Remaining grounded through changes

There are changes you make and changes that happen. Changes that you can see coming and changes that catch you off guard.

For me, bipolar disorder is easier to manage if I have stability, routine, and predictability. It’s easy for some things to throw me off balance, so I have to be especially careful not to let that happen when drastic changes occur or when emotionally charged situations arise.

The changes I make, I make carefully. I know both depression and hypomania can lead me to impulsively do things I will later regret. So even though I am stable and have been for months, I do remain mindful that I still have an illness.

I enrolled in university this year, something I also did a couple years ago while hypomanic only to drop out by the time classes started when the depression hit. I later realised I didn’t even have a real interest in that career; not one that would justify the cost of the degree anyway. This time I gave it some actual thought, it wasn’t a ‘hell, why not’ decision. I’m doing a different degree than what I started back then, and I gave this a lot of consideration. I know I’m doing this for the right reasons.

I plan on also leaving the job I’ve had since I moved here. That’s something I’ve considered doing many times in the past couple of years, either because the depression made me feel like I couldn’t hold a job at all, or because the hypomania made me so angry at everything going on that I just felt I needed to leave or otherwise I’d snap and get myself fired.

I’m leaving for the right reasons. I’m unhappy there. For the most part it brings me nothing but frustration and unnecessary stress. I’m not leaving to escape for the sake of escaping, I’m leaving to give myself the chance to find somewhere better. And I’m not applying to any and every job I find, I’m making choices with the future in mind.

This career change is one I had seriously contemplated pretty much since I was discharged from the hospital. I wasn’t ready for change then, but it’s something I can cope with now. Actually, it’s something I need now. Uncertainty is scary, but I’m confident I can cope. After all, if I could move to a different country with my mental illness untreated, I’m sure I can move to a different job in the same town while being healthy and stable. I’m in a place where I know this won’t make me unsteady and send me into an episode.

Changes I’m responsible for are easy to cope with. My reality changes, but I’m in control of that change to a good extent, and that gives me some sense of security. It’s only when they happen as a result of an episode that I start feeling detached from reality, as I am actively making choices but it doesn’t feel like they’re my own choices at all.

For changes outside my control that I can see coming, I may or may not like them, but I can prepare for them. I haven’t had many of these happen lately. The anticipation can be anxiety-inducing, but I am able to go through them and reassure myself that anxiety is rarely rational.

All the above are changes I can manage without questioning reality. I still feel grounded, life doesn’t feel unreal. It feels different and strange as they take place, but ultimately, I experience them in a way that feels very normal and not unsettling or upsetting.

As for changes I can’t see coming… well, they happen. Some more unexpected than others. These do affect me because I still sometimes struggle with lacking control, and with some of them like a pandemic or someone’s sudden death in the past, I just wasn’t prepared at all. But the more unexpected experiences I face, the better equipped I am to deal with whatever comes next.

My perception of reality was recently challenged as something I took for granted ceased to be real, and this led to brief (but concerning) feelings of questioning both reality and my place in it. I felt disoriented, confused. The fact that something significant happened in a way that forced me to step back and re-evaluate where I stand did shake me up. However, I don’t think it’s at all like the derealisation that used to hit me whenever anything around me changed in the slightest.

I know I am experiencing reality, I’m not in that delusional state I have experienced in the past where I was certain I was dreaming or in a coma, or the derealisation state where I felt entirely detached from everything and everyone around me.

It’s not so much that I feel detached from reality as much as it is that I’ve consciously decided to step back from some of it. The people are still real, they’re not slipping away from my reality, but I am intentionally stepping away from them.

I am very aware of impermanence, I accept it and I remind myself on a daily basis that everything is subject to change. But it’s very likely I unconsciously take some things for granted simply because at first glance they don’t appear to be things that would easily change.

People change, as does our perception of them the longer we know them. Sometimes they surprise you for better or worse. In this particular situation, what I assumed to be derealisation at first was just the struggle to accept that people do in fact do things that completely change the way you see them, sometimes for worse. I don’t feel detached from people around me as I would with derealisation, I am just disappointed.

A difference I have noticed compared with past experiences is that I’m not necessarily angry. I’m just done.

I used to be very shaken up by change. I must admit, completely having to change how I view someone in the way I have now is new to me, and for a minute there I felt like I might just lose my grip. I was ready to deploy all my grounding coping skills. But as it turns out, I was underestimating my ability to cope with changes outside of my control these days.

In this particular situation, I could have easily overlooked certain issues in order to keep things as they were and to avoid stepping out of that comfort zone of stability and uneventfulness. Instead, I chose to embrace change in a way that, as uncomfortable as it might be, is in line with my values.

I think this is what has finally pushed me to realise that change is nothing to be afraid of. It really is inevitable. The things I cannot control, I accept. For the things I have a choice in, I make choices being true to myself. I no longer have a sense of blind loyalty to anyone. If I have to let go, I let go.

I definitely benefit from stability. But complete, absolute stability will only hold me back. I want to be stable, not stagnant. I need some room for variability. I have slowly reached a point where I crave a healthy amount of change, and I’m excited to see where I go next.

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