I believe things happen for a reason.
I know, it’s cliché. You hear people say it all the time. But for me, it has always been a core belief. I have felt pulled along in my life by a commitment to a path that I didn’t consciously choose.
I believe we all have specific things we are working on in our lifetime. Things we need to overcome in order to discover truths about ourselves or about life in general. The relationships and events we need in order to learn these lessons will continue to present themselves in our life until we finally ‘get it’.
Usually it takes more than one event to learn a lesson. Sometimes it takes more than one lifetime.
But when we finally understand, the tough stuff that’s simply there to teach us begins to melt away. Our path gets lighter as we learn what we came here to learn.
The other day I was lost in thought about this concept of life lessons and I got to thinking about what Bipolar Disorder has taught me. Over the last year I have felt a significant lightening of my bipolar symptoms. I have felt as though I have been returning to myself, finding my way back to me. I decided I must be learning from this dark period in my life.
When I pause and step back from all that has transpired since I was diagnosed, I can see clearly that those events were meant to teach me many things, but that one distinct theme stands out above any other. Bipolar Disorder has taught me first and foremost to take care of myself.
When my first bipolar symptoms appeared I was a brand new mom. That meant that I spent the majority of my waking hours (and a good portion of my supposed non-waking hours) focused on fulfilling the needs of my son. The role of ‘new mother’ demanded self-sacrifice from me. From my perspective there was no way around it. I was content to be everything he needed.
When he was hungry, I fed him. When he needed soothing, I rocked him. When he cried, I came running. His needs became more important than my own. And when he acquired ‘king’ as a nickname from my family, I couldn’t see the truth in their jokes. He was my son and I was prepared to give everything I had to keep him healthy, safe and loved. And I did so, until life conspired to teach me an important lesson.
When the toxic combination of stress, lack of sleep and hormones finally boiled over and I became manic, and then psychotic, I was finally forced to take a break. I was literally ordered to give in to 24-hour care from my family and was told to sleep. And just in case I tried otherwise, my medications made sure that I was compliant.
To crawl out of the long, exhausting down that always follows a bipolar up I turned to writing, self-help and spirituality. My journal became a place where I explored my inner wonderings. I railed against the world in my private pages. And I discovered important things about my authentic self; the one that had been buried for so long.
I remember distinctly the day that I wrote the following:
I was wrestling with conflicting emotions when this realization came to me. On the one hand I had this belief that to be a good mother I needed to give first to my children and lastly to myself. I had always seen the hierarchy as children, husband, friends and family, me. Self-love was lowest on the list. I had grown up with this belief, and it had been reinforced over and over throughout my life so I held onto it tightly.
On the other hand I had a deep knowing that I was neglecting myself. I wondered what kind of mother I would be if I started to make choices that filled me up. I had an ‘aha’ moment when I wrote those words. They just tumbled out of me onto the page before I had a chance to realize what I was writing. And then I was forced to examine them and accept them. Could it be true that I would have more to give others if I nurtured myself first? How could I possibly choose my needs over those of my children? It seemed so selfish.
I am not advocating that we don’t give everything we can to our children. They deserve our best. As do all of our loved ones. But we can’t give them that on an empty tank. Over the last three years I have tested this theory and I have found it to be absolutely true.
Sometimes you have to say thanks, but no. Sometimes you have to take your shower first. Sometimes you have to lock the door and steal a few more minutes engrossed in a good book, or leave the kids with a babysitter to go out with the girls. Sometimes you have to choose yourself first.
And perhaps the most important thing I have learned about this is that it is absolutely okay to do so. We are experts (especially us women) at feeling guilt for a great many things. And for some reason we feel disproportional amounts of it when it comes to putting ourselves first.
For most of us, selfish is a dirty word. But there is a big difference between being selfish and being self-aware. I encourage you to let go of the guilt. Pay no attention to the self-talk that says you would be better off sacrificing something you need to make things easier for someone else. Learn to trust your feelings. Your heart will always serve you well.