A few weeks ago, my boyfriend suddenly developed migraines. His vision partially disappeared, his head was extremely painful, and he was sick. This was beginning to occur every other day, which meant he was having to return home early from work, or other activities, and driving became limited.
My boyfriend is extremely active, autonomous and independent, and so for him this was a massive blow to daily life- he had never had this experience of having no control over what he could and couldn’t do. He was extremely frustrated and became anxious about whether he would get another attack when he was out. It was difficult to see him like this, but he has had success with the medication he was prescribed., which is great.
The experience my boyfriend went through got me thinking about my own limitations.
Since I developed my first severe depression at university, I have felt limited by what I can do every single day.
My concentration decreased markedly at uni: I could only read the same few sentences over and over- nothing registered in my mind. For a previously high academic achiever this was a massive blow! It made me realise how much of my identity was wrapped up in achievement too- my whole concept of myself had to change. But that’s another post of its own.
Regular jobs in retail and admin just don’t work for me. I spent years trying to make myself fit the social norm, but the symptoms of Bipolar kept returning– it was a nightmare.
I tried driving lessons on two separate occasions, but found that I dissociated (my awareness lifted out of my body, as if I were observing myself) and I felt completely out of control of the vehicle. Panic attacks occurred on every driving lesson I took. It took me a long time to accept that I most likely would never drive. Whilst I believe, if I had 100% wanted to and sought out specialist training, that I could have achieved it, I was so scared off by the dissociation and panic attacks that I no longer had any desire to drive, other than that it is a social norm, and for the sake of fitting in. This was not enough incentive for me, so I now accept my non-driver status.
I also have high sensitivity to lighting, smells and noise, which means I can only take so much of certain environments before I become dizzy and panicky, or a migraine is triggered. Parties, concerts, shopping in the city and many social activities are limited now- I need frequent breaks from them, or to just go for short bursts of time.
I was so angry with myself for so long. Really angry. Furious. I wanted so much to be like everybody else. I felt stupid and that something was innately wrong with me. I felt like God had taken these things away from me and that I was being punished for something. I felt a complete victim.
So, yes, I could understand how my boyfriend was feeling with the limitations his migraines were causing!
A New Perspective
It has only been in the last 5 or so years that I have come to see these, not as limitations, but as adjustments that I need in order to take care of myself.
I no longer see Bipolar Disorder. I see an extremely sensitive person, who deserves to protect her sensitivity and to keep herself healthy by whatever means she can. I no longer see someone who must be considered “ill” to fit onto society. I am just different. Not ill.
Society does not like different.
Society does not like an individual to have to live their life differently, and I do need to live my life differently in order to be healthy. So they prefer to see you at mentally ill.
Below are examples of necessary adjustments I’ve made to keep myself healthy:
- a small amount of part-time work on my own terms: self employment teaching the flute, which I really enjoy.
- accepting financial help from other people (this is not easy, despite other people perhaps thinking I have a cushy life. It has been embarrassing, shame-inducing, guilt-inducing, and I am still working on acceptance of this).
- lots of free time to be alone, to sleep (I need 10-12 hours a day, and some of this I need to have in the afternoon as I don’t sleep so well at night), and to meditate.
- regular walks in nature. This helps to balance my energy and help me to connect with myself. I feel more peaceful.
- spending time on things I love, rather than things I think I “should” be doing.
- regular journalling to connect with myself, check in how I am feeling, and figuring out any further adjustments to me made. This is active work on myself- looking at my beliefs and thought-patterns (which are often negative) and how I can love myself more by creating new self-loving, self-supportive ones. This requires practice throughout the day. Just off-loading my feelings to the paper can also be therapeutic.
- avoiding loud, noisy places with lots of people.
I still experience mood swings, just on a more manageable level. I do still take medication, but it is more effective along with these adjustments. It is still a full time job just to keep myself balanced.
But I accept this now. I accept that I am not going to be living the “norm” and that’s okay.
I would rather be as healthy and as happy as I can possibly be!
Bipolar Disorder and Highly Sensitive People– Guest post on Mental Health Talk.