Recently, due to an elevated level of mania, I cancelled my church choir rehearsal. For the first time, I told my choir exactly why I had to cancel, and people were supportive. I’ve decided to be candid from here on out. I will not be ashamed. When I finally returned, at the end of the rehearsal, we expressed our joys and concerns. I thanked the choir for their understanding and assured them that my new meds were helping me be more functional again. Afterwards, a woman approached me. She has a brother who is bipolar. She said, “Just remember that no matter what, you’re still you.”
I was deeply touched, not only because of her concern, but because one of my favorite songs is You’re Still You by Josh Groban. I don’t really know exactly what the song is about, but I love to sing it aloud frequently. I attach my own personal meaning to it;
It seems kind of like a love song to someone who is about to die. Honestly, I’m not sure and I don’t really care. It’s the phrase “after all, you’re still you” that I focus on when I sing it. And I’m not applying it to myself really. I’m offering it to someone else for encouragement and support. I don’t really know what to do with it for myself.
I’m going to break this down and figure out what this phrase really means. “You’re still you” implies, first, that there is something called a you or a me. A me is something that must be definable. It is the qualities that make up who I am. So when someone says to me “you’re still you”, that means that there is something that makes me unique. I’m not you, I’m me. I accept that there is a me. I think the way I think. I feel the way I feel. I behave the way I behave. I have a unique combination of qualities and abilities all of which make me me.
Then there’s the word “still”. This is where I get a little hung up. “Still” implies that there might be another thing that isn’t me; otherwise, you would only have to say “you’re you”. So there must be something other than the essential qualities which comprise me.
At another moment, the same woman said either ,”You seem yourself again,” or “You seem back to normal again.” I can’t remember which. The first implies that I wasn’t myself while I was manic. The second implies that I was abnormal when I was manic. In the first case, if I wasn’t myself, then who was I? I can’t be someone else, but I can behave in a way that is not characteristic of myself. So, in that case, I don’t have another self, but I have another configuration of self. The configuration where certain qualities like patience change to impatience. Or a quality like humility changes to braggadocios. So what she’s really saying is you’ve returned to your normal configuration.
Have you ever messed up the settings (configuration) of your phone? The ring tone isn’t what you want. The screen is too bright. You can’t find your favorite app. Something in the configuration is changed, and your phone won’t work the way you want it to until you fix it. That’s what bipolar is. Our configuration get’s messed up and we need medication to get the settings back right and therapy to learn to deal with the settings that the medicine cannot get back right.
So back to “you’re still you”. I suppose I could ask her what she meant, but I think I’ve got it. She’s saying that although I may feel, think, and behave differently, my identity, my self continues on regardless. She’s saying that I needn’t lose sight of me; that I should never say that I am a horrible person because of what I’ve done, but that I’m a good person because that’s the way God made me regardless of what havoc my illness may cause.
And this is where I struggle. I do not feel like myself, think like myself, or behave like myself when I am sick. That’s the way it seems to me. Even my appearance changes depending on how far gone and how long gone I’ve been. People look at me, or experience me in some way and say, this is not the guy I know. This is someone else.
But here’s what I’ve learned over years of treatment. There is a part of my mind which transcends my self. Let’s call it the Observer. When my consciousness is in the Observer, then I can observe what I am thinking, feeling, and doing. I can look at it and think, “This is a manifestation of bipolar symptoms”; kind of like a lucid dream. If I can do that, then there’s a better chance that I can better control the situation. Maybe that Observer is the true me. Maybe the other stuff is simply the product of genes, environments, and ego. Maybe that stuff is the vehicle, and the Observer is the driver, at least when it is awake. These are good maybe’s. These maybe’s open up the possibility that I can, at least at times, transcend my disorder. It opens up the possibility that “you’re still you” can be applied to me.