The Question of Limitations

A while ago my friend Trish, creator of mentalhealthtalk.info asked me how I manage to cope with Bipolar Disorder, the pressures of university, all while getting excellent grades and reducing my medication.

I thought it was a good question, and said I would answer it on my blog.

That was three weeks ago.

It’s a straightforward question, with a fairly straightforward answer. So why has it taken me so long to do it? Why have I published other, unrelated posts ahead of it, and why have I not even put finger to keyboard and started writing?

The simple answer is that this question makes me uncomfortable.

It’s not that I think it shouldn’t be asked. It’s a great question, with an important answer. If I’m sharing my life with you, then you need to know this.

But this question brings to the surface issues that I tend to ignore. In fact, I’ve been ignoring these facts so well that I was unaware the issue even existed.

When I sat down to write this post I wrote a page worth of ramble before I even hit the topic itself, and I realized, I am trying to confront this, but I am avoiding it, even now.

Why?

I am ashamed.

I don’t want to admit that I have limitations.

I don’t want to admit that Bipolar Disorder makes me different.

I don’t want to be any less capable than anyone else.

I cannot keep up with people who don’t have Bipolar Disorder.

But I do have limitations. Bipolar does make me different. And I can’t keep up.

But  that doesn’t mean I am not as capable as someone else, it just means that I have to do things differently.

So how do I cope with Bipolar Disorder, get good grades, and reduce my medication?

Step 1) Acknowledge the fact I have limitations by identifying what those limitations are

I know that things preceeded by the words “too much” or “too many” are major triggers for me – too much work, too much stimulation, too much stress, too many deadlines, too much to do, too many responsibilities.

For me, too much is like water to the Wicked Witch of the West. Throw it on me, and I’ll melt to the ground.

Other things that trigger me are preceded by the words “not enough”– not enough sleep, not enough routine, not enough time, not enough exercise.

Knowing my triggers, and what I find challenging has allowed me to figure out how to work around those limitations.

Step 2) Live life within the confines of those limitations

To me, this doesn’t mean listing off a hundred things that I cannot do.

Instead, with the help of my father, I identified what is important to me, what I value, and what I need to do to live a meaningful and fulfilling life that I am satisfied with.

Once I knew what it is I actually valued (which was my career in clinical psychology), then I could look at whether it was realistic, and how to go about making it happen.

Practically, this translates into four things:

I acknowledge I cannot do what others do, and so I study on Limited Full-Time Status. This means I study part-time, and am still eligible for my student loan living costs because the government recognises my ‘disability’.

I acknowledge that I cannot work to support myself, as well as study and manage Bipolar, and so I remain financially (and emotionally) dependent upon my incredibly generous and supportive parents.

I acknowledge the fact I need extra financial assistance, and so have applied for a ‘Disability Allowance.’ This pays for some costs associated with Bipolar Disorder (e.g. Drs appointments, prescriptions, my gym membership).

I acknowledge that no matter what, my health must come first. This means I am deeply committed to remaining well. I do everything I can to help myself:

  • I always take my medication
  • I exercise regularly
  • I eat ridiculously healthy, and never skip meals
  • I don’t drink alcohol
  • I don’t take drugs
  • I manage stress (although I could improve on this…)
  • I have good social support
  • I spend time outside most days (nature is healing. For me anyway)
  • I go to bed and get up at the same time most nights

These behaviours make up the safety net the catches me should I fall. They make it possible for me to pick myself up, to bounce back, to carry on. They prevent major mood episodes from occurring.

Without these behaviours, no amount of financial, emotional or academic assistance could help me do what I do. I need my moods to be mostly stable for me to be successful.

I will admit that it hasn’t been easy. I didn’t always work out or eat salad!

It’s been 3 years and 8 months since my diagnosis. It’s taken me that long to get me where I am, to slow the rapid cycling, to instill new habits and new behaviours, to change my lifestyle, to acknowledge and work within the confines of my limitations. I’m still learning.

After a lifetime of disappointment, failure and berating myself for never reaching my full potential, I am finally doing it.

I set myself three goals this year: to reduce my medication as much as possible (at least 100mg), have completely stable mood, and to gain straight As in all my papers.

I have reduced my medication by 125mg. I have been mostly (90%) stable this year, and I have received straight As in all my courses.

Identifying and acknowledging my limitations, and accepting assistance when I need it has allowed me to be happier, healthier, more satisfied, more stable and more successful academically, and interpersonally, than I have ever been in my life.

Identifying and acknowledging what you cannot do, will lead you to discover all of the things that you can do.

It’s important to strive to do what is important to you.

It might not be exactly how you planned it. It may not take the form that you originally wanted. You might even need to reshape your expectations to fit within your limits (I know I did!). It certainly won’t be as easy, and it probably won’t happen as quickly. It will probably be grueling, punishing, painful sometimes. There will be tears, and there will be times you want to give up. It was all of these for me.

But somehow, in some form, in some way:  I managed to do what is important to me, and somehow, so can you.

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15 thoughts on “The Question of Limitations

  1. You have affirmed what I try to do everyday–work with my limits and self-care is #1. I need that affirmation as I am at the point of being very frustrated with what I cannot do.. I think more so in how long it takes me to do things now and that it is very hard for me to multitask. I have a hard time accepting that my experience and after-effects of mental illness have changed my capacity to do things and that I won’t be able to do what I did when I was “normal”.

    Thank you for being an example to me of someone who is focusing on what she values and reaching her goals.

    And thank you for answering my question and citing my blog! xo

    • Thank you for asking the question! I was surprised at how much I didn’t want to think about the limits I have, and I’m pleased it came to the surface. Initially, I felt quite negative about it. I was ashamed I was different from others, that I am considered ‘disabled.’ As I worked through this post I came to feel more positive about my limitations, and felt a sense of achievement in being able to know what they are and work within them.

      I really feel for you Trish – I never really had that “normal” comparison – and I feel for you because you do. I think that makes acceptance of new limitations and restrictions much more difficult.

      I think you are doing a fantastic job of re-shaping your life and expectations. Only good can come of your ability to do that.

  2. Bravo!! That was so well put. I wish I had my life as organized and thought filled as you do. I am still working on limitations. Over doing it a lot this year and feeling the stress. Congrats on your 90% stable year that is quite an accomplishment. I really enjoyed this post as it really got me thinking. Thank you!!

    • Thank you Shauna 🙂 I am pleased it got you thinking. That was my aim, I really want to help people to feel positive and enthusiastic about recovery, but in a realistic way. God knows it’s difficult to feel enthusiastic about recovery when it feels like the bad times will never end! And it’s certainly difficult to think about ways that something can be achieved, even if only partially, when our minds are depressed and can only see things as impossibilities.

      I think you have it quite tough because you have a lot of responsibilities, you have children and extra stresses and difficulties. That’s a lot to juggle, and I admire your ability to keep pushing on. I would love to know more about what you value in life, what is important to you and the limitations that you do have and how you work within them (or not!) – Maybe a topic for a post on your blog?

      • Im so sorry I was slow at getting to this.. trying to catch up on emails etc.. Good idea for a post.. I will have to work on that soon!! Its amazing really how we manage, most of the time Im not sure how I pull through it all.. Crap comes flying often in my life but I cant let it win and get to me.. deep breathes help a lot.. lol Happy New Year!

  3. You’re so much further along than I am. I just started to come to terms with my limitations and learning to live inside them. Which means not finishing classes on time, but needing a little extra to work around mood swings. I’ll probably also need a disability allowance too, not sure how long it’ll take me to swallow that pill. But congrats to you on being able to cope so well, I hope to be where you are at 3 years, hopefully I can get there sooner.

    • Thanks James. I have great faith in you. Your blog and your attitude towards your illness and recovery indicate you are willing to acknowledge the challenges you are facing and find ways to work through them. I imagine you will make great progress in the next 3 years, and I am very hopeful you reach a point of stability much, much sooner than that.

  4. Bravo! Putting your life into words is an incredible step! When you are feeling off balance come back and read this! It will be a reminder of what you have done that has worked! So glad you found my blog because I love reading yours. It is a reminder to myself as well. Why I worked so hard to get off of medication and why I still work so hard every day to stay balanced! Thank you so much, your words mean so much to me!

  5. It is a challenge to put your life into words. Taking a malika Bournestep forward to do this is a great leap on a new journey. Well done.
    I try to think about all the ABILITIES I have and focus on them raher than MY DISABILITY then I don’t feel so overwhelmed.
    I could dwell on the fact that I had three hospitalizions in the last 12 months and foerget that I had not had a hospitalization in 5 years.
    I had worked with a sleep specialist about improving my sleep hygeine. I do have have a sleep disorder along with apnea. My point is that I have broken down issues one by one – the things I can change and worked on them.
    Twenty some years ago I said to my therapist, “I can’t do ANYTHING. Boo hoo.” She replied to look at my self. I had gotten out of bed, gotten dressed and I smelled good so I must have showered. Then I made it to my appointment. How many things did I do? So now everyday I get out of bed whether I want to or not. Then I know I did accomplish at leat one big task.
    Thanks for putting together this blog.

    • Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to give me feedback and share some of your story with me. It is always so tough to focus on the positives as opposed to your negatives – many people would be overwhelmed by 3 hospitalisations in a year, but looking at the big picture and seeing you hadn’t had any in 5 years is really what counts. Life is long-term after all! And you are right, getting out of bed is a big task at different times in our lives, and even if our depressed brains tell us it is useless, and not something to be proud of – it really truly is.

    • Thank you Shauna, you are too kind. I am still working on nominations for the other one!!! Thank you for all of your wonderful support. It is so much appreciated – hard to get across via a textbox just how much xx

  6. Wow! Well put! Thanks for taking the time to really think about this and break it down for us. You have done well in three and a half years. I think it took longer for me to get where you are. But it was worth it. My favourite comment in your post was this: “Identifying and acknowledging what you cannot do, will lead you to discover all of the things that you can do.” May I quote you sometime in my own blog? By the way, I am linking to you and plan to subscribe. I like your writing and your positive proactive ideas. Keep up the good work and congratulations on how far you’ve gotten.

    • Thank you Wendy! Your comment made my day. My apologies for taking so long to respond. I am more than happy for you to quote me in your blog, and I am so pleased you like my writing enough to link and subscribe. Thank you!!!!! I am pleased my post has resonated with those reading it. I try and write things I would have found helpful if I were not in the spot I am in right now, and I am so pleased my writing has come across as positive and proactive – that is what I am about. I read so many blogs where people are seriously unwell and so miserable. With mine, I wanted to provide some solace, some hope that we are not doomed. Thanks for reading, and I will be sure to stop by and visit you at your blog.

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