Saturday, February 14, 2009

Guest Blog: Valentine's Day Reflections on Love and Friendship

Friends and relationships are crucial in our recovery. I have been extremely fortunate to encounter Cristina Romero, who offers uncommon wisdom in how to pick wisely. Cristina, who lives in Ontario, is passionate about writing about her experiences with mental illness. Cristina, I turn my blog over to you:

Thank you, John.

We've been told to choose our friends carefully. After all: “You are the company you keep.”

But we've also heard: “Birds of a feather flock together.”


So which one is it? Or is it some kind of Catch-22? So who we are to start with determines our choice in the company we keep. But the company we keep determines our growth as individuals.


I have bipolar I. Ironically, this is my blessing, something that practically absolves me of this Catch-22 phenomenon that most people find themselves in. Let me explain.

I have an incredibly vast array of emotions, thoughts and behaviors. There are always people I can resonate with, a flock I can find to fly with. I consider myself fortunate to be able to connect with so many different types of people, but I also realize just how vulnerable I am. I can sync with just about anyone, and this is not always good.

Think of mental illness as a type of unwellness. Financial stressors, physical illness and career problems are some of the other types of unwellness that people deal with. It is not so much the type of unwellness itself that determines our wellness, but how we approach that unwellness. There are similarities in approaches to deal with unwellness, regardless of what it is. We can learn from others in altering perspectives, developing healthy attitudes, and cultivating coping skills.

In other words, a friend doesn’t have to have mental illness in order to teach me about living with mental illness, and I don’t have to have the physical illness that my friend has for me to help my friend live with her physical illness.

Here are some of the questions I ask myself of people to see if they have a healthy influence on me: 


Are they resourceful in finding people to find help? Are they consumed only with their own problems, or do they lend a helping hand to others? Do they want to get better? Are they willing to think outside the box in finding solutions? Have they been stuck on the exact same problem forever, or have they made progress?

As a person with bipolar disorder, my capacity to resonate with people across the entire emotional spectrum can be both destructive and beneficial. Around people who do not approach unwellness in a healthy way, I am at risk of resonance and deterioration, like a superstructure collapsing.


With people who approach wellness in a healthy way, I can resonate and flourish, like those triumphant chords that conclude symphonic masterworks. The choice is mine. I feel fortunate to have that choice.

My friends, family, and husband are carefully selected people. We all work and play together for mutual growth and enjoyment. These people are at the core of any health and happiness I experience.

This Valentine’s Day, as I reflect on the nature of love and friendship, I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned through my illness. It's all about who I choose to nurture and who I choose to nurture me.

Live well, choose wisely ...

11 comments:

imkaty@hotmail.com said...

I am so happy to see you are needing time off from the newsletter and all the rest that you were doing... I was beginning to feel , well , like why can't I do this?...or hyow can he and still be ill? I just really love the news letters and the website and I am gladf to hear you are still bipolar and hanging in there with us....thank you and happy friday 13th and valentine's day blessed be and take care katy

Warren Cooper said...

What a day.
As someone who has traveled the road of a varied yet hard to personally manage mood disorder, days like today have verged from manic euphoria to “hide under the doona for a few days” response in behavior. Its all dependant on the current situation.. Hate it yet live with it.

I purchased John’s book only yesterday as I was killing time after a visit to the bank to refinance the mortgage, to pay out the mother of my children, prior to a session with my Psyc. As a scientist, the direction of the book won me very fast. As someone who is used to a level of definitive reasons for something to happen, it was refreshing to read, and be given a level of information, that is very hard to find.

This field is so difficult at times. I have struggled with misdiagnosis, apathy, denial that there is an issue, insults, empathetic love, hatred, snide backstabbing and wholesome support.
Why?
Because when I am abandoned by the person I love, I fall into the pit. The edge has always been there and to some level is very obvious, but for most of the time the hypomanic? persona finds it easy to ignore. Also I was able to hide it very well.

I have been aware for at least 10 years that there was a significant and no longer able to be ignored issue with my mental stability. It has taken that long to finally (I hope) be prepared to be proactive and say “I will no longer put up with this!!” and continue in the path of being better.

My depression is so linked to an event that you can in every case of my depression place a finger on the moment that the trigger occurred. For recovery, this took years and without any understanding of the issue, I found myself in the same vulnerable position.

Two failed marriages, umpteen failed relationships, and the most significant of all, the loss of love from the mother of my children has left me with no choice but to act.

My story is no different to many. I am amazed that I can honestly tick off on all of the DSM-IV criteria listed in Johns book easily, yet still old a job and be alive.

As a constant over achiever in sports (to prove to my parents) and a very high level academic background (1st class honors and a masters degree in the earth sciences) to admit that there has been an issue in a mental health perspective has been difficult. The corporate world is ruthless and any weakness is quickly culled. I adapted.

Death was always a very valid option but the pain to my parents that that would cause was not acceptable, therefore it did not happen (an advantage to being very logical I suppose?) Therefore the fight went on.

My uncertainty is that I am at the crossroads. The loss of my family has been the strongest yet of depressive mood and desire to not have to deal with the pain any more, yet the loss of a father to my children quashes that (a crazy 24-48 hours). There is much written about the depressive state and the outcomes, that are great, but that point in time when one stops, realises that there is management that can work and says enough!, is generally poorly represented or explained. What makes that happen?, I have no doubt the number of reasons that turn peoples thoughts into something that increases resolve to get better are a numerous as the people on this planet.., For me, difference of being unable to beat a clinically depressed mood and being on top of the issue, are the same in the energy required in the focusing of mind. One good, one bad.

For someone with a very high education, physical prowess, ability, (good looks - Ha) the inability to function for the last 25 years has been difficult. BUT, at least I have a better understanding.

Exercise, sleep, good food and when advised the right drug therapy works wonders. The preparedness to make the habits ones of a life time can be hard, but, given the option, why should it be so difficult.

At 45 I have a long time yet. The fight is only beginning!!!

Warren

warren cooper said...

Understanding friends are worth their weight.

What a day.
As someone who has traveled the road of a varied yet hard to personally manage mood disorder, days like today have verged from manic euphoria to “hide under the doona for a few days” response in behavior. Its all dependant on the current situation.. Hate it yet live with it.

I purchased John’s book only yesterday as I was killing time after a visit to the bank to refinance the mortgage, to pay out the mother of my children, prior to a session with my Psyc. As a scientist, the direction of the book won me very fast. As someone who is used to a level of definitive reasons for something to happen, it was refreshing to read, and be given a level of information, that is very hard to find.

This field is so difficult at times. I have struggled with misdiagnosis, apathy, denial that there is an issue, insults, empathetic love, hatred, snide backstabbing and wholesome support.
Why?
Because when I am abandoned by the person I love, I fall into the pit. The edge has always been there and to some level is very obvious, but for most of the time the hypomanic? persona finds it easy to ignore. Also I was able to hide it very well.

I have been aware for at least 10 years that there was a significant and no longer able to be ignored issue with my mental stability. It has taken that long to finally (I hope) be prepared to be proactive and say “I will no longer put up with this!!” and continue in the path of being better.

My depression is so linked to an event that you can in every case of my depression place a finger on the moment that the trigger occurred. For recovery, this took years and without any understanding of the issue, I found myself in the same vulnerable position.

Two failed marriages, umpteen failed relationships, and the most significant of all, the loss of love from the mother of my children has left me with no choice but to act.

My story is no different to many. I am amazed that I can honestly tick off on all of the DSM-IV criteria listed in Johns book easily, yet still old a job and be alive.

As a constant over achiever in sports (to prove to my parents) and a very high level academic background (1st class honors and a masters degree in the earth sciences) to admit that there has been an issue in a mental health perspective has been difficult. The corporate world is ruthless and any weakness is quickly culled. I adapted.

Death was always a very valid option but the pain to my parents that that would cause was not acceptable, therefore it did not happen (an advantage to being very logical I suppose?) Therefore the fight went on.

My uncertainty is that I am at the crossroads. The loss of my family has been the strongest yet of depressive mood and desire to not have to deal with the pain any more, yet the loss of a father to my children quashes that (a crazy 24-48 hours). There is much written about the depressive state and the outcomes, that are great, but that point in time when one stops, realises that there is management that can work and says enough!, is generally poorly represented or explained. What makes that happen?, I have no doubt the number of reasons that turn peoples thoughts into something that increases resolve to get better are a numerous as the people on this planet.., For me, difference of being unable to beat a clinically depressed mood and being on top of the issue, are the same in the energy required in the focusing of mind. One good, one bad.

For someone with a very high education, physical prowess, ability, (good looks - Ha) the inability to function for the last 25 years has been difficult. BUT, at least I have a better understanding.

Exercise, sleep, good food and when advised the right drug therapy works wonders. The preparedness to make the habits ones of a life time can be hard, but, given the option, why should it be so difficult.

At 45 I have a long time yet. The fight is only beginning!!!

Warren

Cristina's husband said...

Cristina and I have a very good relationship. I'm laid back and relaxed (most times). Cristina is energetic and creative, giving us braiding that is very strong. We give each other love, strength, support and much happiness. Cristina is my love, my fort, my reason for being so happy.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I treasure Cristin's friendship and appreciate the opportunity you provided for her to share her wisdom.

Will visit again soon.

Kathy in Virginia

John McManamy said...

HI, Katy. Many thanks -

John McManamy said...

Hi, Warren. Many thanks for your kind words, and for sharing your story. "Why should it be so difficult?" What a question. I would have added a "gooddamn." For once, I would just like things to be easy. But difficult is our lot. I think, paradoxically, once we accept that things will always be difficult for us - Guess what? - life gets a bit easier.

John McManamy said...

HI, Cristina's Husband. You lucky guy :)

Cristina Romero-Sierra said...

John, thank you so much for giving me a voice here and for making me feel that I have something worthy to contribute in the field of mental health. I am deeply honored to have been given this opportunity by you.

Warren, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such a rough go with relationships. I hope you have better luck in the future and that you are able to find some stability in your illness. It takes a lot of work to find some stability, but I’ve found hard work to pay off in spades.

To my husband, who is not a man of many words, you made my Valentine’s Day with your words.

Kathy, thank you so much for your friendship and your show of support here in going so public with my illness.

Thank you also to all my other friends and family who read this article and contacted me to show your support and love. In everything, it is the people in our lives who shape our every day.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Cristina. I'm delighted you were able to contribute here, and look forward to many more guest blogs from you. Thank you so much.

Eric Romero-Sierra said...

As a sibling of Cristina, I am honoured to be part of her chosen family both biologically and emotionally. Way to go sister!!

Much Love, Eric