More on the Bipolar's Dilemma: Taking Risks vs Playing Safe

John McManamy Health Guide
  • A couple of weeks ago, in The Bipolar’s Dilemma, I posted from Oregon on a trip-in-progress that I very nearly did not embark on. Here’s the issue: Our illness has a way of imposing limits on what we can and cannot do. After trial and error, we learn to adjust and not tempt fate.


    At all costs, we avoid situations that run the risk of making our lives stressful. 


    But I recently discovered a major catch to this. As I reported in my piece, the prospect of missing out on an event that I was very much looking forward to spun me into a depression that was only going to get worse.


    Thus the bipolar’s dilemma: Bite off more than I can chew and risk flipping out, or stay home and get depressed? 

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    At the top of my mind was a disastrous trip to New York I made ten months earlier. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I nearly turned into a 911 case 2,500 miles from home.


    Now, here I was, someone with serious issues about driving, dealing with a brain that easily falls apart under stress and disrupted sleep, contemplating a road trip involving 1,200 miles each way.


    No, the sensible thing was to stay home. Besides, I would save a lot of money that way. See how responsible I was being?


    Except that I hadn’t anticipated the depression that would drop on my head like two tons of bricks.


    At the last minute, a passenger materialized who was willing to drive to his destination in Santa Rosa, halfway up. Next thing, I had my stuff packed and we pulled out of San Diego at two in the morning. Three hours later, we were through LA, having beat the notorious rush-hour traffic.


    We were on our way. I let out an exultant whoop! My depression was gone.


    As I reported from Oregon the next evening, about to get a good night’s sleep: “In my case, right now, I am very happy with my choice.”


    Picking up from where I left off ...


    Next morning, fresh and rested, I drove inland for about two hours. In no time, I was off the grid, deep into the forest primeval. I was sure I had taken a wrong turn, then I noticed a Porta Potty truck in my rearview mirror. I waved for the truck to pass, and followed the Porta Potties to my destination.


    I was home - my home away from home - amongst my own tribe, people who play the didgeridoo. This is where I belonged. If you are a regular reader of my posts, you know what the didgeridoo means to me. 


    With my new didgeridoo.


    I was in tears when we broke camp four days later. What I experienced in those Oregon woods was the very opposite of what happened to me in New York. Everything went right. I connected. I healed. I renewed my spirit.


    My last day there, someone reminded me of how they chain baby elephants to wooden stakes in the ground. The elephants grow into adulthood conditioned into thinking they are powerless to pull up the stake and roam free.


    Was that what I had done? Talked myself into a state of learned helplessness? Become captive to my illness? Of all things, my drive back home was no big deal. On the way, I spent two days camping in Sequoia National Park. I took my brand new didgeridoo and sat beneath a tree and played. Life was good.


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    So, here I am, home safe and sound, having experienced some of the best days of my life, not to mention broken free of some of my most disabling fears. What have I learned? 


    For starters, every choice we make carries risk. Maybe there’s a happy ending. Or maybe we stretch ourselves into catastrophe. Or maybe we play it safe into depression. We have no way of knowing in advance  which choice is the right one, but I can safely say this: If I want to live a life worth living, for me, a good deal of the time, I need to make that stretch.


    Depression is my stalker, my predator of opportunity. It is always waiting to strike, to beat me on the head in a dark alley, to swoop out of the sky in an open field, to swallow me whole from beneath a crack in the pavement. Sometimes playing it safe is my best option. Other times, it renders me a sitting duck.


    By the same token, I will never forget my disaster in New York. If depression is my stalker, mania and anxiety and agitation are my practical jokers, always there to divert and distract and overwhelm me, push me into oncoming traffic, pull the carpet from under me when I’m not looking, stand over me when I’m bleeding and helpless, look down - and laugh.


    Thus, the bipolar’s dilemma, where there are no true safe or risky choices, only considered and unconsidered ones. Consider wisely. Be willing to take risks, but - please - do be careful ...

Published On: August 23, 2014