Few years in my life have felt as long as this one.
Last year, on New Year’s, I declared that I’d had the hardest year of my life, and therefore I was the strongest I’d ever been.
In the end, this proved to be true. Although I faced many familiar battles this year, I fought them with the experience of a (somewhat) seasoned veteran. I would, therefore, describe this year as less difficult than the one before.
Still, it was a hell of a year. Severe depression collided against severe mania, joy over COVID vaccinations turned into a whack-a-mole game of new variants, a new role at work brought both excitement and anxiety, and parenting evolved from providing a baby with their every basic need to corralling a hilarious miniature human.
With so many metaphorical journeys traveled, it seems like a fitting year to have reached the goal I set in April of walking 100 miles during 2021 to raise funds for Action on Postpartum Psychosis.
In total, since the end of April, I took 44 walks with 21 different people (some of whom walked with me multiple times) and raised $1,431.
The pace at which I completed these miles was wildly inconsistent. As I already wrote, you can see my hypomania and optimism in my constant walking and posting during the spring, and my depression in the long stretches of silence over the summer and fall.
This last month has been different.
My pace appears frantic, and, in some ways, it was. As I ramped up to my most recent manic episode in November and then eased back down to my baseline, I had energy to burn.
But during my recovery since then, walking and writing have been important ways of getting back in touch with myself and my mind. Being able to take a step back from work and take time for self-care while also having a purpose that reconnected me to my family and friends was essential for my healing process.
I’ve kept up a rigorous pace this month not out of illness, but out of a deep desire for wellness (and a ticking clock- I have a tendency to procrastinate).
So yesterday, with just one day to spare, I took my final walk of the project with my entire family: Matt, Bailey, Doc, and me.
We walked the mile loop around our neighborhood that we frequently walk.
Bailey did most of the talking, which was primarily just her repeating her own name, with the occasional, “Cold outside!” mixed in.
Matt and I reflected a bit about this project, and he asked about how I made decisions about how to present myself online.
As I thought about it, I somehow felt like I’d simultaneously spent an entire year painting myself as a pathetic lost soul while also posing as some sort of Zen master who knew exactly how to handle any difficulty that came along.
On the one hand this feels right: I made intentional choices to try to balance the negative and positive aspects of my experience. After all, both exist: there are plenty of days where I’m feeling sorry for myself, and plenty of days where I’m feeling like I’m knocking it out of the park. Bipolar is, after all, a disease of vacillating between extremes.
But most days neither extreme feels true, and instead I exist in the somewhat dull realm of survival. Some days this feels like the biggest accomplishment, and other days it feels like an embarrassing bare minimum.
Ultimately, I think I’m still finding the authentic voice that I want to use to talk about my experiences. But that has been the whole point of this journey: it’s been a learning process. In the same way that I’m hoping to educate others about the realities of postpartum psychosis and bipolar, I’m still educating myself about my own diagnoses, reflecting on what my experiences mean to me, and deciding how they will impact the person I am becoming.
I say the person I am becoming because, in many ways, I don’t know who I am right now. This is simultaneously terrifying and liberating. But I have a pretty clear image of who I want to be, and who I have faith that I’m becoming.
So I will raise a cautiously optimistic toast to 2022. Not because I think it owes me anything. Not because I have baseless predictions about whether this year will be better or worse than the last. Not because the stroke of midnight magically changes anyone’s circumstances or situation.
But because I know I will continue to learn and grow in 2022. I may be struggling, but I’m not standing still. This next year is coming, and even if I’m not ready for what it brings, I can comfort myself with the knowledge that I’ve built the best defenses I know how to build. This has helped me gain some confidence in myself and my ability to get through hard things- even if they happen repeatedly.
It’s sort of like the pandemic. We wanted the vaccine to be a silver bullet, and it even looked like it might be pretty close to one. But the circumstances we were fighting against changed and evolved, elapsed time caused our immune systems to let down their guard, and, frustratingly, nothing is ever perfect. Still, boosters were rolled out and the seemingly unavoidable infections largely became more mild (though, of course, this provides little comfort for those still facing more severe cases). Testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and treatment have all become more routine, even if they still have their problems. As frustrating a place as this is to be two years on, it can’t be denied that we are adapting to life in a pandemic. And while we may never return to exactly where we were before, this has, in ways we might forget about on a daily basis, made us stronger.
So if anyone cares what advice I had to give about making a resolution for 2022, it is to strive to be adaptable. To relinquish control of circumstances you can’t change, but to commit to letting each of those circumstances change you for the better. And if you can’t do that every time, that’s ok- I certainly haven’t. So let’s just keep moving forward, keep setting goals, however small, and keep writing your own version of your story as it unfolds.
Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!
100 miles down, 0 to go