I've recently started waking up obscenely early so that I have enough time to do morning pages before the kids wake up. I've realized that in order to do this successfully, I have to get up between 4-5 AM which sounds just absolutely absurd because I'm not at all a morning person but actually...
I kinda love it.
And I think it's because no rational person can honestly refer to 4 AM as "morning." When I was in my 20s, 4AM was my average bedtime. This time of year I have about 2 hours of darkness before the sun rises if I wake up at 4:30. And since everyone else in the house is asleep, I've got the place to myself and it feels like night even though I'm already well-rested. Which, if anything, just allows me to enjoy that time even more.
I'd recommend it to all my night-owls who, for whatever reason, don't have the option of staying up late and sleeping late (for me it's the one little who needs to catch a bus in the morning and the other who would never dream to sleep past sunrise). Give it a try to get your night on the other side.
A good couple of weeks
But that's not what this already long post is about. This is about what I wrote in my morning pages this morning. It's a big no-no to share the writings from your morning pages with anyone, because you have to be able to trust that whatever you say is safe and will be free from scrutiny so that you are able to write with complete abandon. So that said, this is highly edited content.
This morning my brain and I did a dialectic workout. For background, I've had a really good couple of weeks since I started waking up early, doing the morning pages, eating and sleeping better, and actually meeting my fitness goals. I've broken pretty much all the rules re: taking on a bunch of changes all at once. But it has worked!
You'll note that basically everything mentioned falls under the category of self-care. I've been spending hours a day taking care of myself and so far I've been amazed by all the energy I have to take care of my family, work, and home as well. But even better than that - I just feel good. I randomly, out of nowhere, think to myself "I feel so happy right now." I wake up without fighting and I actually feel rested.
This may sound like some bullshit to you based on your past experiences. That's exactly what I would've thought too. I have held a regular exercise routine before and it has never made me feel good. Not before, during, or after exercising, and not even in the long-term. But I've never in my life - not even as a teenager - put all the elements together at once. If you have questions about how I circumvent my executive dysfunction in order to put all these things into action, then send me a DM or an email, but I will eventually get around to that at a later date.
Before the fall
For now, the morning pages. I woke up this morning and I didn't feel happy. I felt terrified. My brain asked me, "What if it wasn't real change? What if it was a manic episode?"
To clarify, I am not diagnosed bipolar, but I do have recurring episodes of high energy compared to my baseline that could be consistent with bipolar disorder type II. I'm not self-diagnosing and yes I should see a doctor about that (and more,) but when I say "manic" here and below, I do mean it in the clinical way, not as a synonym for hyper.
During these episodes, I basically feel as it seems neurotypical people do on a daily basis. I get up and brush my teeth and wash the dishes and cook breakfast and on and on, with absolutely no fighting going on between my brain and the rest of myself. I just think that I'm going to do a thing and I do it. And it feels great!
This typically goes on for a few days, not a few weeks, but it does feel very similar to how I've felt lately. The only real difference is that it is seemingly brought on by nothing, whereas this followed shortly after instituting my new self-care rituals.
But the last 2-3 days I didn't feel quite so up as I had been feeling. I still accomplished just as much, I just didn't feel as good about it. And my brain was terrified that it signaled the beginning of the end.
So me and my brain had a back and forth in the morning pages. As in, I literally wrote down each concern that my brain raised, and then I responded to each one in turn. And that's what's to follow.
Enough: A Socratic Dialog
One note - Ren is my chosen name, which started as a roleplanning and work persona as a safe way to play with different names and present myself as more confident than I felt, but I don't use my deadname anymore except for legal matters and with those family members who... are just not worth the effort, so that's why I talk about Ren in the third person below. Ren is my chosen identity.
What if this was all just a manic episode?
Okay, well first of all I can't really answer that either way. I can just guess, and more time will give me better information for making an accurate guess. But let's examine the possibilities:
a) If I believe that it was a manic episode and I am correct, I don't bother trying to keep up my hard work and stop taking care of myself because that's not what was making me happy - it was just a fluke biochemical shift.
b) If I believe that it was a manic episode and I am incorrect, same as above, and I feel badly because I stop taking care of myself.
c) If I believe that it was due to my work and I am correct, I keep going and keep taking great care of myself because of how much it's helping me and how great I feel.
d) If I believe that it was due to my work and I am incorrect, I keep going and keep taking great care of myself because of how much it's helping me. Being perfectly honest, I might not feel as great, but I deserve to be taken care of even when I depressed. Especially when I'm depressed.
Whether it's true or not, believing that my current good feelings are due - at least in part - to the effort I'm putting into self-care will lead to better results, whether hypomania is contributing or not. Because I'll continue to take care of myself even if I return to a depressed state.
What if it wasn't a manic episode, but I still can't replicate it because I'm not good enough?
Well that's not much of a concern as long as I don't let it be. If my self-care has been working, and I keep believing in it and therefore doing it, and there isn't an underlying chemical imbalance, then it will keep working. But even if I stop doing it for whatever reason, I can start back whenever I choose. And even if I don't start back, I'm still good enough because I already was good enough. That was never the thing.
What if I really can't keep up with all of my tasks long term?
Then I'll reduce my work load. And I'll get someone to help with housework. And it will be easier to maintain.
Okay but I still wasn't doing much for work over the past week.
What?? That is a straight lie and I wish I had better data to prove it. I did multiple work tasks, sometimes several at once. Way more than I was doing before. This is why I am trying to keep better color-coded track of what I do over the day. I'd be able to show you right away how wrong you are.
What if I'm never good enough to be Ren? What if no matter how hard I try I'll never live up to Ren's abilities.
Okay, man, I appreciate that you're struggling, but that question is literal nonsense because you ARE Ren, by definition. Ren is who I am - whoever I am. They aren't some untouchable superhuman who I can't even approach except when I'm at my best. Ren is me even at my worst. Ren has bad days. I have bad days as Ren, and I am still Ren.
Apparently there's an underlying concern that I'm not already good enough and that the me in this body can't be the person that my mind originally envisioned Ren to be. And it probably can't because that was a sketch of a person, whereas I'm fully-fleshed out in 3D. But still, whoever I am is Ren.
The changes I've undertaken were never about being good enough or being more productive. I was already good enough by virtue of being a person who is existing. And good enough is all I ever need to be.
And I know you know this, but productivity is not a moral matter. Maybe a year down the line I won't be any more productive than I was before. Not only is that okay, but the few times I've thought about the possibility in the past, it actually makes me really happy to imagine. You'll note that I've been focusing on what, overwhelmingly, these past few weeks? Self care, not productivity, and I feel amazing.
Well, mania feels amazing, right? What if the self-care was never the thing, it was just hypomania?
Okay...that's actually a good question since I have felt down the last few days compared to the week before. So what if it is hypomania? What if I'll never feel that way until I have another manic episode? Would that mean that I just give up my self-care routine until I can really appreciate it again? Stop the morning pages and the step counts and active time because it doesn't give me a sense of satisfaction when I'm in a neutral to depressed state? Of course not.
But there's something greater underlying here. Because roleplanning was never about becoming neurotypical. I've said that a lot but it looks like I still need to work on internalizing it. Anyone starting out with a mental health condition or neurodivergence will still have it, although symptoms might be easier to manage. And that includes me. I just have a different mindset as Ren. That's all. I will still have executive dysfunction, I will just be better at accommodating it. If I do in fact experience true bipolar manic episodes then I will still be bipolar as Ren. And that's okay, it's just something I'll need to accommodate as well.
I shared this here for a few reasons, despite being against morning pages protocol.
I bet that a lot of you have similar thoughts when things are going well. To be honest, I rarely have long enough periods of things going well for these things to arise, but here I am now.
To demonstrate to anyone who hasn't had this experience that it's normal for your brain to be a little bit of an asshole even when things are great. You can be doing well and still have old anxieties arise. It doesn't mean that you're broken after all.
Because the only way out is though. When those doubts and insecurities DO rise, you can't push them down. When it first came up this morning, my instinct was to ignore it. To pretend I didn't even think it at all. Because I was afraid that answering it would give it life. But I thought for a minute and realized I was wrong. It was already in there, so I had to address it immediately, or it would fester. I wanted you to see what that path might look like.
Some of the thoughts above are unique to matters of self-actualization and in my case are borne directly of using my roleplanning system. It's easy to start something like that for the wrong reasons, or even to do it for the right reasons and still have some problematic assumptions, like that the point is to make yourself better or that the person you're trying to become is in some way fundamentally different (or worse: better) than the person you are now.
I had to remind myself that though I will fail a hundred times while trying to reach my goals and live aligned with my values, that there's no way for me to fail at being myself because whoever I am is me. Good and bad both. I want anyone who is interested in leveling up or trying out roleplanning to have that knowledge from the start.
One final addition: today has been fucking amazing. I feel great and happy and have even gotten things done I've been putting off for weeks (months in one case).