I was diagnosed as Bipolar when I was 23.
It took me another four or five years to get to where I was not only comfortable talking about it, but also taking positive steps towards managing my emotions. It’s easy to use a diagnosis like this as an excuse for any and all of my erratic behaviour yells into a pillow; I’ll be honest, it felt like a golden ticket at some points!
But there comes a time when you have to take ownership of your situation or it’ll own you.
I’m not a psychiatrist. I have zero qualifications. I didn’t go to Uni, didn’t study for A levels (and my GCSE grades weren’t far from the spelling of it).
What I have had is decades of experience with mental health issues: I’ve taken the drugs; I’ve been to the meetings, and I’ve seen the experts. I’ve witnessed the devastation of suicide by a close friend, and both sides of my family have experience of it. I’ve talked at length to many people with similar patterns of behaviour, and what I’ve finally realised after all this time is: I can’t fix anything for anyone. All I can offer is what has worked for me after six years of intensive and extensive personal development, self-care and attention.
I’m very proud of how far I’ve come in recent years, but there’s always more to be done. Balance has become an ongoing focus (I don’t think you need to be bipolar to have that problem). Trying to hit that sweet spot between over-training and rest days, working late and play time, boozy nights and recuperation. Balance, to me, is the holy grail.
One of the most powerful things I’ve discovered in researching mental health, is the ‘table leg’ analogy. I could talk for hours about depression (I often do), and this is one of the main subjects that, months later, people come back and say, “that made a difference.”
Part of its beauty is its simplicity; I like things that are simple (no A levels after all…).
How many Table Legs do you have?
Imagine a table, with one leg slap bang in its centre, keeping it standing (a poseur table for instance).
Now imagine that table leg represents the only thing you currently do towards your mental health (for this example, let’s say meditation). So, you meditate for ten minutes every morning and that sets you up nicely for the day. Great! You get into a bit of a routine and manage to sit for ten minutes every morning, five or six times a week.
A month goes by and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. You’re telling everyone you know that you’re basically a Buddhist now.
“If you want Zen, mate, come to me. I’m firing waves of elevated consciousness out my eyeballs,” you say, finishing your pint of Stella.
Then, after a couple of late-night work drinks, your magic carpet breaks down and you end up getting home much later than usual. This has a knock-on effect and you get to bed late; you have a ‘more hungover than usual’ weekend that – as sod’s law would have it – is littered with family commitments. Going into the next work week you’re up a bit later every day, jaded, and rushing out the door. Before you know it, it’s been a month since you last crossed your legs, calmed your mind, and spoke to the Universe.
Table. Comes. Crashing. Down.
This can be applied to anything you focus too much attention on. You have a sport you’re so obsessed with that you build your diary (even your friendship group) around it. But then you get injured. You pour your heart and soul into a relationship, putting your partner on a pedestal, but then they break up with you.
What did you think was going to happen? If you lean all your weight on a door, and someone opens it from the other side, you’re going to fall through it.
Have you ever been totally thrown for six by something that other people seem to take in their stride?
You need more table legs!
If you can build a scenario where you have twenty different table legs, you can start creating the sort of foundation that will keep your life in balance, no matter what gets pulled out from under you. When one leg suddenly falls away, the others come to the rescue.
Here’s an example of some table legs:
- A morning routine
- Practising gratitude
- Identity / purpose
- Personal development
- Reading the right books
- Loving relationships
- Job fulfilment
- Creative outlets
I’m not saying this is going to fix you, or that you should drop what you’re doing and join a yoga club. What I am saying is, implementing all the above over the last six years, has totally changed my life. It’s been years since I’ve taken prescription drugs and my stability is no longer built on a foundation of quicksand. I put so much of this down to giving myself more than one outlet, propping up my table with an army of support.
My doctor says I’m in the driving seat of my illness. I say, I spend more time being present! This regular series of blogs will break down how I got there, drilling down on some of my table legs, and hopefully, inspiring you to find your own.
So, one more time: How many table legs do you have?