“Look at where you are now compared to where you were when we started. Look how far you’ve come.” This is what my therapist frequently tells me. And she’s right.
When I first came to see her I was a total mess. It is a measure of my progress that I no longer refer to myself as “pathetic.” it has been months – years –since I have used that word to describe myself.
And she is right to point out my progress. Not only am I no longer the despondent, distraught, weeping mess that came to her, I am now a person who has acquired coping skills – at least a few – that I can use in everyday life without much prompting from her.
Do I look back to my childhood, when there was something wrong with me that I didn’t understand? Do I look back to the everyday traumas that a typical person would have dealt with, if not easily, then at least adequately, that often left me a crumpled figure in the corner weeping copiously and, yes, pathetic.
Since those days, I’ve learned what my disorder is, and have learned to anticipate and deal with some of those everyday traumas.
Do I look back to my teenage years, when I had little clue how to make and keep friends? When I was an outcast for my oddities?
Since then I have rediscovered old friends and made new ones that love and support me, many of whom are just as odd as I am.
Do I look back to my college days, when the bright promise of my intellect was dulled by my inner turmoil, when I missed out on opportunities because I was not capable of reaching out to grasp them?
Since then I have tried to make the most of opportunities that come my way, and to use my talents as best I can.
Do I look back to my first significant other and how that relationship shredded what I had managed to accumulate of self-esteem and confidence?
Since then I have been trying to recover as much as I can of what I lost. And I now have a stable, supportive, long-term relationship.
Do I look back to the days when I first lived independently, teetering on the edge of financial disaster? The days when I could barely function in the world of work and living, when the loss of a job put me deep in the Pit of Despair?
Since then, I have learned to accept help from others and to know that the Pit of Despair is not my permanent home.
Do I reflect on the job that sustained me for many years, until my emotional state became so fragile that I was no longer reliable enough to do it?
Since then I have gotten work that I can do reliably and found a niche for myself in the world of work.
Do I look back to that dreadful time when my brain broke, I became unable to work at all, unable to take care of myself, unable to function in anything like normalcy?
Since then, I have been rebuilding my life – not as good as new, but the best I can.
Admittedly, the distance I’ve come since then has been vast. I can’t take the credit for it, however. Medications, therapy, a support system, a supportive husband, lots of reading about depression and anxiety and feminist issues and bipolar disorder have helped me survive and helped me grow.
Like many people with bipolar disorder I often have the sense that all along I was faking it, that during the periods when I seemed to be functioning best, I was actually pretending. Sometimes I think that’s what I’m doing now.
What’s that they say? Fake it till you make it?
But how do you know when you’ve made it?
I guess it’s when you look back and remember, but no longer viscerally feel, what you went through. I still have unanswered questions, unresolved conflicts, and unanswered puzzles from all those former times.
I no longer think that I will get answers to all of them. I suppose their purpose now is simply to be mile markers, measuring the distance I have come. I can look back if I choose to, or not. I can look back at who and what I was, or as my therapist says, how far I’ve come. But I’m not pathetic anymore.
So this is how far I’ve come. Can I look back without fear? Without despair? Sometimes I can. And that’s not something I’ve always been able to say. It’s progress.