Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Illness and Surrender

I am bipolar.  I have been since my junior year in college.  Since then I have managed my illness; sometimes successfully and sometimes less so.   It is a source of pain.  Arguably the deepest cutting pain is for someone to think that I am "geting sick" .    Of course at times it has been a needed statement and the most loving of observations.  Still it is arguably my most painful phrase and greatest fear.  Why? 

True liberation is not fearlessness.   It's facing fear even though it's there.  It's an intimacy with fear.   It's the ability to hold fear close as well as anything else and not push it away.   So let's take a look.  Of what am I afraid?  To be crazy, to get sick, is to be out of control. Even those basic assumptions about what is real and what is not, what is a dream and what is not, all come into question in psychosis.  There is also the potential that I would hurt myself or others amidst a psychotic episode.  These are things of which to be frightened, especially given my value of love and compassion. Even as I write them I can feel the knot it creates.  I can feel mysefl saying --  not me, I couldn't be that way.  It is a drive to disconnect, to separate, to create a boundary by elevating myself by comparison.  It is an endeavor doomed to failure.   At the same time though, I begin to feel the tenderness of that raw spot.  It's heart breaking really.  How fragile it all is, how human it is to strike or to  lash out because we got hurt and because we didn't didn't know any better. Really underneath it all, we all want to know that we belong, that we're good deep down, that we are loved. What would happpen if we believed that all would be ok no matter what - not because of anything we did or didn't do but simply because we are.   We forget who we are.  We define our totality in such limited ways.  The confusion comes because we gloss the connections to all else that is ever present.  We are worthy simply because we are; we exist.   There is nothing outside of this moment that we are in that anyone needs.

Back to fear.  Back to psychoses.  Back to control.   Here is a list of my worries, and fears about "getting sick." 
  • That I've failed - have not done enough , have not tried hard enough
  • That I've let others down
  • That I will never come out of that fog
  • That I will harm someone or myself
  • That I will lose my job
  • That I won't ever be able to function again
  • That my partner will leave me
  • That I will say hurtful things to others especially those whom I love
  • That I will cause enormous pain for others around me
  • That I have not faced life with utmost integrity
  • That there is something wrong with me
  • That I am unlovable
Let's take a minute to explore failure.  I do not like to fail.  I have not done it often.   Failure is painful.  Why?  I take failure to indicate something about me.  It is hard to separate failing from who I am.  Failure, especially in those endeavors that are dear, seems to indicate something about me and it is further evidence of my inadequacy and not belonging.  Failure in areas that are important to me personally seems to send the message that I am not ok.  It is a judgement that I am not enough.   It is easy to equate success and failure on a given endeavor, as saying something immutable about us.   Each is magnified because they feel like they come from our unique expression. Success feels like a positive acknowledgement of our unique expression and rejection like the a negation of our expression. It that really true?  Of course what we forget is that both success and failure are always filtered through the eyes of the one making that determination. And ultimately true success is how life itself expresses itself through you and that is much larger than one's art  or what one does and how it is viewed by the world. True success in this more absolute realm is really about being an instrument of truth and love and that is a moment to moment endeavor that is not always measured by worldly success and is not measured by form.

  • When was the last time you failed?
  • When was the last time you "tried" your absolute hardest?
  • When was the last time you tried something new or that you were not good at?
  • When was the last time you succeeded at something?
  • When was the last time you were praised for something you did?
  • When was the last time you were castigated for something you did?
  • How did you feel in all of these instances?
  • What went into your successes and failures?  Does that belong to "you"
  • What would happen and how would you feel if you tried your absolute hardest and still failed?

On the other hand, failure (and success too) can be incredibly powerful gateways towards surrender.  I suspect when you truly realize there is nothing you can do, and yet you have not succeeded or you have succeeded but are still not satisfied,  then grace, spirit, divinity can aid.  Surrender can enter.   Don't confuse giving up with surrender though.  Giving up is very different than complete surrender.  Giving up often has a a quality of hope or frustration, as if registering your irritation with the heavens will fix the situation or with hope there is still the tiny part that holds out that it will be different. The quality of surrender is a kind of equanimity that simply says  "this is how it is."  There is a quietness about surrender.  There is a stillness to it.

Dante suggested that above the gates of hell was written "abandon all hope ye who enter here" but  perhaps these are not the gates to hell at all, but to heaven.  Perhaps it is only when we have abandoned hope of changing, improving or creating a better me or better world or a better heaven that grace that fill us with the capacity to act in its behalf.  That grace will give us the eyes to see the heaven that exists in the current, the perfection that is manifesting now.  This is when life truly  begins.  In this, perhaps my sickness is is my greatest gift and my biggest opportunity.   In this, my sickness offfers my greatest chance for surrender.

So what does surrender look like with respect to my mental illness.  I started to write "internalizing that I will never get better" and while this may almost seem right at first,  it is not. I do not know that I will or won't get better.   The statement "internalizing that I will never get better" truly means I am clinging to the idea that I will get sick which is hardly any better than the thought that I won't.   It means that the dark hole of not knowing is too hard and not being able to plan for it is so frightening I would rather resign myself to "getting sick at some other point"   To hang out in the realm of uncertainty is more challenging.  The truer reality is I don't know.  Real freedom lies in the discomfort  of NOT KNOWING.

Managing my illness has some different pitfalls that perhaps don't surface as much with some other illnesses.  The mind is often considered the seat of who we are. When the brain is declared dead, we are declared dead.  It's what we say distinguishes us from animals.  So, when that essential tool functions in ways that are societally problematic or when the mind seems broken or in need of help, it can be easy to blame oneself for the problem.  Did I not do enough?  Did I "think" the right thoughts?  Did I let too much stress into my life? Did I not monitor myself more carefully?  Fill in the blank --  thought ostensibly drives the behavior.  As I write this I am realizing that I imagine this must be a part other illnesses too but I don't wonder if the element of "well this simply happened" has more space to grow.  With the mind it is sometimes hard to separate "I" am not a function of my thinking.  It is very easy to blame oneself when the mind gets sick.

Managing my illness is different than surrender.  Surrender includes management and yet is larger than it.  Surrender does not  mean that I stop taking my medication or seeing the pyschiatrist or my therapist or stop listening to their suggestions.  I suspect it means fully and completely acknowledging the pain of living with my mental illness.  It also means the courage to not be complacent or passive about any part of my care.   It is comprised of truth telling and facing consequences. Too often I am inclined to accept the opinions of medical experts without letting them know how it is affecting me or what I want from life.   I suppose it means at its heart looking at the pain that bipolarity raises of not being enough, of simply being flawed or wrong and its implications in all areas. 

The funny part is of course that something is wrong and something is flawed.  That is the human condition.  And we often spend our lives in search of better "me's'" striving for perfection, striving for the perfect personality, acting this way so these people will like us or not judge us; acting in another manner to curry the favor of others, but no one is without flaw, no one is always correct, no one is without sin.  The beautiful part is that it does not matter.  Enlightenment has been defined as "without anxiety about imperfection"  I think that is a lovely description.  It is the perfection intrinsic to imperfection.  With that recognition comes authenticity, truth,  freedom and love. Relating from that recognition the whole to whole; not fractured insufficiencies endlessly comparing and competing in an dance of upmanship, would make for an interesting world.

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