Saturday, December 16, 2017
Season's Greetings and a Message of Gratitude
For the first time in ten years I can say that "it's been quite a year" in a good way.
As I sit here to type this, I - and Mrs Bean too, of course (who is on my lap as I type) - am safe and secure in new lodgings with the luxury of warmth and comfort. This is the first winter in five years I've been able to say that. Three years ago I and Mrs Bean were living out of a 37 year old run down camper van being harried and harassed from one location to another surviving weather as cold as -20 Celsius along with fierce winter storms. Other living arrangements were fraught with difficulties, more harassment, a complete lack of long term security and poorly heated (if at all).
This year from this post of a safe and secure home I have met - and plan to wed in the new year - a woman who surpasses anything I could have dared imagine even six months ago.
I have met and begun a working partnership with a gentleman - I use that term sparingly but it truly applies in this case - who has the expertise, know how and can do spirit to take Taming the Polar Bears in directions that I could not have dared dream even a month ago.
In the previous ten years while battling what would turn out to be a severe case of one of the most difficult psychiatric disorders there is (type 1 bipolar in a male over age 50) and a variety of difficult life circumstances brought on by that condition, I'd lose everything I spent a lifetime working for (a quarter million dollars in home ownership and savings while plunging well into debt), in one way or another all of the meaningful relationships I had spent a lifetime building and cultivating, my mind and sanity, my health - almost everything.
It was - in a word - humbling.
But I can also say it's been - in three words - quite a journey.
The details and lessons of that journey and how I survived all that to arrive at where I am today are for elsewhere in this blog (and soon to be dedicated website), however.
Today, as the holiday season in the western world approaches, I wish to take this time and opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who in ways great and small made possible this journey, survival and the current safety and security where I have arrived.
A well known part of my story, a part of my narrative, is that I conquered all of this "on my own". This is how many people see my story and I have said this myself numerous times. It has for some time, however, haunted me that this is not entirely true. It is true that I did this largely without the aid of pharmaceutical medications, psychiatrists and the mental health care system. What is absolutely not true is that I did all of this "alone". I may have often been in apparent solitude and without direct hands at my side but in fact there was enormous amounts of help and support that in one way or another helped me through this at times harrowing journey.
I have struggled for some time with how to address this - how does one personally reach out to and thank all of the literally hundreds of people who in one way or another have helped? - and after a time, this post is what I had to decide would best do that though I know it remains far from adequate.
It is a rare day indeed that I don't spend at least some time reflecting back on all those who have contributed to this journey of mine and enabled me to get through it all and not just to survive but to plant the seeds that now make it possible for me to once more grow and thrive and become all that I can be. I can think back on specific individuals which would form a list growing into the hundreds. This is a great deal what I meant above by humbling. There are times I am overwhelmed and choked with emotion by it all.
I cannot convey how much I strongly desire to reach out to each and every one of you and tell you in detail how you touched me, how you buoyed me, how I learned from you, how you encouraged me - all, in other words, of what you (yes, you) mean to me and the difference you made to my (now our, as I'd prefer to think of it) journey. As much as I would dearly love to do this and to mention each and every one of you by name, practically speaking, I know this is not feasible. If you are among the following, you can be well assured that you are someone one way or another to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude.
People I am deeply grateful to include:
- those who read and encouraged my early writing nearing five years ago that would eventually form the basis for what became Taming the Polar Bears
- those who mentored my early desire to study the brain and neuroscience
- those who shared my posts
- those who sent personal messages of encouragement and thanks
- those who graciously shared their own stories with me
- those with whom I engaged in at time acrimonious debate on mental health and brain matters
- those who graciously allowed me to try to help them in some way
- those who have made donations of all kinds over the past several years
- and many, many others who have contributed in ways too numerous to list
I can honestly and sincerely state that I could not have survived, let alone gotten to where I now am without all of these contributions. Sometimes it was the smallest gestures or words that helped me through a particularly dark time or situation. No matter who you are or where you are, if you are reading here it is most likely you contributed in some way.
For better or worse, Taming the Polar Bears has become my vocation, my "calling" in life, my purpose in life. It is an enormous undertaking with much, much work yet to be done. Many a time I felt sure it was too much for me, that I couldn't go on with it. And again, it's the countless kind, encouraging and supportive words or gestures I've gotten from people around the world and from all walks of life that in one way or another has kept me going.
So to one and all, great and small, I want to extend a warm heartfelt thank you and deep gratitude.
When I think of you all and how much all of you have done for me in one way or another, these words do not seem enough and I feel deeply overwhelmed. All I feel I can truly do to repay all of you is to forge ahead as best I can and make as much of a difference to those in need as I can. It is my hope that you can see your contributions as being much more about me but play an important role in reaching out to all and any of those who struggle with mental health issues.
I would also like to ask you to reflect on the difference you made in a life - this particular life of mine - and be inspired to wonder if you (yes, you) made such a difference in this life of mine, what possibilities exist for you to make similar differences in other lives? Many lives need what I have gotten from you all. I'd like to propose that it is very possible for you to do for others what you have done for me.
There needn't be a weight of responsibility to this (as I know it will seem for many of you). As with me, so often it is the simplest gestures, words, deeds and so on that could make a difference in someone's struggles - and, I would dare wager, in your life.
As we approach the holiday season in the western world it is my hope that all can put aside religious differences, political differences, lifestyle differences, ideology differences, gender differences and indeed all differences and think more kindly of your fellow humans no matter how much you differ from them or disagree with them.
As I study humanity, human behaviour and life on earth and reflect on the estimated 7.6 billion people who call this planet home, I cannot see any one individual or group or race or nationality which particularly has any more "right" than anyone else to occupy it nor any particularly more "right" than anyone else to dictate how others live or see the world. We humans are nothing if not an incredibly, wonderfully and yes, at times frighteningly diverse species. There is no avoiding the fact that we are going to be in great disagreement and have enormous differences in how to go about this thing called "life" and the truth is that we all must somehow - at the risk of sounding trite - "live and let live". Past history has many examples and lessons of what happens when we cannot do that and engage in mass and costly wars and conflicts. If there's one thing I think we can all agree on, it's that we certainly don't want to repeat those past mistakes.
A central theme of the blog and the Taming the Polar Bears approach is about compassion and respecting individual differences. There is a strong (and quite natural) tendency to apply this only to people "like us" or those that we favour. It is my wish all readers and followers would endeavor at this time to better to learn to apply these lessons (they are quite universal and time honoured) to those that one may be in opposition to over one issue or another or those from parts of the world that one may not agree with or find distasteful or who get labeled this way or that.
Very challenging, I do understand, but we all can grow by taking on difficult challenges and again, it is my hope that more can take on this challenge and see where it might lead. I can almost guarantee that you might be pleasantly surprised if you can learn to get by the exteriors of people you would otherwise tend to avoid or be in great disagreement. No need to conquer the whole world, even one or two would be great victories.
There is, as mentioned, much much work that remains to be done in Taming the Polar Bears and growing our understanding of the human mind and what we can learn to do to better understand our own and those of others. It will be a lifelong passion and project for me and it's doubtful that I'll ever get all of what I envision written down and presented in forms useful to you but the fun part (for me) is continuing to get as far as I can each year (which always represents somewhere further than where I had been). A sort of general life lesson that I hope does not go unnoticed.
I am going to sign off for now. Again, my deepest heartfelt words of gratitude and thanks go out to each and every one of you for being part of my and Taming the Polar Bears' journey. I sincerely hope you choose to continue along with me and "the Bears". May your reading and following along here in someway make as much of a difference in your life as you have to mine.