Controlling the Wave vs. Riding It

For several years I fully believed that if I controlled everything around me I could also control my bipolar symptoms, and that by eliminating all possible triggers I could also eliminate the possibility of intense episodes.

By controlling things like diet, sleep, exercise, and more I found that things were significantly improved, but at the same time, attempting to control everything around me was exhausting. Trying to control everything at the same time felt like a torturous juggling act that would never end, and that is one of the biggest reasons I began trying the traditional pharmaceutical route again a couple years ago. Any help I could get to manage my symptoms became a welcome notion, trying to do everything myself left me wiped out and unable to keep fighting.

It seems like just as there is a spectrum of symptoms for people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there is a spectrum of views on how to manage it.

Living in the realm of intended total control put me at one end of that spectrum, but I have also witnessed the other end up close and personal as well. When I was younger I spent a brief period of time with a religious congregation that believed that my symptoms and subsequent episodes had little, if nothing, to do with what was going on around me, and that by relinquishing all control to God I would be freed of bipolar disorder.

I’m sure most of you know I am not here to condemn any view, belief, or way people with mental illness seek solace -in fact, I definitely encourage people to learn as much as they can about different views on the notion of mental illness and then make their own decision based on what feels right for them.

Saying that, I have to admit that relinquishing all control did not seem to make things easier for me. At the same time, attempting to control absolutely everything had the same outcome; it was not making things easier for me.

For a while I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, if wrestling a beast left me so tired I couldn’t get back up to fight its second wind, and trying to ride it by simply just holding on meant being bucked off over and over again before it was finally subdued, what strategy can I use?

By now I’ve really fallen into a place where controlling those elements around me is helpful, but needs to be met halfway with the idea that if I can’t subdue the tidal wave when it is beginning, it is sometimes more realistic to just batten down the hatches and ride it with what strength I have left. Once the wave becomes a certain size it is important for me to step back and say, “alright, I don’t think I can control this thing anymore, it is time to ask for help wherever I can and ride it out until it finally breaks.”

I can’t say that this has been a magical fix-it solution, in fact I’m really just giving this theory a go the past few months for the first time. I don’t think that just because neither of the extremes of these notions worked well for me it means there isn’t something in them that is helpful and important to learn. It just means that each person is an individual, that our beliefs and the ways we take on the world are all different, and sometimes they change as we do.

5 responses to “Controlling the Wave vs. Riding It

  1. There is a British dr named Liz Miller who had several psychotic manic episodes, as well as depression. She claims to have cured her disorder with no meds. She says you have to (among other things) eat home-cooked food every day and avoid stress. She had to downgrade her job from neurosurgeon to GP to achieve this…

  2. (I know her because she appeared in Stephen Fry’s Secret Life Of A Manic-Depressive documentary…)

  3. Yes! I can relate. I have had people tell me that my mental illness symptoms were a result of a spiritual malady which is not the whole truth in my case.

    I believe for me, it takes both spiritual and medical intervention. it is a balance between the two that works for me. the medical aspects helps me learn to control what I can and the spiritual aspect helps me learn to accept and ride out the things that I cannot control. it’s a balance like everything else especially for someone with bipolar disorder.

    great post. thanks!

  4. I read a v interesting article by a person in psychotic mania who says it was an episode of spiritual growth…..

    if you want to see the Stephen Fry documentary, I posted it up today in its entirety

  5. AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! LOVE THIS POST! I completely approach treating my bipolar in this way. I also like the idea of riding the waves because it puts a positive spin on facing waves. Waves can be really destructive, or really fun if you know how to surf!

    “Once the wave becomes a certain size it is important for me to step back and say, “alright, I don’t think I can control this thing anymore, it is time to ask for help wherever I can and ride it out until it finally breaks.” That’s a great point–I need to learn to do that more.

    Thanks for the great post!

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