Expectations. Every human being on the face of this planet – living in the past, present, and in the future – had, has, or will have expectations in their life. We all expect certain things from not only ourselves, but also those around us. We expect our leaders to know what they’re doing (I’ll give you a chance to get the laugh out), we expect our doctors to know what they’re doing when we go in for a visit, and we expect the driver in the car next to us not to unexpectedly swerve into our lane. These are just a handful of expectations that we have day-in and day-out. They are reasonable expectancies to have in our minds. However, then there are those that we think are reasonable, but in fact are not. We all hold ourselves up to a list – either written or unwritten – of ideas of what our lives should be about. The problem arises, though, when we begin to push our own expectations onto others. Suddenly, without even realizing it, at some point or another we have all pushed our own expectations onto someone else. And, unfortunately, our loved ones are usually the ones being pushed.
We’re human. This is what humans do. We can only view the world and live in the world from our own personal perspectives. We cannot view life from any other point-of-view than our own. However, if we do not realize this, then we will continue to do this over and over again, to the detriment of our relationships.
As I’ve been in therapy for these last couple of years since my diagnosis, I have learned a lot about myself. And, as I’ve learned that others’ expectations have been pushed onto me, I’ve also done some good pushing myself. I’ve begun to change this throughout these past couple of years, though. Does that mean I’ll never do it again in the future? No, I’ll probably do it until the day I die, but at least I’ll be more aware of it, and be able to put a stop to it.
So, how does this relate to what my blog is about? Well, I’ve discovered something since my diagnosis. People tend to think that how they feel is how those of us with bipolar, anxiety, OCD, or any other mental illness should feel.
What I’ve realized these past couple of years is that I’m never going to satisfy every single person in my life. I’ve tried to do that since childhood, always trying to please others and never wanting to let anyone down. But, as I’ve dealt with coming to terms with my diagnosis, I’ve realized that that’s never going to happen. I will never please everyone. And, I shouldn’t have to do so. This is my life and no one else’s. Here’s the thing… I’ve been told this before. This isn’t some new and profound epiphany. This is a fact that has been presented to me many times before. However, it is only now that it is finally starting to ring true for me.
The reason is pretty clear to me now, and that’s because when our loved ones around us do not fully understand what those of us with bipolar, anxiety, OCD, and any other mental illness are going through, then we cannot expect (hey, there’s that word again) that they will be pleased with everything that happens with us.
When it comes to mental illness, there’s a serious problem that seems to exist in the realm of ‘expectations’. If you see someone sitting in a wheelchair, chances are that you will not go up to that person and say, “Hey! You’ve been in that wheelchair way too long. I had a friend who was in a wheelchair once and they were out of it after two months, so you’ve been in that thing for way too long. Get up!” Yeah, if you do that, I’d back up, because you may just get a serious punch to the gut.
The same goes for someone with Diabetes. I don’t know anyone who would tell a Diabetic to stop taking their medicine or watching their sugars. I can’t imagine someone telling a diabetic that he or she just needs to pray and it will all go away. And, I definitely can’t imagine someone telling a diabetic that they have had their illness for too long and it should be gone by now.
So, why is it that when it comes to bipolar, anxiety and OCD, and any other emotional problem, some people view it and think it’s something that needs to just go away. That those of us dealing with it are not doing something right, therefore we’re at fault for what is happening to us. Just to clarify, I speak in the “us” and “we’re” sense, but I’m going off of my own experiences, and not trying to generalize all people into this same category. But, as I’ve read many bipolar forums and blogs on the Web, I’ve noticed a reoccurring frustration, and it is that of people having the expectations of their loved ones thrust onto their shoulders. “You’re still not better?” “Well, I know someone who has bipolar and you aren’t like them at all.” Or, one of my favorites (and I don’t mean that in a good way), “Have weight loss surgery, you’ll lose weight, you’ll be beautiful, and your bipolar will go away.” To quote the words of my therapist, “Oh Bulls**t!” My therapist immediately covered her mouth upon that phrase instantly flying out, but it was great seeing such a raw and true reaction out of her. My psychiatrist, upon hearing my therapist’s reaction, agreed with her sentiments.
It’s Not a Black and White Issue
This person had their own idea of what would “fix” my bipolar (yes, the weight loss comment was said to me). It quite frankly ticked me off when this person said this to me, and made me feel worthless. All, I know, is that I’ve had these issues, when I’ve been thin, and not so thin, and they… are… not… going… away. It’s taken me two-and-a-half freaking long years to finally accept that and having someone come along and add their two worthless and offensive cents into the pot does not help me one bit.
Many people tend to think that because their lives – or the lives of people they know – are a certain way, or their experiences have developed a different way, then that’s how it should be for everyone. And, when it comes to bipolar, anxiety, and other “invisible” illnesses and issues, that’s actually something that a lot of people don’t seem to understand.
Bipolar is not the same for every single person. It’s not a black and white issue, meaning bipolar is not just one way or another. What happens to one person is not what happens to another person. Yes, the foundation symptoms are the same, but how those symptoms are experienced – and present themselves – is not the same for everyone. I’m not a medical professional, so I have no idea why this is, but I have discussed this at length with my therapist in the past. The foundation of bipolar is a chemical imbalance in the brain that affects the moods, which in-turn affects the emotions. Every human being on this planet has a unique personality, complete with attitude, beliefs and past experiences. These all in-turn affect a person’s emotions in life. No two people in this world feel the same thing… ever! We may be able to sympathize with others due to knowing what sadness, happiness, anger, frustration, fear, grief, and other emotions feel like. However, no one feels these emotions in the same way. Every person’s emotions are based on who he or she is as a human being – personality, beliefs, past experiences and all.
So, if we all experience our emotions differently, it seems like a safe assessment to say that bipolar, anxiety and everything else cannot possibly affect everyone in the same way. What is a trigger for one person may not be for another. What seems hopeless for one person may not be for another. Yet, people often will look at someone who is dealing with a mental illness – or any emotional issue that they cannot see with the naked eye – and push their expectations of how he or she feels and thinks onto the person who is actually dealing with the problem. Here’s the kicker, though. This pushing takes place in all areas of life, with every human being, not just those of us with bipolar and other similar issues.
My therapist has often said, that when someone can’t deal with something, they close off because it’s all that they can take. So, when someone is telling me that they feel things should be a certain way with what I’m dealing, they are really saying one of two things. Either, “I have no experience with this, and since I can’t see a physical problem, then you can just get over it and suck it up”. Or, “I can’t take this. I care about you too much and this is all that I can deal with.” I would place my family and friends in the latter example, while that woman with the weight loss comment in the former. And, then there’s the last part of which my therapist often reminds me. And, that’s that there isn’t anything that I can do to change how anyone feels. Talk about ironic, eh? Here I want them to realize that they can’t change me to fit their expectations, and yet, I continuously wonder what I can do to change the way they see me. She says that all I can do is to change the way I approach them, and to actually speak to them and not hide what I feel. But, ultimately, it’s up to them how they want to use the information that I give them. So, with this blog, I have now begun to explain more to my loved ones. So far, it’s to only those whom I trust and who already know about the bipolar and anxiety, but it’s going to be the first time hearing about the rest. But, as I said, I trust them. And, most importantly, I love them and I want them to know me better.
I’m still afraid, though. I’m scared to tell more of my family and friends. I’m afraid of their expectations. What they must think of me. “She’s a college graduate and she’s not doing anything with her life.” That’s what I worry that they say anytime my name enters their frame of thought.
Please Don’t Ask Me That
And then, there’s the worst question that I absolutely dread hearing from them. “What have you been up to lately?” To me, that entire question is asking, “So, what have you been doing with your life since I last saw you?” How the heck am I supposed to answer that? For that question to come from someone who does not know my reasons for being absent from the world for so long, it’s an unbearable question to hear. It makes me want to curl up into a ball and roll away. So, let’s see here. I got therapy every week, and see my psychiatrist every so often. On the average stable day, I wake up and I take my morning medications. If someone starts to unexpectedly come into the back door, then I go running out of the room before they can see me. Meanwhile, thanks to that sudden fright, I will now have pain shooting through my body as the anxiety causes what feels like electricity bolts to fire throughout my chest, back, arms and stomach, making it painful to move and breathe. I then take my afternoon medications, and spend dinnertime trying to figure out what to eat since one of my medications usually leaves me feeling nauseous by the end of most days. I make sure to keep Tums by my computer at all times, since my mood stabilizer causes heartburn at night when my stomach is empty again, even if all I ate was bland food all day. So screw it, when I do want spicy food, then I’m eating spicy food. I’m going to get heartburn anyway. And, finally, I finish off the day with my impulse control medication before bedtime, so I don’t go sticking my hands into the toaster while it’s connected (frightening urge to have, to say the least), or go burning my hands on a frying pan again (second-degree burns hurt like heck by the way). Oh, and if I’m really having a fun day, then I also throw some Ativan into the mix. The vomiting, light-headedness, electricity-shooting pain, and hyperventilating can’t have all the fun now.
Ok, so that probably sounded a bit like a pity party, well more like a pity fiesta with strobe lights and a piñata filled with meds. But, the point I’m trying to make is that my life is not “normal” anymore, whatever “normal” even is. I’m not trying to be,“Oh, woe is me” (believe me, I know there are people who have much worse problems than me in this life). But, rather, I’m trying to make the point that my life is not at a place where I can just tell people about what I’ve been up to lately. Therefore, being asked for that information is quite uncomfortable. My days are busy, helping my mom with whatever tasks she needs help, taking her to her doctor appointments, assisting my mom with my dad’s business, cleaning the house, writing and working on design projects that I create for myself to do. But, to most people, they will view that and see me as nothing more than a loser. I already struggle with feeling like a failure in not only my eyes, but in the eyes of my family and friends. But, at least not having to lay out the detailed nothingness of my life can allow me, and them, to maybe hold onto that view of what I was once going to be, and not what I’ve become. It’s hard to view my life and think about how at my age I should already be at certain life markers. I’m not divulging my age, but I’ll say this, I’m old enough to be a U.S Representative in the House, but not old enough to be the President of the United States. That’s a good age range, so I’ll leave it at that. But, I’m just not where I should be, at this point in my life. It hurts every day when I allow myself to dwell on that fact.
With all of that said, though. I’m not some lump of flesh that’s gathering dust until someone sweeps me away. I don’t get up and take my meds everyday, or go to my therapist and see my psychiatrist just for the heck of it. I’m doing those things because I want to reach a point where I can rise above this thing. I know it’s going to be with me for the rest of my life, but I’m trying hard to reach a point where I can rise above it and live as productive of a life as possible. I have no idea what kind of life that will be for me. It’s probably not going to look anything like the plans and dreams that I had envisioned in my head since childhood, but I have to believe that there is something better waiting for me.
I know when the time comes to meet Jesus that I will reach the ultimate success that any of us can attain. But, until then, I’d like my life here on earth to be worth something. I don’t know when I’m going to die. But, I don’t fear it anymore. Maybe that’s due to the fact that I want this to be over, but I think it’s also just ‘cause I look forward to what is going to be my “life” in Heaven. I look forward to hugging Jesus someday. That’s a dream that I have. I want to wrap my arms around Him and for Him to hold me, like a loving parent holds their child. I know He holds me every day, but I want to see Him while He holds me, and tangibly feel his arms around me. That’s a dream and image that I carry with me in my heart. He knows that, so I’m sure He’s going to be waiting with a big hug for me when I meet Him. And, I’m sure He’ll also be waiting with a big hug for each and every one of you who love and know Him.
Those are two expectations that I know it’s ok to have.