An Invisible Disability

Sejal A. Shah has posted an interesting personal essay on bipolar disorder in the Kenyon Review Online. While I haven’t experienced the degree of illness described by the author, I’ve had enough of my own mental health challenges in the past decade to recognized many of conditions she describes:

  • The exhilaration of mania — There was something frightening in the chaos, beautiful and disturbing. The outlines, “POW!” as though a comic book, a superhero. I did, for a time, feel powerful before crashing. It’s a seductive power, and avoiding this emotional drug comes only from discipline and the experience of repeated failures.
  • Becoming a target for predators at your most vulnerable moments — when they sense you are unsteady, ill-equipped, unable to fight back.
  • The unrelenting pressure to hide the disorder — Disclosures of cancer elicit sympathy, gifts of casseroles, rides to the hospital, or other support. Disclose a mental illness and observe the response. Our culture finds mental illness distasteful, unfortunate, a moral failing.

I’m still searching to find my own voice in the public discussion about mental illness. I respect those who are already speaking out.

Stalemate

Victory is a mirage for both of us,
the manic schemer
and his somber doppelgänger.

But the game can’t be stopped
and the only way we know how to play
is to imagine an oasis that could sate
our thirsty ambition for winning.

The brash schemer believes his coming triumph
is the destiny unjustly denied to him,
and knows it will be the start
of a life-long winning streak.

His quiet foe is confident
of a devastating conquest,
draining his opponent of the desire
to continue trying.

The game continues,
momentum flowing to one side while ebbing from the other
before shifting like the tide,
balanced in indecision.

The game tires both combatants,
Yet neither is willing to concede.

Closing Time

It’s 2018, and it’s time.

Time to follow through on an ambition I’ve held since the time I started my professional career almost thirty years ago: to stop working jobs I have to do, and do the work I want to do.

It won’t be easy, because for all the banality of my current profession, it does have its comforts. Several months ago, I realized that three decades of routine had conditioned me to avoid risk. I was going to need some help in order to make the transition to my new career.

It was around that time when I downloaded Your Guide to Calling It Quits, a short book that can be started and finished in the same evening. The author (Kelly Gurnett, who writes and blogs under the name Cordelia) begins with a brief autobiography, which read much like my own experience: “I woke up every morning absolutely dreading the day ahead of me.”

(Honestly, every morning is a bit of a stretch, but there have been far too many dread-full waking hours of late.)

The book didn’t answer all of my questions, but it contained enough insights to be truly inspirational. I particularly appreciated Cordelia’s statement that quitting has to be a positive action.

You can’t quit because you’re fed up with what you’re doing. A response rooted in despair or frustration is likely to lead to an equally negative situation.

You need to quit in order to do what you want to be doing. In other words, you need something to quit for. As I like to say, you need to run towards where you want to be, not away from where you are now.

Precisely because it is so short, “Your Guide to Calling it Quits” is a wonderful little gift for anyone contemplating a major career change. (Ironically, the author’s blog has not been updated in close to a year; has Cordelia quit quitting?) I’ve enjoyed revisiting the book lately and letting myself be inspired by its pithy advice.

I’m going to need that inspiration in the coming year, because this transition ain’t gonna be easy. Indeed, every new beginning is some other beginning’s end.