I often think there are three types of people in the world: Those who think they have control, and if they plan well and work hard things will always go their way; Those who think they have no control, and leave everything to chance; And those who think they can influence outcomes, plan well, work hard, but realize that sometimes unexpected things happen that throw them off course. The first can suffer breakdowns when things don’t go their way, the second are often trapped by inertia and prone to do very little, and the third are adaptable, see various opportunities, and can often reach goals that they set. I like to think of myself as one of the third group, and that mindset has helped me recover from the setbacks of serious episodes of bipolar disorder. But I used to be in the first group, and things went bad. During my worst episodes I found myself in the second group, and it was hard to do anything that could help me.
Control is a big concern for those of us with mental illness. Often, through little or no fault of our own, we lose it. Things fall apart quickly and the idea of control falls away. The journey to healing begins when we realize there are things we can control and things we can’t. A focus on what we can control prepares us for the unexpected, and gives us the confidence and resilience in the face of things turbulent and negative. I believe this is best done by keeping things simple.
Some of the things I can control in life are my level of physical fitness, the food I eat, and how I manage stress. I can surround myself with supportive people and cast off those who drag me down. If I find stability, I can note the things that get me there and keep doing them. Along with this comes sticking to the treatment regimen that makes me most well. Simple control over simple things. No, simple does not mean easy. But taking a few steps toward health can carry me through times when things I can’t control do happen.
There’s a dark side to control, though. In my efforts to keep things level I often try to script a life more balanced than the one I can have. This leads to me going too far with things that, in moderation, would otherwise be healthy. I can also wind up being controlling in my most important relationships, leading to pain for others that I never anticipated or wanted. So I must return to simple, personal things that I can most influence. Strength comes in feeling independent and assured. Wisdom comes in realizing that I cannot control everything, and in knowing to seek help when I need it, and to offer help when I’m able.
So I return to simplicity. I choose not to burden myself with things that drain my resources and my compassion. I let go of the big things that drag me from appreciating the special gifts in the mundane. The choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote, “If you can live without it then why haven’t you.” I keep this as a touchstone and a mantra. When I was a kid my mother took me to a spot high above the city and told me that anything was possible, and anything out there that I wanted could be mine. I don’t feel like a disappointment in wanting very little. The rewards in the simple are magnificent.