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  • Victoria Maxwell

Are You a Bipolar Rocking Chair or Bipolar Swivel Chair?

A Personal Perspective: Knowing which one can help you flourish with bipolar.

Are You a Bipolar Rocking Chair or Bipolar Swivel Chair?

Are you a rocking chair or swivel chair? Play along with me. Imagine you’re a chair. But what kind of chair? You need to know because it determines what you can and cannot do. No one chair is better than the other. They’re just different, with different abilities. This rocking versus swivel metaphor has helped me to be gentle with myself and realize I’m not broken just because I can’t do certain things due to the bipolar disorder and anxiety I live with. Understanding which chair, I have allowed me to flourish despite, or maybe in spite of, my mental illnesses.


The chair comparison was born out of my frustration when I first experienced the limits bipolar disorder, anxiety, and my propensity to psychosis placed upon me. Things I took for granted I could no longer.

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Such as staying up late a couple of nights in a row if I happen to, say be reading a great book, or binging on a Netflix series. Enjoying drinks with friends over dinner or having one in the evening while I make a meal. Forgoing my regular exercise for two or three weeks because I just don't feel like it.


A consistent sleep routine, no alcohol (or keeping it to the minimum, which for me is around one drink per month if any at all), and consistent exercise (I’m a runner—well a jogger, let’s be honest) are essential to maintaining a stable mood and, as a result, a stable life.


If I don’t adhere to these, I either do a nosedive into a murky quicksand of depression/anxiety combo or take the escalator up to a mania. When I faithfully follow them, I'm at my best, and I stay there for the most part. Any drawbacks of having to honor these pales in comparison to the benefits I reap.


Back to the furniture:


I needed to realize (and accept) whether I was a swivel office chair or a rocking chair. Why? Because if I tried to spin around while a rocking chair, I just exasperated myself and felt defeated. As a swivel chair, if I pushed back and forth in an attempt to rock, well, not only would it be fruitless, but I'd also likely hurt myself. Wheeled pedestals have a habit of toppling when trying to move in that way.


I would never expect either kind of chair, or any other piece of furniture for that matter, to be something that it’s not. When I realized I was a rocking chair (OK—this isn’t when I’m in a psychosis), I knew what I could and couldn’t do. It meant I could stop fighting myself. When I finally understood that I wasn't a swivel chair, it meant I could celebrate my unique aptitudes and skills and manage my bipolar more easily.


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As someone who lives with mental health conditions, I have an acute empathy for others’ struggles. I have a stick-to-it-iveness to stay the healing course and to master things that are difficult. I’ve learned to be honest with myself and others. And I've learned to be vulnerable in healthy and safe ways.


My nervous system is a delicate eco-system, which means I need to respect that I can’t stay up until all hours; I can’t let myself get overstimulated by large crowds; I need to pace myself and not take on too much. Early in my recovery, I blamed myself for being so "sensitive" and for not being able to push myself in a society that prizes work and productivity.


But now I see it’s my constitution. It’s what I was born with. Like hazel eyes. Not bad or better. It just is. Once I embraced that, my life opened up and so did my self-compassion. Accepting my limits, paradoxically gave me my freedom. When you need something to hang onto in order to hang in there, I hope this lends a helping hand.


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