I woke up this morning contemplating failure.
I knew last week would be rough. When the Y closes for cleaning each summer, my whole schedule gets disrupted, but I planned around it the best I could. However, I couldn’t foresee the bolus of anger that ignited my stress like tinder. I didn’t anticipate the sudden plunge into a mixed state or the overwhelming return of my compulsions. And I certainly wasn’t prepared to gain back six pounds. This morning Failure glared like a jittery neon sign in my head.
But, if living with bipolar disorder has taught me anything, it’s that life is rarely that simple or black and white. I needed to look at my week again, and again, and again, if necessary, to see the whole picture.
In my reading about anger this week, Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about the seeds of anger that are in all of us. Some have more seeds than others, or their seeds are strongly rooted. I see that anger and resentment are deeply rooted in me. I keep old hurts precious. I rail against Life and The Illness. At times, I practice mindfulness and breathe into these seeds until they become transparent. But, they remain. Bipolar disorder, in me, shares a deep affinity with anger. So, when my illness manifests, my seeds of anger sprout and grow strong. It is part of the illness, and part of my practice. Neither success nor failure, but an ebb and flow.
After my attempted suicide, my teacher said to me, “The illness got away from you.” It does that sometimes, even after careful practice and planning. I think of myself on a beach with my little buckets and sand shovels, diligently digging trenches and building sand castles. Sooner or later, a big wave crashes in. It blasts the castles and erases the trenches I’ve worked so hard to make.
Storms are part of the deal when you live on the edge of the sea. It’s important to clean up the damage, but just as important to take inventory of what survived. While my rage was huge and consuming this week, I didn’t aim it at anyone. And I may have eaten non-stop to deaden the pain, but I still ate nearly-vegan. I still have my buckets and shovels.
This life is so tenuous. I make plans and set goals to try to keep the sand from constantly shifting under my feet. Plans and goals are sticks I jab in the sand to find solid ground. When the storm comes and washes the sticks away, I wail over my lost place-holders. I forget that this is a Game, and harder yet, I forget how to play it.
The game is to Find the Sticks—those unique and beautiful tools we create to manage the illness—then Plant them. We notice everything—the resistance of the wet sand, the strength in our arms, the sun on our necks, the pleasant rhythm of the Work. We stand back to see the pattern and progression of our creation. And when the Storm hits, we run for shelter, come back when the waters recede, and start again.
There is no failure in this game. No winners or losers. There is just the slow, steady Work and the inevitability of the Sea.