By Beth Brownsberger Mader
It can be difficult to discern the two terms. In my mind, “selfishness” is acting in my own self-interest, believing that I am entitled to behaving a certain way —and who cares about others? “Self-care” is recognizing my self- worth enough to take care of my personal needs while considering and respecting the needs of those around me. Writing this column is cathartic; I can “clean the cupboards,” find out a little more about myself, track my illness and recovery, and sympathize with others. I consider it an exercise in self-care. But, it’s surprising how quickly this particular exercise in self-care recently turned into an act of selfishness.
A few months ago, my husband and I took a day trip near Grand Canyon’s North Rim. We had arranged to explore the back hunting roads and forests of fir, birch and aspen trees, see some wildlife, and enjoy each other’s company. Around this time, I was working with my editor to finalize an essay. The deadline was fast approaching. So, I figured I’d chat with her on my cell phone during our drive. Reception was awful and my editor and I could barely carry on a conversation as my husband drove around hell-and-gone, at 8,000 feet up, trying to find signals. As the minutes passed, I became hypomanic, irritable, worried, and anxious. At last, my husband located a wildfire look-out tower stretching one hundred feet into the sky. We climbed the tower and, finally, I found a strong signal. I was able to connect with my editor and carry on a productive conversation. At the end of our call, she and I both realized that we easily could have covered everything in an email!
We all know how the mood polarity can change lickety-split. We can end up running a hamster’s wheel between self-care and selfishness if we don’t pay some attention.
Those with bipolar who are in a more depressive cycle often believe that they don’t deserve to focus on their own recovery. They think they don’t deserve to take care of their personal needs or accept help from others; to do so, in their minds, would be selfish, because that would take away attention from someone more worthy of help.
Those who are experiencing the manic side of our illness sometimes presume that they deserve everything; being selfish is just part of the fun. It’s possible that when people are in a manic phase they may not recognize that they are being selfish. Or, they may see their behavior clearly, but just not care.
Writing this column is cathartic… I consider it an exercise in self-care.
Who can forget the saying, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back”? To step carefully around the cracks becomes a dance in self-care as you learn balance, control and grace. Taking the sidewalk toward wellness, trusting the ability to heal, and doing it without the arrogance of selfishness, is probably one of the toughest coping skills to master.
On my Grand Canyon outing, clearly I didn’t pay much attention, at first, to my behavior; I take full responsibility for it. Driving through the forest after my call, my husband and I attempted to salvage our day trip. It was very hard for both of us, because my mood and behavior had changed three times in as many hours. We came to hunting road #492, pulled onto the dirt and saw the forest open to reveal a beautiful meadow. We walked to the top of the meadow, looking down the gentle slope at the wildflowers, grasses and low alpine moss. The trees enveloped us. Sitting in silence for some time, breathing slowly and deeply, I started to feel more at ease, and I knew I was caring well for myself. “Meadow at 492” will be a definite campsite this summer.