I am stubborn. Comparing me to a mule is not something that I take as a insult, but rather simply a observation of who I am. I come by it honestly. My mother is one of the most stubborn people I have ever met. My grandmother, the woman who taught me about my mental illness, was even more so. Like the color of my hair or the size of my waist, my stubbornness was passed down through the centuries.
In many cases stubbornness is a virtue. You don’t become a U.S. Senator’s liaison by being weak. You don’t learn and implement computer programs for larger corporations by ignoring your stubbornness. You don’t become the youngest female Controller in an old Southern town by denying the inescapable truth that you can exert yourself and defend yourself with no help from anyone.
I have counted on my stubbornness throughout my journey of mental illness; and it has served me remarkably well. I know this because I am still alive. I am still alive because I am too stubborn to give up all hope – not something that is brag worthy. I am too stubborn to believe that the life I was given, by either God, the universe, or my ancestors, is the only one I am capable of living. I am too stubborn to take all the darkness, the continual war on my brain, the ups and downs and not try to find a path out of it all. I am too stubborn to let the world destroy me in their hearing, in their eye line, in their imaginations; I am too stubborn to let anyone know of the fight I fight. I write about it and try to be open and honest about it, but that’s for strangers. Never for those who can see me, touch me, think for a moment that they know me.
Stubbornness, like everything in this world, is a two-edged sword. For instance, I can’t forgive without years passing. I can’t forget unless I consciously choose to. I hold onto grudges, onto fears, and memories as if they are made of solid gold. My stubbornness means that I have a nasty temper, especially when I am not being respected – although respect is also completely up to my own definition. My stubbornness means that I can withdraw, be secretive, and otherwise ignore all that is in front of me for my own pleasure. The old saying once bitten, twice shy, was meant as a warning for those who face danger – for me it is a way of life. That’s stubbornness.
My stubbornness is as much a part of me as the history of my life. It can’t be eradicated. It can’t be covered up with roses and soft cushions. It can’t be changed to match what the world wants from me. But it’s still a two-edged sword.
I have spent the last couple of weeks, since before Christmas, practicing a technique that therapists around the world would recognize; it has a fancy word for it but since I don’t really care I haven’t memorized it. Basically, I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to change into a more positive being. Does that mean I have brushed off this mental illness I have? Does that mean that I have changed my personality or even my own goals? Nope. It means that when I think bad thoughts, that come as easily to me as breath does to you, I try to recognize that those bad thoughts aren’t what I want to feel. I spend time each day finding gratitude, in me and the world around me. The beautiful sunsets that have been so prominent in this winter weather. The laughter of my children. The steadiness of my husband. I am trying to feel the goodness, not the worst that this world shows me.
This is not any easy thing to do because I have a disease that prefers the darkness, the silence, the negativity rather than the harder positive. I have a disease that will turn on me; take me to a place that looks a lot like the world that I am most familiar with. I have a disease that does not lend itself to gratitude but rather the counting of everything that I perceive as being wrong. Being bipolar, I honestly shouldn’t be able to find positivity, and it certainly shouldn’t be easy. That is the name of the game; and in this game I am Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Babe Ruth all at once. My disease consumes all of my life and all that I am – and I am good at being exactly what this disease wants me to be. Trying to change that is sort of like asking a narcist to be more compassionate. It can be done, but it’s cost is high.
Lately, after enough weeks have passed I suppose, I have started to get comments on my new “outlook”. My husband gave me one of the nicest compliments I have ever heard when he literally thanked me for trying to be better. (Two-edged sword, again). My therapist and other doctors are impressed. I have stood up to the negativity and people want more of it. There is just one problem – they, each of them, are systematically destroying my ability to try and be better.
My stubbornness hears the words coming from family and friends and first wonders why I had to change for any of them. Then my stubbornness wonders if it can possibly stand up to the tide of negativity that will consume me at some point in the future (I am bipolar – it can’t be cured with happy thoughts) and how those same family and friends will react to the change. My stubbornness wonders why I have to please anyone, be better for anyone, why I have to explain myself and what is happening to me to anyone. I know I am making progress, but it won’t last forever, so stop celebrating it like I lost a thousand pounds and will now live forever.
I don’t know how long this me is going to last; but I can promise it won’t last forever. So instead of commenting on it, even in the nicest of compliments, I wish that people would just ignore all of it and let me see how far I can go. My stubbornness will get me where I need to go, until someone in all their best intentions, destroys me and makes me rebuild in a fashion that isn’t full of ridiculous thoughts of sunsets and laughter. I prefer to be alone. It is one of the reasons that when someone asks me what I do, I always answer writer. No one can help me with it. I prefer to do things in my own way and my own time, and I don’t need the added pressure of being something that makes those around me happy. Is this fair? No way in hell. But my stubbornness can’t compete with nice words. It can’t compete with kindness. I am stubborn but I am no one’s dog and pony show.
I wish for many things in my life. I certainly wish I could promise those who are complimenting me that this new thing will last, but it won’t. I would rather be shoved in a corner and completely left to my own devices. Allow me to heal in a way that I can. Allow me the space to find my own way through this new world and allow me to figure out how to hold onto it for longer than a day. Allow me to be better, to stubbornly move in the directions I need to turn, without any comment from the peanut gallery. For no matter what the words sound like, I can’t survive without my stubbornness, and you are killing the very thing I can hold up and admire with all my positive shit. I need my stubbornness; not an acknowledgement that your perspective is important. My stubbornness will keep me living if people will just let me live.
And no, I have never written down someone’s compliment in my gratitude journal to remember. I have never been grateful for someone else’s belief in me. Although I am a pleaser, I am more stubborn. And right now I need my stubbornness to have it’s head so I can be all the things that my friends and family are so confident I can be. In irony, there is always a moment of the ridiculous. And in a disease like bipolar, there is tons of irony.