I am a person recovering with bipolar disorder, and I have a noisy, nosy, and loving family. I am one of the oddities. I’m gay, I have a mental illness, and I do not shy away from discussing either of those two subjects.
I like being gay. It’s who I am, and since I’ve come to accept it, I am more at home with my emotional self.
I do not like having bipolar disorder, but what am I going to do about it? Seriously. This blog is over three years old, and it details many harrowing experiences and unhealthy habits of living with the illness. It also shows good evidence for the case of recovery from mental illness. I have grown from a suicidal, frightened person to one filled with hope looking to the future and expecting a good life.
I have traveled very far from the comfort of my cottage near the blue sea to the very first family reunion my clan has ever had, other than gathering at weddings and funerals. We are here to laugh and rejuvenate old bonds.
Sitting at the small airport waiting to board my first of several flights, fear gripped me. My mind was clouded, and my thoughts were not calm. I used deep breathing and some mild meditation to regain serenity. I managed to sleep on the plane, giving me a respite. Happily, the trip was without incident.
My son, my mother, and one of my sisters met me on arrival at my destination airport, and joy filled me. Really, gratitude is all I can think of for these people I love and have loved for so many years.
At home, attitudes changed a bit, and some of the party began to behave in ways that demonstrated fine layers of underlying animosity and disappointment. I did not change my demeanor of love and acceptance. I have learned much over my years of recovery and these months of recent study:
- I cannot change others.
- I can accept love.
- I can reject what causes me fear.
- From a place of healthy love for me, I can offer love.
- I cannot force others to accept my love.
- Hope is the greatest gift I can share.
Notions like these listed and more give me the fortitude necessary to meet family. My group like countless others is a curious bunch. They have questions, and they are not shy. They laugh and hug and shake hands.
Armed with self-knowledge and self-acceptance, I meet them and give freely. I hold back nothing. I laugh at the jokes and make some of my own. Politics rears its head, and I mean the kind on the family level. I slipped into the old familiar ways of taking sides, but I quickly realized my error and gave apologies and walked away.
Avoidance or walking away may appear cowardly to some, but it is actually a healthy coping mechanism for my bipolar mind. I can focus or think or practice a quick meditation to gain a sense of steadfastness, and I can reenter the fray.
Family gatherings are a minefield for the bipolar mind. People with mental illness often lack the ordinary coping mechanisms others use effortlessly. We must learn:
- Recognizing emotions that are healthy and ones that are overreacting.
- Understanding how our bodies show us our emotions.
- Releasing emotions in appropriate ways.
- Simply enjoying ourselves.
- Creating boundaries that accept love and reject fear.
I am enjoying myself at my family reunion. I have not been prefect. I have engaged in some discussions that were wrong. To put in bluntly, I’ve gossiped. The growth I have experienced, though, allows me to know it and move past it. I now can right any wrongs and return to the task at hand: having fun.