Nothing has challenged my journey with bipolar 1 disorder more than when my family has undermined my mental health plan. Not only must I continue my full-time battle of self-care and adjustment (Mothering with an Invisible Mental Illness), I must also work overtime to address the vicious words of family members that infect my mind and impede my wellness. After 15 years of living with bipolar 1 disorder, I have learned that when family members attack my mental health wellness plan, I must readjust my definition of family in order to stay well.
I Work Hard to Not Undermine My Mental Health
My mental health plan looks a lot like a very balanced life: lots of sleep, downtime, good food, regular therapy and doctor’s appointments, time praying and reflecting, and doing work that is meaningful (Taking Care of Myself is the Best Way to Care for My Family). But when you look more closely, you will see that every day is a balancing act–a give and a take–with a constant, organic measure of self-correction. Sometimes I get the balance right, sometimes I over-correct. Sometimes I get going too fast and I need to slam on the brakes. Life isn’t a formula that I can fix at 7:00 a. m. and then coast throughout the rest of the day. Life sometimes needs to be adjusted.
This adjusting has been the hardest part of being well for me because adjusting usually means changing speed or direction. “Adjusting” means postponing, changing plans, and letting people down. And as much as I try not to get myself over committed and overexposed, it happens. Kids get sick and need a mama at 2:00 a. m. to rub their back. Husbands travel for work. Coworkers need time off and I stay past my contracted time. Life interrupts my perfectly laid plans and I end up having to adjust them to reestablish balance.
People-Pleasing Undermines My Mental Health Plan
I have spent over a decade trying to please people at all costs, even if it means I get sick in the process (Being a People Pleaser Because of Bipolar). Every time I have known it was not good for me to show up at a party, go ahead with a commitment I could not handle, or push past my breaking point to please another, the cost has been cruel and deep. One night of self-neglect can land me in a quagmire of depression—sometimes suicidality—and halts my progress mentally, emotionally, and professionally for months.
And now, after writing and blogging and owning this illness, after prioritizing my own health and happiness as an essential component of my daily routine, I am unwilling to sacrifice my wellbeing to please people. And this now has become the litmus test for who I choose to have in my inner circle: if you try to shame me, abuse me, beat me down for doing what I must to stay healthy, you need to stay away from me.
Family Who Undermine My Mental Health Aren’t Family
Getting myself out of bed, brushing my teeth, and braving the world is a magnificent feat of prayerful valor for me, every single day. My bipolar disorder fights every day to convince me to stay in bed, stay defeated, stay sick, stay convinced that I am broken and worthless and not even worthy of breath. And so if I not only have to fight to get out bed and get dressed and keep breathing, and also fight to defend my self-saving battle, then how can I possibly ever move forward?
I can spend months working through a vicious attack from one family member. The caustic words of a loved one can infect my head like a lice infestation, sending little bugs to crawl and itch inside my consciousness. All the extra effort, all the energy that I have left over after fighting my battle just to stay alive must be utilized to destroy the infection caused by one family member’s ruthless attacks. And it’s embarrassing and humbling to admit that the banal, baseless indictments of people who care so little can cause so much disruption in my daily life.
The scary truth is that my mind wants to believe those things. My mind wants to have more reasons for me to stop setting boundaries, stop putting breaks on, and stop taking care. This illness, at any moment, can devour me if I let my guard down. There is nothing like a loved one’s vicious words to poison my brain just that much more and leave me that much more vulnerable to falling ill (What Is Verbal Abuse?).
New Definition of Family: Those Who Support Your Mental Health Plans
One of the deepest truths I have ever come to own is that my worth is not tied to what I do. I am worthy of love and friendship and kindness because of who I am, not because of how many events I attend or how much I serve. If I am to be deemed worthy and loved only when I do what others think I must, then I am giving myself away to the wrong people. If I am to be harassed and accused of selfishness when I’m chin-deep in a battle just to stay alive, then I need to run from those harassers and build a wall high enough to protect my battling mind from their accusations.
That demanding, debasing, depersonalizing “love” isn’t love at all. I know that now because I have people who really do love me even if I have to cancel plans at the last minute. They love me even if I can’t perform because they want me to be whole and happy. They want me filled to the brim with life. They want to share that life with me. They want to help me fight my fight to get healthier and stronger because that’s what love does. Love builds. Love cheers. Love takes turns. Love pours forth grace and holds its tongue when it doesn’t understand. Love also picks up a few books and reads up on a loved one’s mental illness. Love leaves us better, more full, more understood. Loves doesn’t empty us dry and then smash our pitcher when we can’t give anymore. I am worthy of that love and so are you.
In the end, I choose my own health, my own life, and my own family’s wellness over any other person or commitment. I build high walls to keep out those who will not honor that need and wide gates to usher in those who will. “Family” is more than just a shared name. Family is a shared life of wellness.