By Shelby Humphreys
It’s 7:00 am, and even the tendons hugging my bones ache. It’s way too early to go vertical. But I committed to being on-staff, at a conference, in an hour. I roll to my side and yank the bed covers overhead. I remember the day I volunteered for this gig. What was I thinking? I was all confidence and calico kittens then.
I remember sitting in circle at the planning meeting. I raised my hand for the conference registration table. Seriously?! I must have assumed that all those warning bells going off in my head would become an alarm and get me up bright and early. (Yeah, and maybe Rosaurs bakery will start selling donuts with Prozac sprinkles).
I rub my eyes. The clock says I have 30 minutes to get there. That’s not going to happen. I open my phone, breathe deep, and start to text. “Sorry. I’m ill and can’t make it.” Send. Relief. And a heavy backlash of crappy self-talk.
Even though I’m not at my best some days, I still want to be a productive member of society. I want to give back. Managing Bi-Polar II makes that a challenge. There’s a slope I’m trying so hard not to slide down. It starts small and gets steeper with each disappointment or relapse. When I can’t fulfill my commitments, the fallout undercuts my best intentions. I’m shoved from both sides, wanting to help but admitting I cannot be that helpful person at this moment. That’s when I have to back down and make self-care a priority. I do what’s best for me until I can bounce back.
There’s a trending term for this: resiliency. Ironically, my Bi-Polar II disorder has taught me a lot about resiliency. To balance the ups and downs, I’ve had to get creative. It’s all about finding a way. A way to. A way through. A way around, underneath, on top of; whatever direction leads to a solution and, ultimately, to a satisfying life.
Resiliency is robust yet remarkably simple to cultivate. One of my favorite techniques is, “The Slight Edge.” First coined by Jeff Olson in his book, The Slight Edge, this principle focuses on a single, simple idea: tiny efforts add up to big results over time. So, I ask myself: what one, little task can I do to aid my health today? If I can’t go outside and exercise, can I get up and move around the house? If I can’t do that, can I do some gentle stretching? If I can’t do that, can I sit and breathe deeply? I keep slicing and slicing until I find that tiny thing that I can do. This way, momentum keeps me afloat. I watch myself edge around obstacles again and again. Layers of resiliency fold into my days. Even though my outward circumstances haven’t changed, I actually accomplish a lot. I feel better about myself.
When I feel like myself, then I can rejoin my community and give from a whole heart. That’s when my world stretches. Even better, my sense of capability enlarges to fill that new space. I realize my life isn’t controlled by my mental health. Managing becomes just one part of a happy, fulfilling day.
Over time, resiliency starts to show on the outside. Last year, I received an invite to join the board of directors of Missoula’s leading center for resiliency training, The Learning Center at Red Willow. When I considered the position, I asked, “Why me?” (After all, the conference I bailed on was hosted by Red Willow). Clearly, I am someone who must make managing mental health a priority. The Director responded, “I’m asking you precisely because you are managing it.”