The Value of Doing Nothing

There are many times when I find my self exhausted trying to exert some manner of control on this disease that afflicts me.  More often than not it is in vain; my mood will be what it will be.  I’m beginning to realize that ‘going with the flow’ is a more sensible approach at the moment than wrestling with either hypomania or depression, depending on which one wants to make its presence felt.

Thomas Merton got it about right when he wrote in his beautiful book, ‘No Man is an Island‘:

Anxiety usually comes from strain, and strain is caused by too complete a dependence on ourselves, on our own devices, our own plans, our own idea of what we are able to do (p.197).

Bipolar disorder, although very much a part of me, is also beyond me.  I cannot change it, but I can learn to live with it, be present to the changes in mood by being fully cognizant of them, and making the necessary adjustments.

Interestingly, Merton also argues in ‘No Man is an Island‘ that ‘doing nothing’ can be a powerful strategy for self-preservation in some circumstances.  He said:

There are times, then, when in order to keep ourselves in existence at all, we simply have to sit back for a while and do nothing (p.109).

Incredibly difficult to do, especially when dealing with a hypomanic phase, but I’m convinced of the logic and wisdom of the point Merton is making.

…and so, I’m off to do nothing……………………………..

6 thoughts on “The Value of Doing Nothing

  1. Very wise, and something I was instinctively groping for, I think, last night when I had one of my periodic anxiety/guilt episodes. My usual reaction is to try to ‘sort it out’, or simply to despair, and I tried a fair bit of that, but finally something made me realise that what I really had to do was go to bed with a bit of hot milk and Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve found it very helpful, thanks to my sister, to have a name for my trivial bit of psychiatric oddness and am hoping, therefore, to be able to deal with the state rather than trying to alter the trigger for it. I’ve also realised that in planning for the future, I need to acknowledge the fact that I will have these (thankfully brief) times of self-loathing, as well as those of (over)confidence, and to make sure that if I take on a shared responsibility, I do so with someone who can deal with that.

  2. I met a friend, I found him here in my time of need. Being aware of one’s illness is a crutch in itself until one learns to accept and allow it to unfold in one’s life. I ran for so long denial denial denial. This attitude just got in my way of recovery from a down ward spiral. I have knowledge which is now time for me to learn from. But I am not alone in my quest, I have friends and family and now total strangers who support me. These lovely souls will help guide me as I help myself. And it is a truly amazing experience to know I am not alone and none of you are alone as well. Thank you my new friend Scott and thank you to those health professionals who care so much to help us help our selves. It is a wonderful place even though I have a serious mental health problem, bi-polar disorder, but I am not in denial anymore and my path is a journey which I am thankful for. God and those who love me, I am not doing this alone anymore. And for those of you who reach out as I did there is help for all of you just like me. Tis a beautiful day outside in the country outside of Ottawa, Ontario Canada and I hope all of you where ever you maybe are having a beautiful day as well. Thank you for reading this.

  3. Thanks so much Tanya for sharing this. I have to say that I’m much better at the theory than I am at practicing ‘letting go’ at the moment! Still, being self-aware is the first step, and we are all very much ‘works in progress’, so there is hope. Take care and thanks again, Scott

  4. I think this philosophy can also be useful when it comes to responsibility, as well. One can’t always be responsible for controlling one’s mood, nor sometimes for the inconsiderate or hurtful things that extreme moods can cause, but one can be responsible for doing the right things to manage it where possible; taking the medications, avoiding the deliberate late nights and alcohol, or whatever. And as Tanya says, making sure that what you take on can be managed during your poor states. A meta responsibility, I guess, so that when the times arrive when you can’t be entirely in control you can still know that you’ve done what you can and should have and you can go with the flow with a clear conscience.

  5. (Sigh) Doing nothing for the past week or so…and finally feeling relieved from the Bipolar optimism that inadvertently leads to depression once the reality of the situation or circumstances sets in. While the pressures of life have been hanging above my head for the longest time nothing compares to becoming aware that any and all energy I exert to offset the guilt/shame of doing nothing is in and of itself debilitating.

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