Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Looking For the Silver Lining

I write often about the negatives of having a mental health condition. Because honestly, there are many negatives, and I think it's important to be open and honest about them - how else can we fight stigma. However, having cyclothymia has been a significant learning experience, and while I do not want to use the word positive in conjunction with having a chronic, lifelong medical condition, I have to say, I've made some strides personally that I'm not sure I would have if it wasn't for the every day battle of mood cycling.

  • I've learned to have a sense of humor about myself. How can you not? The options are to laugh at yourself first, or have other people do it for you. I've learned that when you call yourself out on all of your quirks, your behaviors, your symptoms, etc, it takes the power away from anyone who was planning to use it against you. And so, you laugh. 
  • I have learned not to take little things for granted. It's amazing to wake up and not feel depressed or hypomanic.  It's fantastic to go into a social setting and not feel like the walls are closing in. It feels wonderful to laugh, to cry happy tears instead of sad ones. I know people who have lost loved ones to the battle of depression and mood cycling. I am thankful every day that I am still alive. I have now made suicide awareness and prevention one of my greatest causes. 
  • I have learned to be myself. I don't see the world the way others do, and vice versa. I used to try. Now I just say &%*^ it, this is me. Like it or don't. It's a shame if you don't, but you know what? I can't change the way you think. I can only change my reaction to it. And my reaction these days is to say, "I'm sorry we can't see eye to eye on our opinions of me." 
  • I have made friends in the mental health community that I never would have been in touch with otherwise. We've bonded over tweets, texts, and online groups, often because we literally live thousands of miles apart. Many times, these are the only people who I can talk to when I have a bad cycle that will truly understand. They can empathize, instead of just sympathize. These wonderful people would never have come into my life but for my cyclothymia. 
  • I have learned that, as the saying goes, everyone is fighting their own battle. I've been judged and stigmatized for mine. I refuse to do that to others. Now, I'm much more able to say "I know that person was a jerk to me, but maybe he/she is going through something really rough. Maybe they have no confidence and therefore have to put me down to feel good. That's a shame. I feel sorry for him/her." I can distance myself from it more easily and look at the whole picture instead of casting blame. 
  • I have learned to express myself creatively. There are people who are against the "mood cyclers are more creative" thought, and I can understand that. People don't want to connect their disease to themselves intrinsically. But I personally feel that, if it isn't specifically linked to my creative genes, it's helped me to open them up. By accepting my condition, I've allowed my brain to expand in directions I hadn't before, and I've embraced it.  The directions in which my brain extends cause enough trouble - I might as well let it be advantageous where it can.
Do not think, for a second, that I enjoy having cyclothymia. It sucks, to be plain honest. I battle it every day of my life, and will continue to do so until the day I die. But when you are diagnosed with a condition such as this, you have two choices: you can throw a pity party, wish you were "normal", and constantly try to combat it, or you can embrace it, and get what good you can from it. To me, it's a clear choice... live my life feeling frustrated and inferior, or grow from it. I've chosen the latter. 

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