It’s pretty common for women to talk about the tricky proposition of balancing the many elements of their lives. In fact, I know few women who don’t worry about getting a proper balance, let alone maintaining it. But having mental health issues just makes that balancing act that much more difficult. I can say from years of experience that it’s a razor-thin line; right on one side I might feel a little overwhelmed but still OK; on the other side, I’m far past overwhelmed: I’m stressed, I’m drowning, I’m angry and lashing out at whoever comes too close. The latter is not a pretty picture, and I don’t like thinking about the times I’ve been pushed too far on that side of the line.
What my psychiatrists and I are currently calling bipolar II or atypical bipolar disorder causes me to experience a kind of hopeless feeling in which I rarely feel that kind of depression that makes me not want to get out of bed. It’s more of an angry depression. I feel isolated, alone, abandoned by all who should love me and somehow care and know me well enough to be able to see what’s happening and help. When I feel that way, in the very extreme times, I feel that life won’t possibly get better, that I can’t take the psychological pressure that seems to be pressing in on every side of me. I just feel angry at everyone who could possibly be blamed, including God. When the anger kind of dies out, I feel depleted and in despair. So I “swing” back and forth between a sad, hopeless depression and an angry depression, if that makes any sense. I’ll try to explain further in later posts. Suffice it to say, yes, I am a type-A personality, but I’m also typically a fairly cheery, happy person who always has a smile on my face. So when I get backed into these corners where I feel trapped and angry, the rage that almost flares up out of nowhere feels so at odds with who I feel I AM that it upsets me even further.
That brief introduction to my moods is just to somehow try to explain that I can quickly get out of balance. After years of this kind of yo-yo-ing, I can feel when I’m getting close to the brink, and I start feeling desperate. I know I need some down time, alone time, unwinding time to try to swing myself back to a more stable self. The problem is when I feel I don’t have the choice to just say no to activities or pressures or expectations from others.
Some people are more sensitive about this than others. Again, finding balance is always a delicate proposition, and many people understand this for themselves and that it’s the same situation for others. Some are just more empathetic about others’ needs as they bump into their own needs. I admit I get a little irritable when I say, “Well, I can only do ___ because I am pretty busy.” In my mind, that’s me being responsible enough to know my limits and exercise my personal choice to lay down those limits and work around them. When someone else responds, “Well, yes, sure, but we’re ALL busy,” I know they’re not really going to be too respectful of whatever line I’m going to draw for myself. Or they may say, “Yes, well, but (____ organization) really NEEDS you.” Sure, every organization that relies on volunteer help of any kind always needs help and never has enough. But I cannot possibly do enough to fill in those gaps, for that group or any other. Or I might just say flat-out, “No, I simply don’t have the time and energy to do that right now,” and rather than saying, “Oh, of course, don’t worry about it. We’d love your help, but we understand that” they keep pressing on in some way. These responses essentially tell me that these people value their needs above mine. And sure, we tend to be selfish beings and that’s natural. But I certainly appreciate it when someone else rises above those human tendencies and tells me, “That’s fine. You do what you need to do.” I so greatly value when they have the kindness to respect my choice, my right to make decisions for my own life and that of my family.
You see, I know what my limits are, and I’m constantly doing the balancing act. I am a softie at heart, and I want to give my money and time to a whole lot of worthy causes, worthy people. My heart goes out to them. I may even sometimes foolishly say yes or maybe when I should have said no because I’m biting off more than I can chew or even get in my mouth at one time. But when it comes down to it, my mental health must stay intact, so I can be happy, so I can take care of my family (which is paramount in my life above all the other things that matter to me), and so I can in the future continue to give to others. Simply, it rankles me when others don’t respect that I should know best for my own life and my own well-being and continue to push me when I say no. It ticks me off. Big-time. But on the flip side, I feel respected and cared about when someone is kind enough to take me at my word and wish me the best. Perhaps I expect too much out of people, but I would love to see more sensitivity in how people treat each other. There’s just no way of knowing what someone else is going through. I’m being open here on this blog so I can help others understand what I’ve experienced, but I simply can’t go through my whole personal history every time someone demands justification for me saying no. Thank you for being understanding, those of you who have been and continue to be so with me.