“Regret is useless in life” ~ Marlon Brando

So, the worst thing about not being able to blog much this semester is that I have so many ideas that when I do get time, I don’t know which to choose. In fact, I regret I have less time for this outlet than I’d like. Ooooo…I have a regret. Hmmmm.

I’ve been thinking about a lot about regrets lately. A few weeks ago, one of my friend’s daughters called me and said her mom had died…she had simply laid down for a nap and never woke up. I was gobsmacked. Linda was a really genuine, down to earth, sweet woman and it didn’t matter how much time went between seeing each other; she was the type of friend you could pick right back up with as if a day had never passed. She’ll be missed.

You know, I think I’ve always just ‘assumed’ that I’ve got a lot more time to live. Ma and pop are both in their late 70’s and one grandma lived well into her 90’s. Ma’s parents died young…at age 63 for both of them…but they also lived a very sedentary life. Grandma was a chain-smoker and had been for decades and grandpa died of cirrhosis of the liver because of life-long alcoholism. So, their young deaths were definitely tied to these lifestyles (but, they were the BEST…most of my happiest memories are with them 🙂) and since I’m fit, eat well, don’t smoke or drink, and otherwise take pretty good care of myself, I tend to think I have years and years left. But…that’s not guaranteed, is it?

Car accidents, cancer (which there is a family history of on both sides…ma is a breast cancer survivor!🌞 ), Alzheimer’s (which my older grandma died of…it is such a horrifying disease and broke all of our hearts), falls (like from my roof when I’m dancing a jig while cleaning out my gutters just to make my bestie across the street laugh 😬), and simply being bipolar. Yep…that’s one I think about more than I probably should. The National Library of Medicine reports that studies show female bipolar ‘patients’ have about a 10.6-8.3 years lesser life-span (while men lose 12.0-8.7 years) than the general population. This is even a bit higher than the 10 year reduction in life-span for chronic smokers. Charmed.

And suicide: again, the National Library of Medicine found that the rate of suicide among bipolar patients is approximately 10–30% higher than the corresponding rate in the general population. Research has also found that up to 20% of (mostly untreated) those with bipolar will end their life by suicide, while 20–60% of ‘us’ will attempt suicide at least one in our lifetime.  In other words, being bipolar ain’t so great. Go figure.

So, because of my friend and the suddenness of her death, I’ve been thinking about my life and ruminating over regrets that I have. Regretting something is really wishing it never happened…in fact, regret is often called a useless emotion since you can only regret what has already taken place which makes it too late to change things. All that’s left is the sorrow of that , which leads to guilt, shame, remorse, etc.

Daniel Pink (author of The Power of Regret) says there are 4 major types of regret: 

  • Foundation Regrets: these are failures to be responsible or conscientious which can center around money and health.
  • Boldness Regrets: not taking the action you wanted…being INACTIVE in terms of going after a job or reaching out to someone you want to get to know. In other words, passing up chances that could have changed your life. Pink’s study found that these inaction regrets outnumber action regrets. So, what we don’t do makes us more sorrowful than what we do do. Interesting, isn’t it?
  • Moral Regrets: pretty self explanatory but let me phrase this in my Kristi language: those times when you fucked up royally. Pink found that although these tend to be the fewest of all our regrets, they are actually the most painful ones for us.
  • Connection Regrets: neglecting the people that you should be connecting with more.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative carer and author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying says that the 6 most common regrets those with serious illness have are:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish I had let myself be happier.

Hmmm…is there anyone of us that can’t relate to these? Good Lord, as I look back on my regrets, I see them in all of these categories and in this list of common ones. Before I even started reading Ware’s work, I actually had thought of these very ones. The worst for me? Not living my life authentically…and actually, still not doing so in many ways.

We’ve talked about masks and how those of us with mental illness hide behind them out of shame, embarrassment, pressure, expectation, etc. I did for most of my adult life. Who wants to admit they have a mental illness that is so stigmatized? So misunderstood? Has so many myths circling around it like vultures who want us to believe we’re ‘crazy’ and violent? How can anyone in their right mind (yes, that pun was intentional 😳) want that rosy attitude directed towards them? The solution? Hide. Pretend. Be who others want you to be. Expect you to be. Demand that you be. That’s a tough thing to do and in fact, many of us know that it’s fucking (sorry, ma) exhausting and really does nothing at all in the long run anyway. Masks fall off…they disintegrate…they shift and budge. They are simply unsustainable. And when the elastic does break on them people say things like “You used to be so ‘normal.” Or, “You never used to speak up like that.” Or, “Ummmm…no…I don’t think I can do lunch with you today…ummmm…something came up.” Or, “Of course Kristi is to blame for that, she’s bipolar…you know, they’re all nuts.” Is it any wonder we put them on in the first place?

But then I think about WHO I put them on for and realize they can all fuck off anyway (not gonna apologize for that one ma, since you say the same too 😐). Those I pretended for were really going to love me forever? Or be my best friend? The assholes (I’m on a profanity roll here…) who wouldn’t accept someone mentally ill in their midst were really worth me being someone I wasn’t? Well no…they weren’t. And believe me, the only regret I have with this one is just how recently I learned it.

Another one I’m still working a lot on is a boldness regret…one of inaction. Look, I’ve been bullied a lot in my life…as have many of my sweet peeps. My sister is a badass and this is why: she isn’t rude or mean or a fight-picker, but by golly she’ll stand up for herself with absolutely nothing held back! In fact, she still does it for me in place of the times I can’t! My inaction regarding standing up to people was more understandable when I was young and sickly and skinny, but still doing it at 55? No…it’s pretty much bullshit by now. After all, I’m in my 50’s (yeeeeesh…) and shouldn’t be so hesitant to say what I really want and need to say. Right? I can do this for my son…in fact, sticking up for him has always been easy no matter what his age. I’m quite the mama bear! But to do it for myself? Hmmm…perhaps I need to harness that bear for myself as well.

But, I don’t. I think it’s why the other people have usually blamed me for their actions: cheated on me…my fault. Yelled at me…my fault. Accused me of things…my fault. You get the point. And why do I acquiesce to this? Hmmm…maybe in some part because I had to be more timid and accommodating around ma’s bastard of an ex. If I stood up to him…didn’t agree with him…didn’t nod my head and smile no matter what he said, ma was the one in danger. Period. So, that ‘I’m sorry’ became a sort of mantra for me. And now? Bipolar is to blame. No matter what I say or do or feel, it can be easily turned around to the fact that since I have bipolar, I must be the one in the wrong. It’s a great scapegoat for anyone to use against me when they need someone outside of themselves to blame. Blech.

And of course there are all of the other regrets too: I do work too much at times…let friendships get pushed aside in all the busyness of the week…not spend the time I should with those that mean the most to me. But the good news is this: regrets are things that have their origins in the past…and don’t have to be our futures. So, my pledge to myself? Be me with no excuses. Reach out and make time for those I love and if papers don’t get graded that day, the world won’t end. Stand up for myself and say “Hey! Lay off!” Nurture the friendships I’ve built over these last couple of years. Take a bit more care with my moolah so there won’t be regret with that later in life when I’ll be looking into what old folks home I want to spend my golden years in. And not be scared to be happy…whatever that happy may look like.

But one thing I don’t regret? Starting this blog, getting to know all of you, and making some pretty awesome friends along the way. Thanks, peeps.

Kristi xoxo

Good Lord, I wanted Billy Ray’s hair so badly (along with a few other ‘things’ too😳) !

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