“You better watch your step…” ~ Elvis Costello

So, Bill is a recovering alcoholic and he attends his AA meetings via Zoom every morning. When he’s at my house, I often hear these while I’m fiddling around in the living room or shoving an extra bagel down my gullet in the kitchen. Anyhoot, as the members talk about the 12 steps and other things pertaining to AA, I think about how this would actually be helpful to those of us with mental illness as well. Not that we have an addiction, mind you…but just that the basic tenets could also apply to us.

You know, everyday I take my meds and that’s pretty much it. I ‘live’ with the bipolar everyday, but don’t necessarily ‘work on it’ everyday and I think that’s a huge difference. I guess I believe that if my meds are working and my moods aren’t causing to me to either spend a few thousand bucks a day or not get out of bed, then everything is A-OK. But, is it? Can I take more ‘control?’ Can I start ‘working’ on my illness everyday? Hmmmm…

Anyhoot, let’s take a look-see at the 12 steps but rewritten and paraphrased (by your truly 🤨) to be used in terms of mental illness:

We admit we are sometimes/often powerless over our mental illness and that our lives can be unmanageable. Hmmmmm. As much as I might think I’m in charge of this fucking bipolar (sorry, ma…but you hate it too 😐), in actuality, I’m not. A few weeks ago, when I was transitioning off of an anti-depressant for a new one, the progressive reduction in the old med was too much and I had 3 absolutely horrible days without knowing why. Bawling non-stop, being so anxious I was beside myself, sweating and shaking, feeling nauseous…the whole 10 yards. It made me realize how powerful the meds are that I’m on, but also how much I truly do need them to feel ‘better’ since when I didn’t have them before, I was almost unable to function. I guess I liken it to a diabetic and insulin…we need these meds to keep on keeping on.

We believe that the Power we conceptualize can lead us to the path of treatment and hope. We turn our will and lives over to God as we perceive Him personally. Now, I’ve actually lost Facebook friends (yes, I’m 17…I actually think the term ‘social media’ is a synonym for high school 🙄) over this next one: “Kristi, if you TRULY believed in God, you’d be cured.” What? Heh? Ummmm…OOOOOKKKKKAAAAAYYYYY. So, in the same vein, if ma would have believed in God more, her breast cancer would have magically gone away? Right?

Why is it people will concede that God gave us the insight and knowledge that guide medical staff, but can’t see the same when the illness is mental? “God gave us chemotherapy.” Yep. I do believe he guided the development of it with human will behind the actual creation of the medication. “God will heal you of bipolar.” Well….nooooooo…but he pushes me to get the treatment I need and believe me, he pushed me hard for years before I decided to get off my ass and finally do it.

Then, it comes to ‘what God’ we are talking about and this is where things get tricky. In fact my son, who isn’t a believer (which breaks his mama’s heart but I digress 🙁) brings this up a lot: “Which ‘God’ are you talking about…the Power in Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, Christianity, etc.?” My answer? All of them. You see, when I think of ‘God’, I think of the alpha and omega concept: he’s everything to everyone. He’s the center of all of these in the way the religions are conceptualized. God, to me, is omniscient. He’s all-knowing…all-seeing…all everything. I totally agree there’s not one ‘right’ religion. There’s religion and then there’s the Powerful One who can be conceptualized in so many ways in so many cultures in so many belief systems. If he’s truly ‘God’, he’s all God all the way. This might sound a bit juvenile but it’s what makes sense to me.

Would this be ‘funny’ if it depicted any other religion? Hmmmm…

Now, do I share this with a lot of people willy-nilly? No. I actually don’t. Talking about religion and God (which I contend are 2 separate things) can be tricky in this day and age…at least talking about Christianity is from what I’ve experienced (particularly from colleagues at work who have actually called me stupid for thinking a God exists…would they say the same if I were of another faith?) There’s seems to be less tolerance and respect for ‘us’ than those who might be Muslim or of another faith. It’s almost like being a Christian isn’t as ‘politically correct’ anymore, but being anything else is to be revered and respected. I hate to cuss when talking about religion, but what the hell is that all about? Anyhoot, it’s something that can turn people off or make them think you’re just another religious zealot out to save the world. Despite what some people may think, you can believe in God and not be a wacko who tries to lay hands on you the minute they meet you. Just sayin. 🙄

We make searching and fearless inventories of who we are and acknowledge what we have. We affirm to God, ourselves, and others the mental illness we have been diagnosed with. We admit we’re ready for God to help us learn to manage and live with the mental illness. It took me decades to do the first. Decades of pretending I wasn’t bipolar…denying I was bipolar…hiding the fact I am bipolar. I didn’t want this illness that some people think turns you into a serial killer or psychopath (yes, I’ve read papers that talk about both 🙄).

Then, admitting it to others. When I first posted on Facebook about being bipolar, I was petrified. Truly. And in some ways, I had a right to be: I lost friends, the respect of some colleagues, the closeness of some family…there were consequences to coming out. Then I started this blawg where I put everything out there. For as many people who question my sanity in doing this, I have more that thank me and say they have learned to be more accepting of their own mental illnesses. It’s so so worth it. In fact, and I don’t say this lightly, I’d lose every ‘friend’ I have if I help a handful of my students with their own struggles. Truly.

We humbly ask God to help us with our shortcomings. We make a list of people we’ve harmed and plan our amends to them. We make the amends unless they would be hurtful. I love the idea of taking personal inventories and making amends. I know I’ve done really really really (times 1000 😳) shitty things in my life and I know I owe a lot of people a lot of apologies. I’ve made so many of them, but some I haven’t made. Like, I’d love to apologize to my son’s dad for the roller coaster I was often on when I refused to see my bipolar for what it was and seek treatment when we were married. However, to be honest, I don’t think he would give a crap or even try to understand; so I’m not going to open that can of worms. I don’t think he ‘needs’ my amends.

Amends are so hard to do. Saying ‘forgive me’ is easy (so to speak 😐) but it often doesn’t feel like ‘enough’ to me and probably doesn’t to the one I’m apologizing too as well. And, I know amends aren’t the end of things. When I’m cycling through mania (which I kinda wish I was right now because I want to start painting the basement and it would be nice to get it done in a day 🙄) or depression, I know ma gets hurt by that. I know I say and do things that people don’t understand or take in a way I didn’t mean. We are never done making amends…because unfortunately, we are always doing wrongs. And…we need to admit that.

We continue to take personal inventories and address issues promptly. We pray to our God to use his will for us and to give us the power to carry it out. We carry this message to others and offer them hope in terms of their mental illnesses too. What good is all of this insight and work if we just keep it to ourselves? Why learn the lessons I have if I’m not willing to teach them to others. And, why would I ever think I can handle this alone. 45 years of trying says different.

Finally, in AA meetings the serenity prayer is recited: “God, grant me the power to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Don’t you just love this? It makes so much sense to me. Why would I want to pray for the ‘impossible’? “God, take this bipolar away…now.” That’s not going to happen. I feel like I was given this for a reason and I’m the way I’m supposed to be in terms of this brain disease. But, asking God to help me manage it…change what I can…give me the ability to do what’s right regarding my bipolar actually feels very empowering.

I guess we can all use ‘steps’ in our lives in various ways. Steps to climb up the ladder of success…steps to take us upstairs to our crying babies…steps tried in order to learn to walk again…so many steps in our lives. But these steps are important too. Steps to make us see our illnesses more clearly. To see that we can’t handle them alone. To see we have obligations to others. To see that we are fallible and can take measures to either correct it or make up for it. All I know is this: learning about AA and seeing in work in Bill’s life has been so helpful in my own. And maybe that’s the final message of the program. You aren’t alone. You have Him. You have us. And ultimately, you have yourself. And when you think about it, that’s a lot of support to lean on.

Kristi xoxo

Author: Kristi

Just a bipolar Professor working to end the stigma of mental illness.

5 thoughts on ““You better watch your step…” ~ Elvis Costello”

  1. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing.

    Re: religion, I agree it’s hard to share. As an Orthodox Jew, I really have to be open about it at work, as I wear my kippah (skullcap), won’t eat non-kosher treats co-workers bring in to share, take Jewish holidays off etc. To be fair, I haven’t encountered any stigma directly, but I’ve seen so much anti-religious prejudice in the media that I get scared of sharing that part of myself even if so far it has always gone OK (tbh, there.are many parts of myself I’m scared to share, mental illness being another).

    Re: personal inventories: like many Jews, I do one of these every year, right before Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), to see how I grew over the last year and what I need to set right. Some people go so far as to do a daily inventory, before they go to sleep.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hate that there’s still much anti-semitism in this world and can’t imagine how scary it would be for you to see it in the media so often. I think personal inventories are crucial and love the idea of daily reflection of these. Thank you so much for reading my blog…I truly appreciate and love your comments! ❤️❤️❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I blithely go from day to day and rarely ever take stock of myself – I suppose this is a major fault but I think it comes from being the spoiled darling child of a huge family and then the spoiled darling wife of a wonderful man who rarely sees any fault in me. This post is wonderful, and so are you, and I’m so grateful that you continue to teach me and show me what it’s like to live in your brain. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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