As many of you know, I used to live a very different life. I was a successful nurse at the executive level, had the big house in the woods, socialized and juggled multiple balls in the air without much difficulty. As busy as it was, this lifestyle was highly rewarding in many ways, not the least of which was financial. And while I sometimes wished I had more time and energy for activities other than work, I loved my life, and I had no reason to believe it would not go on forever.
Then bipolar disorder hit me like a runaway freight train, and suddenly what had once been exciting became completely overwhelming. When I had my first “breakdown” I had NO idea what was happening, only that I’d dropped all the balls and couldn’t pick them up again. My once-sharp vision was fuzzy, my memory had turned to mush, and I was so anxious I thought I was losing my mind. I began to hide from people instead of enjoying their company as I used to. I lost the ability to persuade, and what’s more, I didn’t care. I became insular; I didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere or learn anything new. And life as I’d lived it for so many years ended…not with a bang, but a whimper. I lost it all—my career, my home, my joy.
I mourned that life for a long, long time. Perhaps I still do, although in a much smaller way. I have not been able to go back to work, and even with my disability income and Will’s Social Security, we’re barely making it money-wise. But I am at peace with what is, and I know my comparatively low-stress lifestyle has a lot to do with that. I’ve had time to work through the anger and the denial. I look back to where I was even two years ago and realize I’m different now. My problems—and priorities—are different too. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I’m not here to tell you that you can’t be the same person you were before mental illness struck. I’m only saying that, for me, that period of my life is over and I’m moving on. Living with severe bipolar disorder and anxiety, I cannot imagine ever again being able to move through a crowd and schmooze, or to be confronted by a patient’s angry family members, without panicking. There are days when I’m too agitated or too depressed to get out of my pajamas for no other reason than my brain chemistry gets screwed up. It’s safe to say that I will never be a working nurse again, and that’s OK with me.
I am a writer now. I write this blog, and sometimes I even write for a little money. I’ve found ways to use my talents and the wisdom gained from 20 years in health care. I love that. This may not be what I planned, and it wasn’t easy for me to accept it…but it’s what was meant for me at this point in my life, and continuing to fight it would only prolong the agony of the past few years.
I want to find my joy again. And with perseverance and a little luck, I will.