John Lennon sang that “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” Life in this case is something that we barely recognize because we are so invested in having everything run the way we think it should. We hang on white-knuckled, so afraid that something may go awry; that we miss what is really important about life.
White spaces are the occurrences and adventures that happen between the planned activities and compulsory duties. We work so hard to have free time, getting all our chores done. But then, we rush to fill the gaps, frenetically filling in the spaces that could otherwise be used in contemplation, re-assessment, re-booting.
The world of artists and graphic designers refer to white spaces as the portion of a page left unmarked; the space between images. White on a page is not wasted space. They are necessary for us to see the intended subject matter. They outline and give depth.
Sometimes there isn’t much room for ‘spaces in between’ because there is so much information that has to be transmitted, resulting in a busy sensory overload that is hard to manage. If there aren’t enough places for your eyes to rest, you miss out on what you are supposed to be learning that day. Mismanaging your ‘time between’ can make your day feel incomplete.
Filling your time with indiscriminate activities can actually be detrimental to your emotional and physical health. Our spirits cry out for sincere input and positive experiences. If you are fleeing from yourself, you are missing all the scenery that composes the time between. Living in the white spaces frees you to be so full of life that you can overcome the ‘gray’ areas of despair, anxiety, and depression.
Ever been so excited about something that you just can’t get it out of your head? Mix that with a manic state, and all sorts of behaviors and effects seem to spiral out of control. The problem with this, in my experience, is that I don’t always recognize my behavior. It takes someone else close to the situation to ‘sit me down,’ and help me become aware of my actions.
As a person with bipolar I recognize that I may not always have the best self-insight, and not even realize that I don’t. I am blessed to be one of those people who, when manic or hypo-manic, the ideas flow and I am a prolific writer. I just don’t seem to be able to recognize when it is time to put down the pen, or time to go to bed. I don’t recognize when I have overwhelmed people with my ideas and thoughts.
I keep inundating friends with requests to share essays and what I perceive to be ‘profound observations.’ I am terribly embarrassed when a friend holds a mirror to my face to help me see that perhaps I am “being too much.” However, after all is said and done, I am so grateful that that person was brave and truly loved me.
I would like to thank persistent, compassionate, and observant supporters who love me anyway, regardless of what comes out of my mouth or pen. It doesn’t seem to stop me when the cycle repeats itself, but at least I have had time in between to recognize that I should trust what my supporter has to say.
“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.” Thoreau.
Sometimes “Later” is my favorite word. It is the only thing that keeps me going. Knowing that ‘later’ does come, but hopefully at a time when you can cope with that which you put off.
People have the agency to change the course of their lives by taking an active role in the requirements of the day. How do you know what those requirements are?
I have found that if I can plan in advance what my requirements are, in a calm moment of clarity rather than in the heat of the moment, I am far more likely to accomplish my goals of the day and era.
Have an understanding that you control your destiny. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. You spin your wheels if you think you can control all factors that play a part in the drama of life. But what you can control is how you face it.
Developing the capacity to cope involves a desire to face things head on.
- My best method to fight the urge to put life off is to make my plans and lists the night before. That way when I am faced with a difficult day that would otherwise paralyze me or keep me down, I have a clear cut plan that I wouldn’t have been able to visualize if I was having to do it from scratch in an environment that would otherwise defeat me before I even start.
- Do the most onerous tasks first thing in the morning. Getting them done opens up your whole day. You don’t spend your time in apprehension and dread, which would otherwise color all that you do get done and increase the chance you would otherwise procrastinate it.
- The time is going to pass anyway – why do ‘hard time?’ You can’t get to the end without the journey. It can be as instructive as the end itself.
- “For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – Real Life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one. Happiness is a journey, not a destination!” Souza
- Choose to start from where you are. Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up and carry on.
- You can’t help but be aware that there is something you ‘should’ be doing, or opportunities to experience and live. Will you pursue it with all your hear, piece by piece, or will you slack off? There is no such thing as staying in status quo. You are either going forward, or sliding backward. “Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it.” Anais Nin
- Once you sideline yourself, there is a good chance that when you do come back to it, the energy has changed, you will never be able to enter the river of life in the same place as that which you passed by.
- The Hindu mystic Ramakrishna wrote that “The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail.”
Severe mental illness is not sexy. It is not clearly understood. It is not something that can be packaged or managed with a magic pill or injection. It is not predictable. It comes with a heavy cost to society. But isn’t this true with many other major diseases? So why is it so hard to wrap our minds around the concept of recovery in mental health? Other disorders can identify when someone is in recovery or remission. Are we so certain we are broken and beyond repair?
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has been conversing with consumers and providers to come up with a new definition of recovery that would be relevant to the mental health community. “The new working definition of Recovery from Mental Disorders and Substance Use Disorders is as follows:
A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”
Notice that this is a “process of change.”
Looking at the definition is empowering, but also can be daunting if you don’t know where to start. The goal is to improve both “health and wellness” as they go together. You cannot separate your body from your mind.
We are to strive to be as involved in our own care and life plan as possible and live life to the fullest. Realistic changes are often made by baby-steps. Understanding how to integrate recovery in your life is a vital first step.
Through the Recovery Support Strategic Initiative, SAMHSA has identified four major dimensions that support a life in recovery:
- Health: overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) as well as living in a physically and emotionally healthy way;
- Home: a stable and safe place to live;
- Purpose: meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family care-taking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income and resources to participate in society; and
- Community: relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.
The authors continue by expounding on the “Guiding Principles of Recovery.” These are ten aspects to guide our way. By understanding them, we are in a position to work with supporters and care givers to create our own baby-steps and wrap our minds around hope for the present and action plans for the future.
It is well worth a look at the site to see more about how you can apply this concept of recovery in your life. You can find further information at