Failure, Seeds & Tidal Waves

collage art, hand-made greeting cardsI 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.

Tidal WaveThis 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.

25 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Evonda Martin
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 19:56:59

    Beautiful post that provides a perfect description of BP life. Thank you.


    • Sandy Sue
      Aug 21, 2012 @ 20:06:06

      Evonda, thanks so much for your kind words. I hope you are able to juggle all the commitments and responsibilities in your life at present. Your task is Herculean! Many blessings.


  2. littlesundog
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 20:26:00

    You write so beautifully… your expression is so passionate and real. I hope the days to come are better for you. I hope you are able to assess the damage and start anew. I’ll be sending a little extra positive energy your way this week!


  3. Kathryn McCullough
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 22:11:54

    God, Sandy, I HATE mixed states. Sorry you are having to deal with that mess. However, that last paragraph above–brilliant writing and an important reminder! Thanks, my friend.


  4. The Manic Knitter
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 01:35:21

    Beautiful:) thank you for sharing:)


  5. Dee Ready
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 09:14:20

    Dear Sandy, you seem now to reside in the essence of gratitude and that is always a mysterious and mystical place to be. Within that gratitude you have found a wisdom that speaks to all of us. Thank you. Peace.


  6. pegoleg
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 09:45:09

    Do any of the sticks remain planted when the big waves come? Is there anything left to mark all the previous toil? Or do you just have a picture in your minds-eye to tell you yes, you DID do it before and yes, this is where you can do it again?


    • Sandy Sue
      Aug 22, 2012 @ 13:16:34

      All of the above. It’s kind of like those sand paintings Buddhist monks make–very intricate and beautiful, then they sweep it all up when they get done.


  7. Fiddle gal
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 13:00:03

    May peace be with you, my Friend, as you clean the sand off.


  8. Sheryl Mae
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 20:20:28

    Wow! I loved your writing in this post. I didn’t love that you have to live through this stuff to write it but it was just glorious. The last part about the sticks in the sand is true of all of us. Things we plan and strive for slip our grasp and we have to start over. It seems to just happen more frequently and totally for those with BPD. Love ya, Sissy.


  9. rachelmiller1511
    Aug 23, 2012 @ 07:54:02

    Beautiful post- you’re a really good writer!

    Sorry to hear you’ve been feeling down. Sending you a sisterly hug xxx


  10. i mayfly
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 08:29:33

    I was just thinking this week about how I sometimes feel like I’m dancing a tarantella dance around the jazzed edges of the black hole I named Despair. Flirting with putting a toe over the open pit, but snatching it back before the suction can draw me in…and hold in its suffocating grip.

    Your writing and pain are poignant and ring true. I sincerely hope your flow is long and your ebb is brief. -Nikki


  11. Secondhand Surfer
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 07:58:12



  12. Trackback: The Green Study Spa: Take a Moment and Put Your Feet Up | The Green Study
  13. Alison and Don
    Aug 19, 2015 @ 23:07:24

    I have no knowledge of bi-polar disorder, of the inner workings of it. You open your world up in such a beautiful and heart wrenching way. I feel your struggle. I also feel your wondrous light. Thank you for your clear raw poetic honesty.


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