I noticed something recently that escaped me before and that is the number of people who are apparently suffering. I read profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and I see suffering everywhere. People post on their profiles that they are “Suffering from mental illness, “or “Suffering from bipolar disorder,” or “Suffering from depression,” or PTSD, or schizophrenia, or anxiety, or dissociative identity disorder…and the list goes on. But is there really all this suffering? It seems like such a strong word. I usually say that I’m living with bipolar. I don’t recall ever saying that I suffer from bipolar. It’s uncomfortable just writing it.
I’ve Been Suffering From Mental Illness
Despite my disdain of the term, I guess I’ve been doing some suffering of my own lately. Overall I’d say I’ve been feeling great, but in the back of my mind I’ve been feeling self-pity. I can’t for the life of me remember what, if anything, triggered it, but it’s there and is occupying way too much space in my head. I’ve been asking the universe “Why me?” But have gotten no reply. My pity list is rather extensive:
Why am I an alcoholic?
Why am I overweight?
Why do I have bipolar?
Why don’t I have a car?
Why don’t I have a nicer place to live?
Why did I destroy my career?
Why can’t I finish school?
Why don’t people like me?
Why am I unhappy so often?
Why don’t I have gratitude?
Why can’t I write as well as I’d like?
Why didn’t I come out of the closet sooner?
Why can’t I stick with my goals?
Why do I have such huge gaps in my memory?
Why do I wallow in self-pity?
Why can’t I accept things as they are?
What Can I Do About It?
As a Buddhist and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous the last one is key. Acceptance. The First Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering. Life includes pain, aging, loneliness frustration, fear, disappointment, anger and death. How do we overcome such suffering? Acceptance.
My favorite Buddhist teacher, Llama Surya Das, once said:
Acceptance does not mean condoning the evils, injustices and inequalities in life. However, it does mean seeing more clearly what is, just as it is, and how and why things work the way they do, before we try to enter into the fray. When we calmly observe and investigate the causes of things, and understand that nothing happens by accident the truth reveals itself, whether we like it or not.
In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are short stories written by individuals about their experience getting sober. In one particular story a wise author wrote:
Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation-some fact of my life -unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
So, perhaps I must be less judgmental of those who say they are suffering, for I am suffering as well. Just because the words are not coming from my mouth does not make it any less true. Yes I live with bipolar, but I suffer from it too. The same can be said of depression, anxiety and all the things I listed above. I am learning to accept them. I am suffering from mental illness and It helps when I remember that acceptance does not mean I have to like it.