Radical Acceptance: The Days Of Wine & Roses

Happy Presidents’ Day! I hopefully will have some news coming soon to share about the future growth of Mental Filmness. I never really meant this to be “the Sharon show,” it mostly ended up that way after the first year because the pandemic hit, a lot of folks were understandably not into watching films about mental health due to the pandemic, and I ended up having a lot of time on my hands and thinking, the show must go on. Ideally though, I’d like to put the focus on different stories and storytellers (and will try to do a few more book reviews soon) and would love a diversity of bloggers, screeners, etc. to help. Do let me know if you’re interested. Until then, I’ll try to keep up at least a weekly post for the sake of keeping things active.

My fifteen-year work anniversary just happened on February 16th, and it gave me an opportunity to reflect a bit and think of how things have changed. Work has been a constant for me in an often rocky last five or six years, since I’ve had my diagnosis and worked on my mental health.

Have you ever had a time of your life that seemed almost too good to be true? For me, that period was my mid-thirties. I was at the perfect peak of my children’s librarian career, where I’d been there long enough that I could greet kids and their families by name and recommend new books to them, where I knew what I was doing enough to do great story times and book clubs and summer programs, and where I loved what I did so much that it seemed like I actually danced and sang and played through work every day and got lucky enough to get paid for it. I had a wonderful live-in partner who I made art and did shows with and looked forward to going home to. We had a wonderful friends’ circle with whom we did karaoke, danced, had book clubs, backyard barbecues, and parties. I had fulfilling hobbies like art and improv and film writing. Looking back at that photographic evidence, I feel like those were quite literally the days of wine and roses. In fact, I even have a picture I snapped of coming home to wine and roses one night.

Do I glamourize those days? Surely I do, and they are certainly painted with a rosy brush in contrast to my struggles to come. However, I remember even thinking at the time where I was in the thick of it that I was experiencing the best days of my life, and that they couldn’t last. Truth be told, I probably was. 

I’m generally more stable in my mood and sometimes, dare I say it, even happy these days. But even if I experience another golden period, it will be different because what I’ll never have that I had back then, other than youth and better metabolism, is my complete sense of carefreeness. I’ll always have that little fussy voice in the back of my mind now that will be worried about what affects my mood disorder, and whether whatever I’m doing will be good or bad for it. I’ll have a nagging worry that if I feel too good I’ll start to feel bad, and that if I start to feel bad I’ll fall down a sinkhole again. And then there are just certain realities I have to cope with like that some of my medicine makes me sluggish and flat at times, and that makes it harder for me to do the kind of energetic work and socializing I did before.

Now, this is not meant to be a sob story unique to me. I’m middle-aged, and by the time you get to be my age, unless you’ve actually been living in a cave, you’ve probably experienced some trauma and/or health issues. Most people have to exercise more caution at this age either due to mental or physical issues or just life experience. That’s why this is meant to be more of an in general, how do you cope with these life changes kind of thing.

There’s a concept in cognitive-behavioral theory called “radical acceptance.” It’s the hardest thing ever to do, but if you can accept your life as it is now you can begin to plan what to do that is best for yourself, where you are at now, and control the things you still can. I find it to be different than living in the moment, which I’ve never had much success with, in that radical acceptance seems like more of a big-picture thing.

I still get caught up in self-pity sometimes. More and more though, I’ve gotten better at catching those thoughts and thinking to myself, “I was so lucky to have had that experience, some people never have those things happen at all. Those are some lovely memories.” This clicked even more for me when I posted about those library years and a couple of other people who I know have experienced their own personal tragedies since then told me they fondly remembered them as a magical time, too.

I find it oddly helpful sometimes to think of myself as Version One and Version Two. In reality, I know there are many more versions of me, but for the purposes of helping regulate my mood disorder, I think of myself being one way pre-2015 and another way after I had my severe episodes and diagnosis. Version One definitely had a great life full of love, romance, friends, and family and fulfilling interests. But Version Two can’t compare herself to that, or she’ll get sad. This tends to happen over time anyway–people lose health, friends, or partners often as they age. What will help her move forward is radical acceptance of where she’s at. Only then can she begin to do the best she can with her current tools and environment to live her life and develop her current relationships, work, and interests.

Version Two of myself has done some things that I’m pretty proud of—in fact, some of the same things Version One did, in different ways and through different routes, with art and librarianship and film criticism. She’s even made some new friends and had a couple of parties. And she’s done new things, like go to law school and start a film festival. She’s different, but definitely not so bad, and honestly probably a little stronger, wiser, and more empathetic, even if it feels like a lot of the time she’s not having as much fun.

Will my life ever be like it was in those golden days? No, it’s best to accept that it won’t be, and not to expect it to be. It will be different. But almost everyone’s life turns out different than they expected it to, and different doesn’t mean bad.

The days of wine and roses–literally!

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