Many people have a notion that “living in the moment” is the instant solution to unhappiness. It is absolutely true that the enormity of “the five year plan” and the bigger picture are often entirely too overwhelming. Also, it narrows our focus to the broad horizons, rather than the detail. In theory, it sounds like a preferable game plan.
But, what if that moment is just plain agonizing?
I have always considered myself to have ambition. But, when I became unexpectantly pregnant earlier than I considered, 13 weeks before my wedding, I ditched most of my ideas revolving around the master scheme. And as time progressed, and many of my plans did not pan out, living in the moment became the thing.
Besides, the bigger picture kind of dissolves while in the midst of an episode, because of the whole perceptual skewing. It’s hard to behold anything but a bleak and cumbersome future during a depressive episode, and anything but in a manic episode. I find I am particularly guilty of wild ambition while in Supergirl mode.
Momentary living becomes troublesome when the frame is microscoped on the current second I am living in. Sure, I enjoy little things more. But, every distressful thing starts to snag me. In the larger scope, it becomes a little easier to gloss over those minor setbacks and little slights. Little irritants become an unending source of rage, and I am more frazzled than ever.
My moments become a cage.
At the very least, I can zoom out now to the point where I can see a portion of the larger problem. Unfortunately, it provides such little perspective in which to solve the problem. The cage may be bigger, but I’m still in bondage.
I’ve had similar issues. Sometimes focusing on the moment is impossible. I find I need to look forward so I can get excited about things that are going to happen.
I nominated you for an award!
Getting stuck in a bad moment breeds so much hopelessness for me. It’s just because I can widen the scope to see possibilities and let hope in.
And thank you for your wonderful nomination. I have been extremely neglectful at accepting those, and hopefully I’ll be able to get it together soon to accept them all and show my profound gratitude.
Living in the moment is a broad concept to me, sometimes useful, sometimes not. I suspect that whoever coined this phrase was a healthy person, not someone with mental health ussues. My bipolar is shifting here at age 51, seemingly for the better, although I now have to get off of lithium, after 27 years of great benefit (due to kidney damage). I started out this bizarre journey as a so-called “high-function” bipolar, able to stay in the workforce as a CPA. In my worst bipolar years, (perimenopause) I could swear I never felt Great!, truly great, not hypomanic-great, for more than 4 days in a row. It was hard to live in the moment and enjoy my good health, because I had that nagging voice that it could crash at any moment. But I’d try. Conversely, if I was feeling my worst, like after a medication experiment gone bad, or a long run of little sleep, I’d try not to really live in that moment, I’d try to accept it as somewhat temporary and wait for a reprieve. I often find myself reliving memories from long ago, where I enjoyed abundance of good things — friends, money, options!, cool job, whatever. That is the opposite of living in the moment, I guess, but it helped get me through tough times. I’d tell my pdoc that my current life and uncertain future looked bleak, so that is why I would relive past/good memories in my head. I have an awfully good memory, so I could really go back in time and laugh and smile, get some joy that was so elusive now. It almost sounds sad?, but that’s how it was. Anyway, I like your comment about The Cage! I can’t articulate it at this moment, but the cage is very real, and feels ever present, no matter how I try to structure my thoughts and attitudes about the present…Thanks for sharing and allowing us all to share!
It really becomes a cage to me, especially when I’m looking outside the bars and see that bleak future. But, that must be the way the caged bird feels. The outside looks bleak, because of the bars obscuring the view. Once someone leaves that door open, forgets to latch it, or like one incredibly bright parakeet I owned, figures out how to unlatch it with his beak, they make a break. But, like that one really intelligent parakeet I had, he didn’t fly into the unknown sky. He did a few laps around the room to enjoy his freedom and his options, and then he came right back to my shoulder, or perched on top of the cage. Because, he always wanted the option of the cage. After all, the cage is home.
This is not implying in any way that I want to be ill. But, there is this tiny, sick sliver of me that wants it. Regardless, the want for the cage is not for the desire for illness, but the comfort of familiarity. When the world feels too big, there is the moment, the cage, a hiding spot from the rest of my life. It’s the illness that latches the cage.
Is a cage still a cage if the door is open?
This is why I compare bipolar disorder to being The Phoenix. Throughout the duration of our chronological and biological existence on this planet, we will live thousands of lives, as thousands of different people, in a million different times and places, and we will all die thousands of deaths. And each time, we will rise from the ashes, sometimes in a spectacular flourish, and others as a war battered hero.
Some of those lives are a moment for me. A great moment. A torturous moment. These moments feel like weeks and months and years. But, they can’t be longer than a few hours to a few months. It’s like being frozen in time, or like a lightning strike. Time passes strangely for me, and it’s a perception that I can probably consider to be a complete delusion. But, at least it’s a delusion that I like.
For me, I can’t go back in time. I can only go forward. I can’t live vicariously through another person, because I’m so trapped in my own head. And most of the time, I can’t really even control the passing of time. A moment I want to last forever is gone in a flash, and a moment I can’t wait to pass just drones on forever. I literally watch the clock, and see the second hand slow down. If I could get a handle on the throttle and the break, I would be in good shape. But, that’s the nature of this, right?
Oh, Lulu, you are such a deep thinker and writer — (Cheers!!!) — I’ll have to read your post again a few times to really absorb it all! I really loved what you had to say. I’m afraid I’m having a “bad brain day” (an expression my pdoc has adopted from me) so I’d like to say a few things about the cage, even though it is not a truly direct response to your post — do you know what I mean? I hadn’t heard the phrase “living in the cage” for many years, until just a few years back, It was 2008, when I was sitting in a lovely park, late at night, having a beer and a smoke with this “handsome stranger” (who was not remotely as handsome as he thought he was! Rather a self-absorbed chap, trying in vain to invite himself into my apartment/cage). The bars had closed down and we were getting philosophical about our lives and living situations. Neither of us seemed very happy with where we lived, but at least I had my own studio apartment, whereas he was sharing a small space with many people. I lamented about pacing around my place in boredom, just me and my TV, wishing I had somewhere better to be, obviously a sign that I was lacking inner peace; simple peace of mind. He brought up the business of The Cage. It was almost literal — just a person locked in a box, wanting to escape, but where is there to go? If your mind is in the cage, you take the cage with you everywhere. Leaving my little apartment nightly, going to bars as a woman alone, (something I no longer do), never made me feel better, because my heart and soul were still in the cage…Alone and lonely don’t have to be the same thing, but I was both. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend at all, just some chatty companionship, but men always seemed to make weird assumptions about a woman alone in a bar. I remember being young and healthy, pre-biploar Dx, and the cage just didn’t exist, because I had all these free options, choices, fine health, (or so I thought), and healthy, “normal” years in front of me. Everything in my life was waiting to be created, like a big roadmap, where you can take a detour and get back on the main road, or keep taking interesting turns you never would have seen, had you never taken the first detour. It’s a magical mystery tour that we navigate as we go along, and hopefully, we are ready for the surprises, for the surpises are sure to come. It reminds me of a couple of phrases: “Be sure and make all your plans, and then get ready for the Big Surprises!”, my dad would say, and “The only constant in life is change”, was a nice expression an aunt of mine taught me when I was young. Despite this whole bipolar business, and all the profound pain it has brought me, I’ve had a really great life! When I die, I know I will be able to look back, and say, “Well, it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped or planned, but it’s certainly been very Interesting!”. I made the best of it that I could. I won’t be crying at the end, and I hope the end doesn’t come soon. So, where does this put The Cage, which can mean so many different things, at different levels, at different times, along the journey? I know I’ve expanded my cage greatly, and I’m so happy for that. When I was younger, I let bipolarism define too many things for me and my cage was smaller that it had to be — I guess my mind and thinking was limited because I allowed it to be. Now, at age 51, I’m blowing the doors off of this cage. I feel free, and I feel healthy, thank god. I refuse to care what others think of me. I pursue hobbies that bring me much pleasure and exercise my mind more than I have since my college years. I even consider working part-time, but “work” will never define me again. I help those less fortunate than myself, even in small ways, such as giving clothes, shoes, time & companship to the homeless and mentally-ill in my community. I never thought I’d love this bipolar life so much, but I do! It’s real! My cage is only as large or small as I choose for it to be. God bless!
I like your aunt’s phrase. Here, it’s, “The only two things you can count on in life are death and taxes.” That’s what my dad taught me.
The Cage does carry so many definitions and has so many application. For instance, in this post, I was referring to The Cage as being the state of mind I was trapped in. It was just something I couldn’t rid myself of. Did you ever find that your mind fixated on a feeling or situation, and it dwelled and obsessed about it? That was where I was. Living in that solitary moment.
But, if I look out in a broader spectrum, I would say that I can see the bars of way bigger cages. It’s just that, most of them contain so much space that it’s hard for me to recognize it as a cage. For instance, I’ve always wondered how the zoo and the aviary managed to keep their free roaming birds from just flying off. It would be that simple.
Why? Because why would they? Everything they need and love is right there. I’ve seen those cocky birds walking around. They are perfectly happy with all of the people fawning over them, and they know it’s safe with a full food bowl. (Birds are such vain creatures). That’s what my larger cages are.
Cages only become unhappy places when there isn’t enough of something. I had six parakeets, all living in this huge cage with toys and food, and treats. Two of the birds loved to go out of the cage and just fly around for awhile. The other four just stayed inside, although the option was open to them.
I’m experiencing some cages in my life. Bars that stop me from going somewhere I want to go. Being for want of nourishment (literal and figurative). Loneliness and isolation. Ill suited companions (I had to separate a few parakeets, because I wasn’t initially aware that two male parakeets couldn’t live in a flock together). Etc.
But, if I would leave them in there too long, they would get antsy. For instance, if I had to have someone come and watch them because I was going away for a week. I’m sure just the uncertainty of, “When will our caretaker come back?” and “When will we be free to leave the cage if we wish?” was enough to frighten them. We never know exactly how momentary our cages are. They become something of a source of anxiety.
“How long will I exist in this particular cage this time?”