You can't help but go among mad people. We're all mad here. I'm mad, you're mad. You must be mad, or you wouldn't have come here.
~Cheshire Cat

12 September 2013

Finding Balance

Many professionals in the mental health practice, as well as numerous sufferers of bipolar disorder, often say that in order to have a fulfilling and stable life, one must be able to find a “balance” between the opposing forces of the mind and body.

But what is balance, really? 

Webster’s defines it as: noun a; the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall b; the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling c; a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance.

Balance is invisible. Nothing is ever truly balanced; it is an unreachable state. Balance is warding off  outside forces. Balance is the fight against “imbalance.”

Remember that game where you try balancing a broomstick on the palm of your hand to see who can hold it the longest? Someone may have held it the longest, but eventually that broomstick fell victim to gravity. Or what about trying to balance a book on the top of your head as you try to walk in a straight line? Impossible. It will fall almost every single time.

Take Yoga for example. If you've ever tried the Dancer’s Pose, you probably found it to be rather difficult at first. After a lot of training, it becomes easier, but the entire purpose of the pose is to be able to fight the imbalance long enough to be able to perform. Once you are in the position, you don’t just stay there; your weight is unevenly distributed and your body’s muscles are trying to work together to keep you from falling over. Being in the Dancer’s Pose is not balance; it is just fighting being unbalanced. Think of it as pretending to be what you are not.

The same can be true for bipolar disorder. There is never a time when everything seems to be in its place. The planets never align. There is never “balance.” Instead, the illusion of balance is covering up opposing forces that are constantly trying to keep us from reaching equilibrium. Thoughts and emotions from every part of the spectrum are flooding our heads at every moment. When we want to stand, they push us down. When we want to fall, they keep us up. It is a constant tug-of-war. Both sides are strong. Both sides are weak. But they are always at odds. Sometimes, one side will slip a little, giving leverage to the other side. Sometimes, both sides will be determined to knock the other side into oblivion. But that ribbon in the middle of the rope will never stay in place. It is always moving. Back and forth, until one side gives in just enough to allow the other side to have the advantage, even for just a moment.

To tell someone with bipolar that finding a balance is necessary to feeling better, you are limiting that person to a life of servitude. If I, a person afflicted with bipolar, am supposed to be balanced, then I am doing a horrible job. “Balance” is not being neutral, or normal. “Balance” is not waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. It is not control over “highs” and “lows.”

“Balance” is a concept we invented as a standard by which to live. We are always in the Dancer’s Pose, we always have a broomstick on the palms of our hands, and we always have that book on our heads. We have to be careful or we will fall. At best, it is a fantasy. At worst, it is a delusion.
Balance isn't for everyone. It isn't even for most people.

I have a necklace with glass beads linked together. Most of the beads are clear, but two of them are black. For most people, the black beads would be in the center. On this necklace, they are to the side. People constantly try to correct it, telling me that it has slipped a bit. “No, it’s supposed to be that way,” I say as I smile and touch the necklace. The look I receive is usually one of “hm.”

Why would someone choose to live a little bit to the side?

Because I know that gravity will always win, and that eventually one side will give in, and that heads are round and books are flat, and that sometimes waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night is not possible. And that’s totally fine.