Excerpt from Whole Happy and Healthy: A Revolutionary Approach to Understanding and Thriving with Mental Illness http://amzn.to/2mUjVRK
You haven’t heard a lot from me over the past year. I won’t bore you with excuses, except to let you know that I experienced a prolonged illness, was involved in two minor accidents, continued working two to three jobs, provided extra support for my family, and finally finished my most recent book, Whole Happy and Healthy. Now that this difficult year has passed, I must turn my attention to the topic that I have been avoiding for more than six years: my dissertation topic.
My problem has never been that I don’t have any ideas; in fact, I have too many. Committing to one topic in which I will immerse myself for the next few years is a bit scary. But I am at the point where the ‘rubber meets the road,’ as they say, and my goal is to complete a concept paper if not a full proposal by the end of this summer. I want my topic to be something exciting to me but also relevant and helpful to others in the field. I have narrowed it down to the following broad ideas; let me know if you have any suggestions!
When I was a little girl, I had a chemistry kit. It was a hand me down from my sisters who are seven and 10 years older than me. The kit contained several different chemicals, all in neat little labeled jars, and some basic equipment such as a beaker, pipet, and test tubes with a rack.
But the kit lacked an instruction book. Somewhere along the way over the years, it had become lost. So one day I decided to start experimenting with the chemicals based not on hypotheses, but purely on my intuition and most playful imagination. I had no experience working in a chemistry lab or with any of the individual chemicals, and I had no idea that mixing chemicals could be dangerous; the world was, to me, a safe and happy place.
And so with the help of an almost as mischievous as me friend, we began to experiment. And by experiment, I mean mixing chemicals together until we got a result — a small but not dangerous explosion.
You would think that I would have learned my lesson, but probably about five years later, when visiting a cousin who was my summer sister, we decided to bleach our jeans by mixing hydrogen peroxide and ammonia (obviously, it was the 1980s). My aunt arrived home as the jeans soaked in the tub and our innocent little lungs soaked up the noxious fumes. She clearly set us straight by shouting as she ran around the house opening all of the windows.
Never again have I ever mixed chemicals outside of a lab under the instruction of a professor. A professor at DeSales University to be exact, whose name I cannot remember but I recall he lived in Delaware and had a long commute every day.
Our lives are like ongoing experiments, one in which many, many resources are available. It may be a cliche, but it is true that life doesn’t come with an instruction book. We can play with these the resources — ideas, places, people, things, colors, sounds — by forming unique combinations, even when the results are unknown. While we have the benefit of being able to form hypotheses based on our life experience, we sometimes need to overlook these as our own life experience represents only a small range of human possibility. The most bold, and the most potentially transformational, hypotheses are those that integrate a piece of ourselves with something external that somehow comes into our field of consciousness.
For example, I might form a hypothesis that I am moody because I am bipolar. And I can collect a lot of evidence to support this educated guess! A whole lot, some of my friends and family might tell you. But this hypothesis could be transformed into a crutch upon which I lean when I discover evidence in my life and am too lazy and uncreative to explore other possible meanings. It can be used as an excuse for bad behavior, and that is not acceptable to me. Therefore, this hypothesis is faulty and should be eliminated from my life experiments. At least as it is written.
I could alternatively form a hypothesis that the social construct of bipolar disorder provides a lens through which a beautiful kaleidoscope of emotions swirls through my brain. It may not be a perfect representation of reality, or my interpretation thereof, but it is certainly more liberating than simply blaming my rapidly changing, complex moods on a medical condition. One which shapes them, no doubt, but not one that prohibits me from openly exploring other options.
In our life, we make hypotheses all the time without even being aware. These hypothesis limit our minds and our actions. I try to pay attention to the assumptions behind the hypotheses that I make, and eliminate those that do not promote emotional freedom and well-being. It isn’t always easy, because they are tricky little ideas that disguise themselves as protection, but I try nonetheless.
I can remember a time when, at about 12 years of age, I walked through the snow in bare feet. For fun. I loved the feeling of the crisp white flakes beneath me. I can also remember loving hot summer days and coming home a hot dirty mess after playing outside all day long and feeling perfectly content and fully alive.
I must be getting old (and you need not remind me that I celebrated a big birthday just two weeks ago), because I no longer enjoy the extremes of the seasons. I function best when it is about 50 to 85 degrees. When it is colder or warmer than this range, I find myself feeling uncentered and longing for those perfect weather days that seem to be becoming more and more rare. So I find myself spending way too much time indoors, protecting myself from the both the blistering heat and the chill of cold winter days.
We find ourselves in patters such as these throughout life. We become trapped in our comfort zones, avoiding things we dislike and becoming somehow disengaged when forced to deal with undesirable circumstances.
What alarms me most is that my comfort zone seems to be getting smaller and smaller. While I once enjoyed the extremes of weather, and not all that long ago, I now only feel my best when the weather happens to be within a range of just 35 degrees. Perhaps this is because more life experience results in a stronger sense of what I most appreciate and desire. Or perhaps this is because I am stuck and clinging to something that arbitrarily brings me comfort in a world where so many things seem to be out of my control.
Either way, immersion in a variety of experiences, especially those which seem challenging to us, make us stronger, more compassionate, and more interesting human beings. So while I really don’t like it when it is hot and humid outside, I am going to do make the most of what is magically presented to me every day and look for the enjoyable excitement, rather than the distraction of discomfort, which that brings. Such is life.
(c) Jessica R. Dreistadt 2015-2019. All Rights Reserved.