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When You Feel Like Your Mental Health Isn’t Getting Better or Worse

Back in October, I wrote about my bipolar disorder being in remission and how much I loved that feeling. Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m not in remission. I’ve had significant setbacks, though not long-term ones. At one point I felt broken, but when that lifted, I felt jazzed. Maybe I’m on a baseline and never wander too far off it. Maybe I’m stuck on a plateau, halfway between mental illness and good mental health.

I ask myself, will I get any better?

It’s like when I had my second back operation (a micro-laminectomy). When I went for a follow-up visit to the surgeon, I was no longer in pain but I was slow and uncertain when walking and felt keenly that my physical capacities were diminished. “Will I get any better, or is this it?” I asked.”You’ll improve,” said Dr. West. “It will take a while, but you’ll feel better.” And he was right. I did. But I still have some pain at times and sometimes I walk with a cane. I may be better, but I’m clearly not totally well. I’m not bitching (much). I know that once your back goes out, it never gets back to 100%. And I am truly grateful every day that I don’t experience the excruciating pain of a bulging disk and a pinched nerve.

My bipolar disorder is like that. I am no longer suffering on a daily basis. My meds are working and haven’t changed much in years. My mood levelers are doing their job. But I still have symptoms. There are still things I can’t do, or do only with great mental effort. I’ve never been at 100% and don’t ever expect to be. And I am truly grateful every day that I don’t have the in-the-depths lows, the ever-edgy anxiety, for more than a few days at a time.

But I wonder, am I stuck on this plateau forever? Is this as close as I’ll ever come to mental wellness? Or maybe, I think, mental health is an illusion. I can’t remember a time when I was unaffected by my disorder. The plateau itself may be an illusion. Maybe I am still improving in such tiny steps that I can’t see the change. Maybe a new medication or treatment will come along and remove more of my remaining symptoms. (I’m not counting on that, though.)

My bipolar disorder feels like it’s running a low-grade fever. I can get my work and my blogs done, but little more. I don’t feel in the least joyful. It may be that this is just real life getting me down — the weather, politics, the endless details and frustrations I have to deal with while we’re rebuilding our house. Perhaps this is just a normal mood swing like everyone gets, or a reactive depression to the aforementioned stressors.

That’s one of the constant worries once you have bipolar disorder: not trusting your feelings or your feelings about your feelings. Every setback scares me that I’m teetering on the edge, ready to plunge off that plateau. Realistically, I know I am as stable as I’m likely ever to be.

My superpower seems to be overanalyzing. I may really be in remission.

Depression lies. Anxiety lies. So, perhaps, does the plateau.

Photo by v2osk on Unsplash

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