My husband could say I am “worth it” despite my bipolar illness, but he does not. Instead, we both say that is a question that should never be asked.
Photo: Pexels.com/Flo Maderebner
When it is below zero and I am ice fishing on a frozen Alaskan lake, I concentrate all my energy on catching fish. Each time I fish, my husband—who knows I love fishing more than almost anything—immediately goes into support mode.
“What do you need?” he asks. And then he brings me food. He hauls wood with his snowmobile and starts a campfire. He carries more bait to me.
He asks me the very questions I often cannot ask myself. Instead, I ask him my own questions:
“Am I worth it? Am I worth the struggle, the frustration, the pain of the bipolar episodes?”
He could say that I am worth it because of simple things, like the way I smile at him, the way I love the people in my life, the way I love to nurture him and my stepsons, the way I can spell words he has never even heard before, or how I can laugh—a pile on the floor—at my own silly clumsiness.
But he does not say I am worth it, because he says that is the answer to a question that should not be asked. Being “worth it” implies that I am somehow defective, and as he says, over and over again, I am not defective. I am a whole person, and even though I happen to be an individual diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he loves all of me.
Am I worth it? I ask myself, over and over again, especially when I am deep in a bipolar depression. Am I worthy of this man who cares for me equally when I am happily fishing or when I am sick? Am I worthy of his patience and understanding, his love and sympathy?
Like so many people struggling through bipolar depression, I often scrutinize my very value as a human being, and particularly as a spouse and a partner. The question of whether I am worthy of life and love—a hallmark of my depressive episodes—becomes my only reality. When my brain malfunctions, I become convinced that something is deeply and indelibly wrong with me. The belief that I am defective is often unshakeable, along with the thoughts that the pain will go on forever and that I am the proverbial bipolar “burden”.
My husband could say that I am worthy because I am constantly committed to the improvement of my mental health. He could say it because I try my hardest to be well, and because when I am not fishing and when he needs me, I too go into support mode. I help him, and I care for him and my family. When I am well, I do not think I am defective. Instead, I do what I need to do to prevent the recurrence of the cycles—I take my medications, I set a routine for myself, I go to sleep every night, and I do the very best I can.
“You are a very lucky woman to have such a wonderful husband,” said my former psychiatrist.
I know that I am extremely fortunate. But as I walked out of that doctor’s office, and as his words made me feel defective again, I had to remind myself that I am not the only lucky one. My husband is also lucky to have me, because I am not just “worthy” of him—I am a whole person with my own qualities and strengths that go far beyond just being a woman with bipolar disorder.
And so I try. I give it my all so that he knows that we both know that I take responsibility for my own condition. It is often difficult, and I often fail, but although the chemical functioning of my brain may occasionally be defective, I am not. Unbroken by living with bipolar disorder, I love and I nurture my husband and my family. I give them absolutely everything I have—except for maybe when I am fishing.
Well or unwell, when I smile and laugh with a fishing rod in my hands or when I am trapped in my brain’s own civil war, I can now answer a question so obvious that it should not even be asked: Yes, I am always worthy of both life and love.
Carin Meyer is a lifelong Alaskan who works in public relations. Her academic writing has won numerous awards and her science writing and other articles have been published in university magazines, newspapers, and other media outlets. She has a blog at www.carinrmeyer.com. She enjoys writing essays about bipolar disorder and mental illness. Carin has drafted a book about bipolar disorder, The Smartest Girl in the World, for which she is currently seeking publication.
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