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Second look: ON small steps

Posted Aug 25 2010 9:16am

I have a friend who has bipolar disorder who thinks she is a failure in recovery.  She has read how people in recovery can regain “normal lives” and she sees nothing normal about her life.

It has been a real fight for her to find medication that helps.  Side effects keep her life in constant turmoil.  She has gained 60 pounds of weight.  She has a family history of diabetes and is terrified that the metabolic effects of meds will result in diabetes for her.  She has poor insurance and has been unable to find a therapist to serve her.  Her psychiatrist has switched practices so she is not even sure what to do there.

She has a husband and children that she cares about deeply and who care about her.  They are all going through difficult times and she is worried gravely about them.  She copes daily with guilt over the harm she thinks her bipolar has done to them.

I don’t know how depressed she is, but she is very discouraged.  I keep trying to put things into perspective and emphasize how well, especially considering the circumstances, she is doing- but I am not sure how she buys it.

I told her once, “You are moving in the right direction.”  Her response was, “Maybe you are right. But why are the steps so slow?  Sometimes they are so slow it doesn’t seem like I am really moving.”

I know many people who essentially feel the same way.  “Why is it so hard?  Why does it take so long?  Is this really going to happen?”

I have thought about it a lot.  I normally don’t know what to say, but maybe 3 ideas are important:

  1. Recovery is so much more than finding the right medication.  The simple truth is that for many people medication is not a panacea.  It is a matter of trial and error and side effects bring problems of their own.  I think we sometimes set people up by trying to say it is easy if you get the right medication.  It amazes me that some people blame themselves when they don’t react in the “prescribed manner to medication.”  Bipolar is more than a problem “in” a person.  It is as much a problem “with” people and we do a real disservice by letting people believe that the right medication will make it “all right.”  There is no magic.
  2. Recovery occurs in the context of your life.  Life is hard and if your life is hard making progress with bipolar is not necessarily going to make your life easier.  For example many people with bipolar have had problems getting and keeping a job.  By it self making progress with your bipolar may not be enough to get you a job.  Relationships with other people do not all of a sudden get all better.  They have to be repaired and transformed.  You are likely to have past traumas and wounds to deal with that may take time.  You may still be doing basically good, but not feel a lot better if you are dealing with a lot of difficulties that take time to find closure to.
  3. The texture of our life depends greatly on the shifts in momentum that characterize daily living.  Many things we can not control.  All we can do is to make them more or less likely by doing things to effect the momentum of our lives.  Flowers do not bloom when the seeds are planted.  It takes some time and the timetable of blossoming may not be what we wish it to be.

I don ‘t know if this helps.  I think the longer you are in recovery the better it gets.  But I know too many people who like my friend believe that they are somehow messing up or that recovery is just a scam that doctors pull on you.  Being discouraged seems to be part of the experience of bipolar disorder.

I think it is just supposed to be slow and just supposed to be hard.  When it is that doesn’t mean you are a failure.  And if you are one of the lucky ones that things go quickly for stop and give thanks.  For you are indeed blessed.

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