Present Day, December 31st, 2017

“…activities that arouse pleasure are short-lived but memorable, such as enjoying a good meal, watching a movie or reading an interesting novel. By contrast, those that offer gratification lead us to expand our identities and enrich our sense of competency, thereby offering more lasting happiness.” (The Bipolar Relationship)

Go ahead. Give that a second read. Maybe meditate on it for a moment or two. I can wait.

 

Tomorrow starts another year. Well, every day starts another year in a sense. There are birthdays that start another year. Wedding anniversaries. Hospital discharge dates. Almost enough landmarks to fill a calendar and make every day the start of some form of New Year. But this is the one that humankind shares worldwide. The New Year.

On and off throughout my life it has been a significant period of goal setting. You know, resolutions. And on and off throughout my life those have been helpful towards personal growth or accomplishment.

At some level, I have some informal ones lined up for this year: lose 50 pounds, read 18 books, camp 18 nights (I often set my goals to play off the calendar year number), etc.

However, I recently read the above quote and had a new thought regarding the New Year.

I had a Facebook memory today indicating that two years ago I was excited to try and rediscover my creative side. I was anticipating diving into a daily prompt journal and adult coloring book that I had received for Christmas, along with picking back up the piano which I hadn’t played in years. Two years later, none of those took. Which leads me once again back to the quote.

I have throughout my life done things for pleasure. Even today I experience pleasure on a weekly basis. Yet that more “lasting happiness” eludes me as I have battled the depths of depression. And I began to wonder if at some level it wasn’t at least in part due to lack of engagement in activities, or hobbies, or lifestyle habits that bring “gratification”. Not just pleasure. That bring that expanded identity. That enriched sense of competency.

It isn’t for lack of trying. There were the creative efforts I mentioned above. Throughout 2017 there were efforts to engage in learning a foreign language. First Spanish. Then relearning the German I had studied during my high school years. Then the Japanese which would be helpful in my current workplace. All to no avail.

The book quoted offered such examples as “painting, drawing, woodworking, growing plants and photography.” Some of these I know my inner self well enough to know are not cohesive with my personality. Others (i.e. photography) have been given a shot without lasting effect.

That’s the thing, I cannot seem to get a grasp on gratification. On that thing or things that bring me a longer-term sense of fulfillment than the momentary pleasures of daily life. That activity or activities that would provide an emotion that I can only assume would provide a positive counterbalance to the day-in-day-out struggles with depression and darkness.

All of which is to say, that is my big one. My main resolution for 2018. Put succinctly, “To explore the possibilities which might bring my life gratification.” I am open to suggestions and ideas and would love to hear from you if your journey has brought you to a place of such fulfillment. A place beyond the temporary high of a great movie, a good read, or a fabulous meal.

“More lasting happiness.” The kind that can’t be so quickly stolen by the downswing of depression. The kind that allows me to fall asleep with a smile on my face rather than the dread of another day waiting. The kind that allows deep sighs of contentment and peace.

Let the search begin.

 

Present Day, July 12th, 2017

Quality of life.

An improved quality of life.

Sitting in my therapist office, reflecting on his traditional opening question (“So, what are we going to talk about today?”), I found myself giving that answer. Because that is what I had reflected on recently. That is what my mind had been on during the drive over. That was what I had come to believe needed to be a significant goal for me going forward.

As the one year anniversary of my hospitalization (and subsequent release) approaches, I have been faced with the reality of having survived the breakdown. Since the first week of September last year, I have avoided any episodes along the lines or magnitude of that horrific week. It has not been easy. At times, harder than hell. But I have managed. I have given intense focus to the big three (Sleep, Therapy, Medications), and have tried to consider most other things the minors to those majors. I have attempted to reward myself more, punish myself less, recognize small accomplishments, and let other takers be my worst enemy rather than fulfilling that role myself. But that all has left me with the question, “Now what?”

That is what has been stuck in my craw (because in Kentucky, we use phrases like that). Now what? Or, put another way. Possibly a more negative way. The question might go like this: “Is this really as good as it gets?” Is this the way I need to anticipate living the rest of my life? Is this the best I can do? This combination of drugs providing this baseline of emotions just this side of depression. This cycle of sleep merging nights and naps and zombie like periods of awake. This week after week battle to get out of bed and knock another seven days off the calendar.Having survived the big scare, it seems logical that my attention might shift to the year after. And dare I venture to let my mind explore the possibility not merely of having survived, but now attempting to find a way to thrive.

Having survived the big scare, it seems logical that my attention might shift to the year after. And dare I venture to let my mind explore the possibility not merely of having survived, but now attempting to find a way to thrive.

I have set some goals as to what this might look like. First, I have more than five months left in the insurance year with my out-of-pocket limit reached. Therefore, I will be meeting with my medications coordinator next Tuesday and asking her if we might experiment a bit. Venture away from the only cocktail I have utilized since leaving the hospital in an effort to find something that leaves me a little less comatose. A little less down. A little less fat!

Second, the employment situation simply does not seem sustainable for the long haul of my life. The doctors in Chicago didn’t think it was. The team at home seems to question whether it is. My own physical and mental stability seems to doubt it. Granted, for us bipolar, few employment situations seem sustainable for the long haul, but I do think there are three standards I can improve on: a) a later wake-up time than 3 a.m., b) weekends off, and c) the ability to accrue some paid time off (i.e. vacation). Seems reasonable, right? In four more weeks, I will have two children living out-of-state, and I need the opportunity to visit them. This job simply does not afford that. Financially, or time wise.

Finally, and this one is so hard, I have to lose some weight. I’m up 20 lbs since leaving the hospital…as the staff there suggested it would be easy to be. I’m up 30 lbs since losing almost 50 roughly three years ago. It takes a toll on me physically, emotionally, and motivationally. So as much as I disdain working out and dieting…I have to lose weight if I want to improve my quality of life.

For much of this, I have less idea of how to make it happen than I do the need for it to happen. But this is the next year before me. A year of quality of life. A year of improved quality of life. As long as I’m going to stick around, seems like I might as well enjoy doing so.