Not Everything Can Be Overcome With Hard Work – Part 1 of 2

Filed in Living by on October 2, 2014 0 Comments

Woman Looking SadI am like most Type A’s in that I have always believed you can overcome anything with hard work.

Have a lousy job? Hit the pavement and find a better one. Is a lack of education holding you back? Community colleges offer an inexpensive way to obtain a degree. Had a rough childhood? Who didn’t? Get over it.

Many people hide behind their excuses, and victimhood, as a way to justify laziness and a lack of success. We have all had difficulties to overcome—every single one of us. Whether it was an alcoholic father, an uncaring mother, a learning disability, a crime or accident, or whatever, everyone has had obstacles in their life.

So, we Type A’s tend to believe that any and all ills can be cured with enough effort, discipline, and perseverance. We are fully in control of ourselves, our lives, and our destinies, right? This belief is quite comforting to us.

Well, I was firmly in the Type A camp on all of this until I met “Kristen” (I’ve changed her name to protect her identity).

I have since come to realize that a person’s difficulties can be so difficult, impactful, and devastating, and therefore so beyond their control, that you simply can’t invoke the hard work and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” bromides.

In unusual cases such as these, I suggest that rather than giving advice and admonishments, you just offer your empathy and compassion.

Here is my story of Kristen.

A few years ago, due to an episode of depression I was experiencing, I enrolled myself in a multi-week group therapy clinic. At the start of the first day they had a “social” where we had the opportunity to meet our therapists and the other patients. The patients reacted to this with awkwardness and reticence, probably because they were somewhat embarrassed to be there, and, of course, everyone was suffering. I noticed a couple of patients gathering in a corner of the room, so I walked up and introduced myself. After exchanging some pleasantries, each of us shared why we were there. The common ailments seemed to be anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. I knew very little about bipolar disorder at the time, other than that it used to be referred to as manic-depressive disorder and involved swings in emotions.

One of the people in my little group of new friends was a woman named Kristen, and she was bipolar. Kristen was stunningly beautiful and sweet, and you couldn’t help but be captivated by her. She was probably in her late twenties and had a bright, lovely smile. Her shyness was also quite appealing. I wondered what had happened to this lovely young woman to land her in this unfortunate situation.

Over the couple of weeks of group therapy, her unusual and sad story began to unfold.

Kristen had been diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder when she was a teenager. It was a disease that had run in her family for generations. She described to the group what it was like to live with bipolar. I was both fascinated and shocked by her description of this terrible disease.

Kristen needed to be on several medications at all times, many of which depended on where she was in the bipolar “cycle.” She happened to suffer from “rapid cycling bipolar disorder,” so her mood could quickly swing from depressed, to “healthy,” to manic, and back again. If she was depressed, she would take anti-depressants. If she was manic, she would take anti-anxiety meds to settle down her thoughts.

She relayed how difficult it was to manage her moods. If she felt depressed, she pretty much knew she actually was depressed. As she cycled to healthy and then into mania, though, she could easily be fooled. She described how mania, being characterized by optimism and “good feelings,” is often misinterpreted by bipolar people as a healthy state of mind. They perceive themselves as feeling normal, while they are actually slipping down a dangerous slope, unaware of their progressing mania. Unable to distinguish the heightened awareness, racing mind, and unhealthy rushing around characterized by that distorted state of mind, they continue to fall deeper into mania until someone alerts them and they take their meds, or, failing that, something bad happens, such as an awful scene at work that gets them fired or a car accident.

She also explained how bipolar disorder causes difficulty with mental “filing.” She described this as an inability to order and organize one’s thoughts. It’s as though your thoughts just swirl around in your mind and you are unable to make any sense of them. That sounded scary, particularly to a Type A like me. You can’t order and organize your thoughts? Really? How do you function?

Of course, with such a serious mental illness, people with severe bipolar are also prone to being affected by many other difficult symptoms, such as suicidal tendencies, self-injury (for example, cutting), and episodes of psychosis.

Kristen summed up her disorder, and therefore her life, as one in which you were rarely ever able to trust or rely on your mind.

I was stunned and saddened by Kristen’s revelations about herself and being bipolar.

Tomorrow I will post the stunning conclusion to Kristen’s story.

About the Author ()

TIM MCINTYRE retired in 2004 from his position as president of Applied Systems after facilitating a successful sale of the company. At only forty-six years old, he made the unusual decision to fully retire to pursue other interests and simply enjoy free time. As a hard-driving Type A personality, this turned out to be a significant challenge for the Notre Dame and University of Chicago-educated MBA, CPA, and Certified Cash Manager.

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