These last eight months since DS left me, since I was finally properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, since the manic haze of the wrong medicine was replaced with the calm clarity of proper medication, I have been focused on one thing in regards to my disorder: managing my symptoms. The what of them has been clear for a decade now--anger outbursts, interpersonal delusions, distracting mild hallucinations, memory loss, gigantic mood swings--& now we have the why (bipolar disorder) & the when (around feelings of abandonment, embarrassment, or personal danger, even if misperceived). The piece I’m attempting to unlock is the what-to-do-about-it, the preventative, proactive measures to limit both the occurrences & their severity.
While loneliness has been one of the uphill battles of the last eight months, it has been an odd perk as well. No one to see me or judge me as I can’t get out of bed in the morning, crippled by horrific nightmares & real-world anxiety. No one to see me or judge me in my own home as I fumble with staying grounding, lose battles to my own mind. No one to see me or judge me as I flutter late into the night, the manic energy I’ve been holding at bay all day suddenly swelling. Thanks to the support of my family, I haven’t had to work, be in situations that cause me stress, or interact with anyone that I don’t feel comfortable around, a privilege I see clearly & with much gratitude. It has been my choice when & how to share my struggles, my lessons, & my overall journey with the public, be it through this blog or with trusted loved ones.
However, we know that is not the real world. A person inevitably puts their personal work & persona struggles to the test in public view; it is a part of being an adult, living, working, love, & interacting out in the open. One will encounter uncouth folks, will enter difficult situations, & will be witnessed in one’s struggle. My journey has been working to get to the point where I feel comfortable--not only in a self-awareness sense, but also in a public safety / betterment sense--putting myself out there. I am not ready to date again, still wildly in love with DS & maddeningly frustrated with the manner of her leaving. I am not ready to work again, still easily triggered in high-pressure, physical situations like in my fields of teaching or manual labor. I am, however, ready to test the management of my disorder in a public field.
That is where disc golf has come in. It is a familiar zone where I have excelled in the past & where I feel comfortable in the present. Locally, most of my disc golf buddies know about my mental illness. Disc golf & its community here, in fact, has been a positive therapeutic practice these past eight months, providing the literal space to pay close attention to the task at hand, swept away by the movement & concentration the game requires, & the friendships that come with it. Still, it does present frustrating obstacles, a necessary finicky mind-body connection, & the occasional butthead on the course, which all can poke disordered Tyler in the ribs. This month, I decided to play two tournaments--one at the beginning of the month here in Elwood, IN & another down in North Carolina (where I was visiting family for Thanksgiving) at the end of the month--both for the disc golf pleasure & for the personal challenge.
The EDGE of Insanity tournament here in Elwood is one that I’ve played before, hosted by my local club & littered with folks I know. I didn’t know the other three folks on my card & the youngest guy was overly competitive, but being in my home course, one I’ve played literally hundreds of times, I was able to use my mindfulness practice to come out focused & symptom-free, shooting my division’s best round for the first round. After lunch, I had the same focus, but my bad bones couldn’t hold off two of the younger guys in my division, completing the day in third place. Again, the safe space of my home course & my from-the-start clarity allowed me to take the ups-and-downs & the interpersonal moments in stride.
I knew the North Carolina tournament would present more of a psychological challenge, playing an unfamiliar course--I had practiced it once earlier in the week--& literally knowing no one. Still, I felt pretty good during warm-ups, having struck-up conversation with a local & feeling present in my body. Unfortunately that would immediately change when I met one of the guys on my card. Be it as an empath, an extrovert, or someone with bipolar disorder, bad vibes strike me straight to the core. In a competitive, active environment, those bad vibes can easily get entangled in & often escalate my bipolar symptoms. That was the case with this guy.
From the very first hole, he was complaining about the tournament, shouting after bad shots, & even kicking his bag, all of which is frowned-upon to against-the-rules in sanctioned PDGA tournaments. This is where the delusional tendencies kick in, my mind misconstruing the aim of his frustration as a viable threat to me. This is where the hallucinations come in, his voice & the thump of his physical gestures seemingly to echo, repeating its cacophony in my head. To say it distracted me would be an understatement; unable to concentrate, my play suffer, spending all of my energy managing those symptoms--reminding myself they were not personal attacks, reminding myself they weren’t real--instead of concentrating on my disc golf game. That is where the anger outbursts come in, usually.
Luckily, that did not happen this time, as he left after round one (typically cards change, but for this one, we were playing round two with the same people) & I was able to meditate during our lunch break as a way to ground myself & restart the clock, so to speak. The symptoms went away & though I didn’t play much better, already very far out of the lead, I was able to concentrate & ultimately enjoy the beautiful day & awesome course. This tournament was a reminder that I cannot control my outside environment & in many ways, cannot even control how it affects me, but I can prioritize my mental journey, the management of my symptoms, & the well-being of others. In the past, I would’ve put disc golf first, likely blowing up on this guy, even harming him, & completely ruining my day. Instead, each day, as I step out into public, I’m mindful, first & foremost, of the possibilities behind my eyes & the single task that’s crucial right now: getting through.