I happen to have been blessed with both physical AND mental chronic illnesses.
While some people don’t see things like bipolar, depression, OCD, as chronic illness, or illness in general, they very much are. I have had so many people, including family, treat me like a leper or just call me crazy; however, I am just as ill with these diagnoses as I am from my arthritis, asthma, etc.
I say “blessed” because that is how I see all my challenges. Many ask me how I can call 24/7 pain, bouts of depression and anxiety blessings, but it is all in the attitude. I have become a much stronger person and helped so many people just by telling my story, and to me, that is worth any amount of suffering.
A dear friend told me recently that she admired me because she only has to deal with physical ailments and could not imagine what it would be like to add bipolar, etc., to that mix. For me, it is just a complete package. Sometimes I am dealing with one type, and other times, they are mixed together.
I don’t know how many of you are Marvel (MCU) fans, but I think I can best describe how I have dealt with my physical and mental conditions through one of the MCU’s “biggest” characters, Bruce Banner/Hulk.
Bruce Banner started out as a brilliant scientist until an experiment went horribly wrong, and when he got angry, he turned into a mean and nasty green giant dubbed The Hulk. There was no stopping this monster. Even his friends were helpless until Natasha Romanov learned to talk him down and back to the more level-headed Bruce.
Soon Bruce and Nat were developing feelings for each other and Bruce didn’t want that because he was afraid of hurting her. He, as Hulk flew off until he crashed on another planet. We next see him in “Ragnarock,” where he is the Champion in a “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” sort of arena. Thor is captured and sent in to fight. When he sees Hulk, he is so relieved; however, the giant has no memories of his Avengers days, Thor, Banner, or anything remotely human. The giant talks, but as Hulk. He does not change anything about his appearance until Hulk and Thor are running to the space ship. It turns out he was Hulk for three years.
Bipolar and depression can be like this. Before I was diagnosed with either, I believe I was in episodes for months at a time or even longer. Like Bruce, I would lose who I was to the darker side of myself. I hated what this side did to me and to others, but it was like I was trapped inside a monster and had to wait until it passed, and I could come out again.
Like the Hulk, I could get outraged and just barrel through tasks and people. Like Banner, I was remorseful for that side of me and tried to make amends. I tried to explain that it wasn’t me, but my illness, though no-one, even family, would believe it because it kept happening. While the bipolar was untreated or wrongly treated, I was also very driven in everything I did during the manic phases.
In “Infinity War,” Hulk fights Thanos and loses. This brings fear, not unlike my periods of bipolar depression. Hulk refused to come out when Banner wanted him to – the opposite of him coming out when Bruce didn’t want it. I sometimes missed those manic times – at least the productive ones. However, my medication started to work, and I was more level mood-wise.
In “Endgame”, Bruce finds a happy medium with his alter-ego. He is slightly green, large (but not gigantic) and has Bruce’s head, brain, and voice.
This is how I am feeling these days. During the last several years, I have learned how to live WITH my mental illnesses, which also include clinical depression, OCD, anxiety and panic disorder.
- There are times when I really wish I could bring on some manic energy, much like Bruce did when the team needed Hulk to battle Thanos. I do sometimes will myself to get through something that my chronic pain and fatigue won’t let me; however, I can control it, so it doesn’t go too far.
- My depression has meaning now, such as making me rest when I really want to get things done, showing me I am missing meds or not eating correctly.
- OCD is still around; however, when I look at my messy house and want to freak out, I can tell “it” that I do my best with the energy and resources I have. I have been getting helpers like a rechargeable cleaning wand with a telescopic handle that helps clean just about everything without bending too much. I also got a floor steamer so I can do the floors myself. I am not saying my OCD is cured, but for these things, it is manageable. Just don’t EVER put clothes on hangers the wrong way or load the dishwasher incorrectly!
- I still have anxiety and panic attacks; however, I can often see them coming and can run interference. When I can’t, my hubby is great at helping me through.
So I do believe I am in balance with my mental illness just as Banner and Hulk are. But also like them, I will not ever be rid of them, and I am the first to admit that. It is a daily routine of keeping everything in check and making the right decisions.