to hell. I know in time I’ll pull together a new structure, but right now I’m free-falling. And the anxiety that produces keeps me from rational thought.
All I can think of to do today is seek comfort—not the bipolar versions of comfort which are all obsessive-compulsive (though those are really calling to me), but something more useful, healthy and safe. And if I can’t do that, then maybe I can aim for the least amount of harm in my compulsive behavior. I’m not sure I can even do that.
I have to hold Lao Tzu’s words as a mantra today. Let reality be reality. Let this illness be what it is. Flow with the changes without resistance. Breathe. Eventually, I’ll start to slow down. Eventually, a new off-ramp will show up with a light bright enough to steer by. Hold that wheel lightly. Observe. Embrace the new road coming—a new life is on the other side.