The hardest thing to accept about being crazy is that you don’t cure your disease. You manage it. Mental illness, like any chronic affliction, is always there, hanging out in the back of the bus with a straw and an endless supply of spitballs and it will fire them at you. It doesn’t matter how many things you do right. Every once and a while you’re getting a slobbery wad of paper stuck to the back of your neck.
Accepting that sucks. It takes a lot of effort to admit you have a problem. It takes more to submit to being unable to solve it on your own. Especially because you know help isn’t going to do much at first. You’ve got lots of work in front of you before you get a glimpse of “better”. Once you’re through all of that, getting cool with never being free of it can feel like a bridge too far.
Which is why I remind myself – every time I get sick of managing my crazy – that it’s better than being slowly but relentless dragged back to the pit of despair I fought my way out of.
My medication is the keystone of my treatment, sure. Those little lamotrigine tablets do things for my brain that a strong will and good behavior could never do. The difference between how things felt before and after those pills is…frankly, it’s kind of unbelievable. Without my medication, I’d be fighting an uphill battle on an oil slick. The easy thing to forget is this: Even after the pills clean up the oil slick, you’ve still got to fight that pesky uphill battle.
I go to therapy weekly. Every Friday, I talk about all the fractured things in my brain that aren’t chemically induced. Things that mess up my thinking, that crush my self-esteem. That stress my brain in ways that increase the likelihood of mood cycling. See, while being “strong” won’t stop the problem, letting your brain do whatever damage it wants will make it worse. You can’t fix yourself, but you can stomp on the cracks in the glass that are already there. Oh, can you stomp. Without therapy, all those wired-in behaviors would work against the medication. Maybe even lie to me and convince me the medication isn’t helping.
That’s what modern medicine can do for me. The rest is on my shoulders. Things like sleep (sorry, it’s true; not getting regular and consistent sleep is going to mess with you) and exercise are more important than they were before I knew I was nuts. When people tell you physical activity is good for your brain, listen to them. I run three times a week. Before the medication, the relief that gave me was minimal. Minimal enough that there were lots of days when I thought, “Great. Now I’m depressed and sore. Screw this.” It helps, though. It matters.
Like this weekend. My sleep sucked all week. I was up late writing, up late editing and up late because after three days in a row you start to stay up just out of habit. I was out until 2am on Saturday helping a friend through some Stuff, and when I woke up Sunday I was Not Good. Not Depressed, exactly, but I could feel the badness at the edges, scratching at the walls. I really didn’t want to run. I was exhausted. During the drive to the Y, all I could think about was my couch, my PS3, and my wanting to let my brain shut off. It wasn’t until that evening, after 3.25 miles on the Dreadmill, that it hit me: the scratching had stopped.
My medication makes me better, but it doesn’t keep me good on its own. With the therapy and the running and the sleeping (ok, not always the sleeping), I give the medication the room it needs to work. I still have bad days. I still fall over. I just fall over less often, and I usually get my hands out to keep myself from going face-first into the cement. Falling still sucks. It makes me wonder why I’m doing all the work if I’m still going to scrape my knees. Until the day it passes, and I feel like myself again, and I remember that I’d do just about anything to buy a few extra weeks of feeling normal. Even run on the damn Dreadmill.
This week I’m hanging out at Yeah Write’s hangout grid.