Content warning: This post contains information about mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, which may be triggering to some survivors
"My Boundaries," Clare Cady
It’s been 4 years since I was diagnosed bipolar II and started medication. When I sat down to write this piece I actually had to look that up, because while I got my diagnosis in 2012, I have been bipolar as long as I can remember...and probably longer than that. The farther I get away from my diagnosis the less significant it seems. The naming of the thing did offer me language to describe the patterns of my life, and allowed me to address the parts that were unhealthy. It did not breathe it into existence, but simply pointed it out so that I was conscious that I was living with it.
For me, living with bipolar disorder is like having a charismatic roommate who makes me feel incredible about myself, invincible even, while simultaneously trying to ruin my shit. She is the one who tells me that I can do ANYTHING. I can start a national organization, climb a 14,000 foot mountain, publish scholarly works, and learn how to make an incredible dish of short ribs...and she’s RIGHT! I can listen to her advice and touch the sky because she obliterates my inhibitions, my perceived limits, my boundaries.
We need boundaries in order to manage our lives, and it is here where she starts to push me out of that creative and productive zone into spaces where I can lose touch with health, wellness, and sanity. Her voice is excited and earnest. She is the most convincing person I know. She tells me I don’t need to sleep, and I can stay up all night building furniture out of repurposed materials, or driving from Utah to New York in under 2 days, and I ignore my health and safety to do so. She tells me my relationships, my jobs, my living situations, are not good enough for me and I should move on, and later I regret leaving. She tells me I can spend money I don’t have, and I rack up debt. She tells me all of these things and more...and I used to listen to her. I listened and believed and I never once thought about who it was that was telling me all these things. I never once considered that she was a liar.
After all, how could she be? She’s me.
And those are the good times. When not encouraging me to attempt (and often complete) superhuman tasks or take (to benefit or detriment) massive risks, she is telling me that I am the worst person on the planet...and reminding me that any success I have had is accidental - not mine to claim. Her ability to gaslight me is so incredibly powerful, an artist of deception and denial. It’s almost impossible not to listen to her, because while so much of what she says is so incredibly irrational, she touches on truth JUST often enough that she can establish herself as credible. She does this both when she is building me up, and when she is tearing me down.
Even a liar can stumble onto the truth sometimes.
It is in those truths that I find myself.
I have regularly stated in my writings, on Twitter, and on my video blog that medication does not remove my symptoms, but it makes me aware of them while dulling their impact such that they are manageable. Just like my bipolar-liar internal roommate, this is a double-edged sword. The problem is that while I now know she is there, I also know I can’t get rid of her. On my bad days I find this akin to living in an abusive relationship I can never walk away from. It can be the most unempowering experience to consider that I have to live with this liar under my roof for the rest of my life.
However, understanding what is going on helps me to take control of my situation - to untangle the knotted web of lies and to stand up and say NO. I can claim my successes and forgive myself my failures. I can find health. I can harness the energy I get from mania and channel it into making the world a better place - and in my depression I can realistically assess my impact. I can be a vibrant person, a loyal friend, an honest speaker, and an adventurous learner. I can separate out what is truth and what is lies with clear eyes, and find peace with this person such that she is no longer separate from me, but a part of my whole upon whom I can place my own, reasonable boundaries.
And I can keep my truth, and my power, for myself.
About the art:
Clare’s story is so beautifully written and gave me some insight into her experience, but more importantly it helped me to hear her voice and see this truth that she speaks of so eloquently. Clare told me that the official color for bipolar awareness is emerald green, so I wanted that color to be a symbol in the painting.
Clare also shared that she loves art with words in it, and so to tie in symbolism through color, words, and meaning from Clare’s story, I painted this eye with a quote around the iris. This quote resonated with what I heard in Clare’s story, about finding herself, and seeing her truth. The quote from Leo Tolstoy is, “truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.”
- Becca Meyers