That I would be good even if I did nothing
That I would be good even if I got the thumbs down
That I would be good if I got and stayed sick
That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds
That I would be fine even if I went bankrupt
That I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth
That I would be great if I was no longer queen
That I would be grand if I was not all knowing
That I would be loved even when I numb myself
That I would be good even when I am overwhelmed
That I would be loved even when I was fuming
That I would be good even if I was clingy
That I would be good even if I lost sanity
That I would be good whether with or without you
–Alanis Morrisette “That I Would Be Good”
Recently, I had a difficult conversation with someone I love and respect. I asked him, “Do you think I’m a good person?” He thought about it.
“I think you’re a good person,” he said, “I just think you’re broken. I don’t know why I keep attracting broken people.”
“Water seeks its own level,” I mumbled. Most likely, that’s the last conversation we’ll ever have.
In the wake of that hard conversation, I have a few questions:
- Is it possible for me to just get a “Yes”?
- How good do I have to be, exactly?
- How many mistakes am I permitted to make before I’m not good?
- How will I know when I am good?
- How sustainable is good?
- Is good ever other than subjective and open to interpretation?
- What is good anyway?
I know I’m kind. I know what kindness, empathy and compassion are. I’ve discovered in the midst of this most recent bipolar cycle that I am kinder to others when I have depression. I am trying (now) to offer myself the same kindness, empathy and compassion I so readily offer others. I may be wrong, but I think people living with depression are perhaps more capable of that. I know what it’s like to have served in the army on the losing side, and to have come home from the war. I used to suppress self-compassion. It was impossible to pinpoint my needs during depression, other than fight, flight or freeze. Fighting is the internal battle against shame, guilt, self-judgment, fear and self-loathing, and the negative thoughts disguised as the truth. They are bullying bastards with sharp teeth.
Fleeing is when mania barges into my head space like Seth Rogen with a pack of cigarettes, a box of wine, and a bag full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, proclaiming, “I know just what to do!” Don’t get me wrong–I like Seth Rogen. I have a big crush on that man. Mania loves a good crush.
Freezing is when I become a glacier. It is the numbing permafrost that keeps me on the couch, in the bed, without a care in the world…which isn’t a good thing. Sometimes not having a care in the world means I don’t give a shit about anything or anyone, especially myself. Because I don’t want to remain trapped in the cycle of “Bad Me”, it becomes easier to focus on others, on what I can control, and on what my basic needs are one day at a time. I stick to a consistent sleeping and waking schedule. I make the bed, I shower and brush my teeth even though it’s a mammoth task. I limit alcohol and stimulants. I eat, or I try to at least. I meditate even though the negative thoughts are loud and hard to be with. I limit my exposure to others, and yet I try to use the phone to stay connected. I don’t want to infect anyone, after all.
It’s the same self-care I need when I’m sick, when I feel unattractive, and when I’m a hot mess. I need someone to tell me that all of this is temporary, and that no matter what’s happening, that I am kind, that I am loved even when I don’t feel it, and that I am good even when I don’t believe it.
Those of us who struggle with bipolar disorder, crippling anxiety and depression know we’re not alright–or rather–all right. We want to be good boys and girls, and sometimes we keep those we love at a safe distance to avoid causing collateral damage. When bipolar depression comes, I direct what kindness, compassion and attention I have left to others because it’s the bottom of the ninth inning and I need a win. I tell myself “I might feel worthy again if I can just help someone else.” I lose the clear vision to see my own basic goodness, and lose the voice to ask for help finding it again. It may be a needle in a haystack, but it’s always there waiting to be found. When I risk vulnerability and allow others to help me, we find it together. Always.
If you know someone and/or love someone who has bipolar disorder, here’s a tip:
Don’t ask me “Are you okay?” when it’s clear I’m not. I will lie to protect you, keep on smiling, and tell you I’m fine.
Fine, as I’ve learned in therapy, is an acronym for Feelings Inside Not Expressed. I’m feeling hopeless and afraid and trying my best to keep from unraveling. Fear is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real…or as I learned in 12 step…Fuck Everything And RUN.
Don’t ask “Are you okay?” Tell me I’m not okay, and that you’re not going anywhere. Stay by my bedside until I’m well enough to stand up again.
When I’m sinking, your presence and compassion are the life preservers I need the most.