I’ve always seen myself as a bit of a free spirit: going with the flow, marching to the beat of my own drum, not constrained by schedules and routines — other those required by my job or other commitments.
I eat when I feel hungry, sleep when I feel tired. Paint, sketch and craft when I feel creative. Exercise when I feel like being active. Clean when I feel like having order and tidiness around me. Ignore the dishes, laundry and clutter when I don’t feel like dealing with it. Go out when I feel like being social. Stay in I feel like being alone.
During my personal time, doing what I feel like doing, when I feel like doing it, is commensurate with being in control of my life instead of life controlling me. Living a life bound by strict schedules and routines isn’t.
Problem is, schedules and routines are an essential part of managing bipolar disorder.
Since being diagnosed with bipolar II, I’ve put serious effort into managing it. I read everything I can about this illness. I attended a mindfulness meditation retreat. I’ve tried cocktails of medications, enduring the side effects until we found one that worked. I’ve faithfully gone to my appointments with my psychiatrist and completed the homework — except implementing routines. That I’ve resisted.
I go through the motions. I write up schedules and set goals, with a neat column of little boxes in my bullet journal to check each day: eat three meals at normal meal times, go to bed by 10 p.m., get up at 7 a.m. (whether I have anywhere to be or not), exercise or go for a walk at the same time each day, meditate at the same time each day. But, at the end of the week, most of the boxes remain unchecked.
Until one day, while reading How to be Sick by Toni Bernhard, I had a moment of self-realization.
When I thought of eating, sleeping, exercising, and even playing, at the same time every day for the rest of my days, it conjured up images of being in a straitjacket — bound, stuck in something I didn’t want to be stuck in. A prisoner to a life I couldn’t identify with. No, didn’t want to identify with.
But the reality was, by resisting a life guided by routines, I wasn’t living free. Ironically, I had imprisoned myself in a rigid belief of how to live my life, one in which my concept of freedom mattered above all. But that wasn’t true. I value health more.
I began to see freedom and routine in a different light.
Living on a routine can mean freedom — freedom from being controlled by the extreme ups and downs of this illness as much as I have been.
Changing my perspective has been a long time coming. Adapting to routines won’t happen overnight either. But, at least now I’m ready to relinquish beating my own drum for finding a new rhythm.