Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Futile Consistency?

"The most successful people," I once heard the entertainer Kenny Rogers say in an interview, "are the most consistent." I was never a huge Kenny Rogers fan, but I had to admit he was certainly successful and certainly consistent, so he probably knew what he was talking about.

That's not particularly good news for people like me.

If, as Ralph Emerson famously maintained in Self Reliance, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of the little minds," then I suppose a futile consistency is the hobgoblin of minds afflicted with bipolar disorder.

On the one hand, depressions drain you of energy, pushing even the most modest of projects beyond your ability. People looking from the outside assume that if you had sufficient will power you could just power through, but will power is among the very first things that depression strips from you. The former talk show host, Dick Cavett, suffers from periodic depressions. He once explained that when you're depressed the cure for depression could be on a night stand fifteen feet from you, and you would not have the will power to rise from your bed and get it.

It is, on the other hand, not much better with hypomanic episodes, which though characterized by energy and creativity also increase distractability and decrease impulse control, so that you go off on tangents instead of focusing on whatever main task lies before you.

The best solution I have found is, at best, a partial one. It involves finding ways to be as consistent as possible in at least one area of life. Consistency in that one area helps you understand that whatever the strength of the illness, you are not powerless against it. The thing I fear most about the disorder is that it creates the temptation to give up.

Hence these almost daily reports of my comings and goings to the gym. Although working out is a good thing in itself, it's also a tangible way to show myself that I am still capable of consistency. To try and be consistent in all areas is a recipe for despair, but if I can drill down on one area then I can remind myself that inconsistency -- one might also say unreliability -- is an artifact of the illness, not a flaw in my character. The great mistake would be to confuse the illness with my identity.

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