My Word for 2018: "Authentic"

After a rocky holiday season, I am striving to cultivate contentment, trying to remember that God doesn't have to make everything better right now. I can stick with these feelings of sadness and loneliness, feel them fully without anesthetizing them with food, Facebook, or other, even worse, "coping skills."

Yes, instead, I can reach out to friends, even socialize. This weekend, in fact, marked a lot of socializing, from a small group for singles in their 30's and 40's to a "photo walk" where participants shared 5-7 photos to church this morning at a younger, more dynamic church than I have been used to attending. I am trying to plug in and seek new opportunities, to read those random emails announcing events and activities and then to act on them, not simply delete them without second thought. Yesterday, my small group study leader pointed to an upcoming "leadership conference" at church. I am not a church leader, by any stretch of the imagination, but she said we could go as a group and sit together. It would be another opportunity to plug in. So I signed up for it.  

I also cooked this weekend, got in time on the treadmill and will probably call my twin. What else do you do when life upends you?

For our small group, our leader asked us to watch the New Year's message before coming (if we weren't able to attend church). So I watched it. The pastor asked congregants to pick a word that we want to shape our 2018: Instead of a resolution, narrow it down to one word. This somehow seemed so much more doable, not a punishment but rather a promise. 

I picked the word "authentic." I want to live a more authentic life in 2018. I started that journey in 2017. In one sense, this means being more comfortable in my own skin. All of us with mental illnesses, I think, internalize stigma to a degree. We feel shame. So we hide. We try to cover up our struggles, to make excuses, to fake it 'til we make it. Sometimes, faking it 'til we make it is good. But sometimes it is exhausting. Sometimes, we just need to be able to let our guard down for a moment. 

"Authentic" also means accepting myself as multi-dimensional and demanding that others do as well. I have bipolar. I also am a loving daughter, aunt, sister, granddaughter, a person who does her level  best to participate as fully in the life of her family as she possibly can. Nobody can play my role in my family's life. I must rise to the occasion. And I do, over and over, good days and bad. 

I am a dedicated employee. I am a Christian. I love to write and take photographs in my spare time. I lead a support group. I also like to lift weights. I play piano. 

I have bipolar, but I am capable of healthy, giving relationships. I manage money. I show up to work on-time, day-in and day-out. I manage a calendar and keep appointments. You'd think I wouldn't need to say this, but I do. 

I have bipolar, and I have a difficult past, but this past doesn't define me. I am working toward a healthier future. 

Any partner, any family member, any friend, any doctor of mine must accept me as multi-dimensional and see the whole person, treat the whole person. We won't get along very well otherwise. Being "authentic" means asking this of the people I am close to and accepting no less.

Being "authentic" also means interacting with people from a foundation of self-worth and self-value. To be honest, sometimes, I struggle with this. After all, life has been pretty tough. It has beaten me down at times. It is no wonder that sometimes I don't put my best foot forward in my interactions with other people, ask no less that they respect me and value me. But I must commit to authenticity, to self-respect and self-worth. My calling as a child of God demands no less. 

In  2018, I hope to expand my blog to tell other stories of recovery, other people's stories. I hope these stories will not only concern recovery from bipolar disorder, but also recovery from a whole host of challenges. After all, people of all backgrounds are asked to overcome extraordinary obstacles every day. 

In 2018, I intend to chronicle how other people find authenticity and self-respect in the face of challenge. It is going to be a journey! Welcome along for the ride.          


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