Major life changes. They say for those of us with mental illness that major life changes can be more difficult. Things like making a move to a new home, a new job or having a baby. They change your life so drastically that they make everything else in your life come to a stop. Recently, even though I have bipolar 1 disorder, I decided to not just tackle one major life change but two of them simultaneously.
I stopped driving in 2014 after I received a DUI for my medication for my bipolar disorder. I decided not to start driving again because my medication isn’t an option for me, sometimes I do not realize that I am still too groggy to drive, and I believe it is the responsible thing to do to keep myself and other drivers safe. However, I live 25 minutes from the closest town in the middle of cornfields in central Illinois, in a small village of a town that doesn’t have a stop light, a gas station, or even a pop machine. We do however have a Post Office that is open till 10 AM. Seriously though, it has 640 people and that is it.
For me, not driving hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world. It means that my support systems must travel almost an hour to take me anywhere. Half hour here and a half hour back, and then to take me back home it’s another hour for them. It has been a long four years.
We made the decision, when the offer was made to us this year, to purchase my in-laws home in the major city close by. We instantly started renovations on our home. It was a process to get it ready for market. To call it a major undertaking is putting it lightly. We had done almost no upkeep on our home, except the absolute must-dos for the last 18 years.
At the same time, I began volunteering out in the work force again for the first time in almost 3 years. I had stopped being the president of my local affiliate of NAMI a few months prior, which was always an at home position and on my own time. I began to work again as a volunteer at a local non-profit counseling agency as a desk person one day a week.
Once I started as a desk person I asked the counseling director a question I had always hoped I could ask at some point, which was: “I want to be a CRSS (certified recovery support specialist) what do you think about that happening?” The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for their agency’s development. They were rapidly growing, and it felt like a natural thing to have a recovery support provider on as a service provider, and I took on a dual role at the agency. I kept working as a desk person and then began as a support provider.
What have I done to make sure that I don’t have a major episode during these two major life changes?
First, I made sure I know how to say no. Many times, I find myself a very big people pleaser. I fear judgement and want everyone to like me, I often will go over and above to make sure that happens. I had to learn how to tell people I love no. I had to tell people “No, I can’t cover your desk shift” or “No, I am sorry I can’t run the support group this weekend.” I had to learn that my time was very limited and that during this time I wasn’t going to be able to be all things to everyone.
Second, I had to make sure that my support team knew I was going to need extra support. That during this time I was going to be a handful. I explained to them that the stress for someone even without mental illness can cause someone to have a hard time and even end relationships. I made sure to convey what I may need, and I let them know that it was important that we do the things I needed to make it through this change episode free.
Finally, I made sure not to give up completely on my self-care. I will admit that I haven’t gotten to do as much as I would like and as we get the house on the market today, I am relieved by the fact that I can get back to the gym this following week. (I would say tomorrow but I am going to Chicago to see Luke Bryan in Concert.) I have still made sure that my husband and I have taken weekends off when I needed a break from the house renovations to see friends and I have made sure to go to a concert here or there for my beloved country music. I truly believe that self-care is an art that to many people let slide away from them and that is why so many never make it through their life changes. The art of self-care should be practiced not just by those of us with bipolar disorder or mental illness but everyone, even people who have a perfectly normal brain.
There were many times over the last three months as I was starting these two major life changes that I thought about giving up on the process of doing these very worthwhile things. I am glad I haven’t stopped, and I have learned over the years, ways to be mentally strong enough to tackle some of the biggest changes that a person can go through. By saying no, having a strong support team and communicating with them and then by practicing the art of self-care I have gotten a good start on a new career and I have renovated my house, along with my family, to a place that we can get it on the market.
I know I still have many challenges to go through before either process is over. However, if I continue to use my bipolar care plan, plus continue to keep the course I have set for myself, I am positive I can do both things and come out episode free.