Limitations. We all have them, but sometimes illness adds new ones that we never before had to deal with. Accepting this fact was a challenge.
When I was hit by one episode that left me psychotic, suicidal, and hospitalized I was 31 and had just been promoted to VP of Sales at the company for which I worked. An incorrect diagnosis and my poor response to the medications prescribed, as well as my refusal to accept mental illness and my subsequent noncompliance with my doctors’ orders, left me reeling for years. I fell into a string of small jobs, just to keep health insurance, and checked into and out of psychiatric hospitals several times. The hole in my resume became so large, and my ability to deal with stress so frail, that it became clear that I was not going back to the executive suite, probably never. The effect that stress had on my moods, and the moods themselves, severely limited the amount of responsibility I could handle in any job.
While limitations engulfed my career, they also began to cut into other aspects of my life. Even with health insurance, treatment is very expensive. So the money went. My marriage ended and with it the prospects of finding a new partner. Limitations also were placed on my lifestyle. I had to stop social drinking, make sure I got enough sleep, exercise (but not too much), and maintain a consistent meditation practice. I had to unfailingly follow my treatment regimen. I had to deal with side effects of the medications I took. While some of these may not sound like limitations at all, when ramping into hypomania, stopping to take care of yourself and letting go of the grandiosity are very limiting indeed. And that may have been the most difficult limitation to accept. Letting go of the highs. Settling for a normal, fairly predictable life.
As I accepted each limitation, and changed my life to meet that acceptance, I got better. Debilitating episodes became rare and eventually nonexistent. And with that, some of the limitations fell away. I was able to take on more responsible jobs. I met and married a wonderful woman. I do enjoy a beer every once in a while. But the side effects remain, and the need to carefully manage stress still limits me personally and professionally. I have to be very careful about what things I undertake. But in accepting that I have an illness I accept that I have to act differently than I did back when I was well. Still, life has turned out to be very rewarding.
In a way, limitations can be liberating. Boundaries enable us to define excellence and to make positive, intelligent choices. Limits are necessary to establish discipline. Discipline, or a practice of wellness, is necessary to achieve health. It all begins with accepting the present reality, releasing the past and not lamenting how one’s life has changed, and keeping a careful eye on the future. As you accept limits, you can work well within them and begin to redraw the lines and to take on more. In time, you will accept a good life indeed.