When There Is No Way Out

My bi-polar client says he prefers the label manic-depressive. “It more accurately reflects the horror of the disorder.” He continues, “I don't know who I will be every day when I wake up.”

He learned to choose his actions carefully when he noticed folks eyeing him suspiciously. He separated himself from his spontaneous impulses and now looks around him for cues to appropriate behavior. He never feels safe and he can never relax.

My bedridden client visited a specialist last week who diagnosed her extremely rare illness. He predicted that she has 3-10 years to live. “He was matter of fact,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

A third client, the mother of a beautiful talented 29 year-old, struggles to keep going. Her daughter committed suicide last month with no warning. “I have no reason to live,” she says and buries her face in a handful of kleenex.

These folks feel hopeless and frustrated and stunned by what life has delivered them. They are also desperate. They can't go to the gym and chat about their challenges with friends or hang out in a support group of others who understand because they share the same experience. My clients' paths feel very solitary and very, very lonely.  

Comfort isn't an option. I can't be upbeat and encouraging when I sit with them. That would insult them and diminish me. I am simply present to their realities. I feel what they feel and see life through their eyes. I respect their humanity. They face their challenges directly and feel everything that goes with that. They don't have the choice to deny or avoid.

All they can do is be present to themselves. They show up each day and choose to live the day with integrity, if not with joy. Resistance proves useless. “Surrender” describes their stance. Surrender, but not defeat. In their surrender, acceptance is implied in addition to a recognition that this life experience is not their preference. Each would have preferred “boring” and “ordinary.” But at this point each is clear that they don't cast the controlling vote. So, with dignity and with as much grace as a human can muster in a stifling situation, each of these persons holds his/her head up and lives another day, one second at a time.

I am humbled to share (in a small way) their journeys with them. I respect the wisdom I glimpse in their souls. The details of their daily lives look unappealing. But their courage in choosing surrender magnifies their stature.

Isn't surrender what we're all called to practice? Isn't surrender more important than accomplishment? And far wiser in the long run?     

I can't imagine that. He's trying to stand upright on shifting ground.

I had remarked to him that he seems to have an over-developed Controller, unusual for his diagnosis. He replied that he learned to choose his actions carefully when he noticed folks around him eyeing him suspiciously. He separated himself from his spontaneous impulses and now looks around him for cues to appropriate behavior.

Not trusting himself and monitoring his behavior have led him to fit in and “pass for normal.” Now he says he can fake being normal for two hours at any time. Then he withdraws to his study and reads or writes. He doesn't have close friends. “No one really knows me.”

He never feels safe. He wants to joke with others and make “crazy” comments that bring laughter. He doesn't allow himself spontaneity. Fear rules his days.

I feel his isolation and his frustration and his longing when I sit with him. He seems open and available and disarmingly sincere when he shares himself. But I can almost see the glass walls around him. The mood swings scare him but he hates living with a low-level depression. “I miss the hypo-mania. If I could just have a little of that every day . . .”

He writes beautifully but his Controller interferes with the creative process, sucking the joy from his experience even when he is alone. He's left with a life in shades of gray. No one criticizes him but he's not on his own side, either. By not trusting himself, he's lost his anchor.

We talk about how much work it takes for him just to survive. If he doesn't exercise, his thoughts fuzz. Drinking is out of the question. He can't spend time relaxing in bed because he needs to move but he also needs focus and direction. He watches his feelings so he won't explode unexpectedly.

His life has become all about being careful.

“And that's not much of a life.”

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