Friday, April 1, 2011

What's Your Bag?

Many apologies, friends, for being out of touch. I just finished a new book and was working on the initial sales and whatnot…it kept me busy for a few weeks. Now I am getting ready for my first-ever lecture to the NAMI Contra Costa General Meeting in April…MAJOR NERVES. But this is what I’ve been working towards for a long time – a chance to introduce the book and give people real-time help with mental issues.

And that brings me to my subject: what are you doing with your life?

Surviving, you might say. Living through my symptoms. Trying to string one day together after the other.

Well, that’s cool, and it can be a full time occupation at certain points of our lives. Having a chronic disease, little income, and few resources does leave us with fewer choices and a lot of plain hard work. But at some point you’re going to need a reason to be alive -  a reason to keep stringing those days together in sickness and in health – especially if they are mostly ‘in sickness’.

Humans are goal oriented and pleasure oriented. When mental illness happens, what usually follows is that all your previous plans for your life go straight down the toilet. Lots of us are so shocked and overwhelmed, we never get around to replacing those dreams and plans. But we need to have some.

Lest we feel too sorry for ourselves, I’d like to remind you that retirees have much the same problem. They’ve been operating at a certain level and with a set goal for decades – and suddenly, they are left with an open schedule, no goal, and also diminished capabilities. Even if they are perfectly healthy, the number of employers who will hire them is drastically reduced. So is their income. Sound familiar?

This is the point at which many retirees die. Statistics bear me out – when people do not have a goal or an occupation, they just don’t last long. When you retire, whether due to disability or age, you must build a new life : one which doesn’t include the standard, familiar 9 to 5 goals. This is a challenge, but it need not be as difficult as Mount Everest. Instead of thinking that we have somehow ‘failed’, we can think of ourselves as in early retirement, and needing a sense of purpose.

For me, the answer was in the arts. That may not be your bag at all. But there is something, somewhere, that is meaningful to you, and that you can participate in. It doesn’t have to be volunteer work or a ‘Good Cause’, though lots of folks find that’s their answer. You may prefer to devote yourself to being the best friend anyone ever had. You might take up gardening – even if all you have is a window box. You might raise cats, or whittle small soap statues, or quilt, or lift weights and keep a healthy body despite the unhealthy things your mind sometimes does. You might become a consultant, with his/her own hours, in a field where you were once a full time employee. It doesn’t matter what it is, just so long as it is important to you, and something you can manage on a come-and-go basis, when you are well enough.

Just be sure that you find yours. Any Existentialist can tell you that the meaning of life is only what we make of it. Find your source of satisfaction. Find a reason to get up in the morning. Or one day, you just won’t.