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  • Writer's pictureJon Sommers

Finding Balance (or not)

How many of us think we are balanced people – that all of the aspects of our lives are in perfect harmony with each other – that we have achieved or will achieve this blissful happiness that I see on Instagram posts? Is balance standing on a rock on the oceanside doing yoga or is it being surrounded by the chaotic physical and emotional mess of our lives and deciding (just for today) that we are not going to kill ourselves or drink? Well, actually it’s both.

What is Balance

Balance can be defined as: “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady; and, a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions”. That sounds really inhuman. What parts of my life are equal? What parts of my life are in the “correct proportions”? How many of us are striving to achieve some nirvana of perfect balance that simply does not exist?

Balance may be better described through the Buddhist concept of upekkha, or in a more western term, equanimity. Equanimity is not anhedonia, where we feel no pleasure or pain. Rather it is accepting that we do indeed feel these things but can learn to prevent these dueling feelings to control or dominate us. We naturally vacillate between feeling good/bad, happy/sad, loving/angry, and more. Learning to accept that when we are happy, we will again be sad, and when we are sad, we will again be happy is the real lesson here. It is all the same as we are all human.

The Fulcrum and the Pendulum

One of the many issues I have with balance is the idea that we are supposed to place equal weight on either side of a proverbial scale, a fulcrum, and achieve that perfect horizontal equilibrium. We are so not like that in real life. Instead, we swing from one thing to another like an out-of-control Tarzan on a vine, or more like George of the Jungle bouncing off of our trees. It’s a crazy pinball-like experience.

Life is a pendulum. We are a weight attached to a fixed line, swinging from one extreme to the other. When I wasn’t depressed, I was manic. When I wasn’t manic, I drank through the depression until I was. I chased one end of the pendulum and tried to avoid the other. News flash: it doesn’t work that way. Barring a slight degradation of friction, a pendulum generally peaks equally on each side. So why didn’t I expect that? The answer is I wasn’t looking for it. I was trying to achieve balance without understanding the natural laws behind motion.

We’re not meant to be balanced; we’re meant to be moving. Thoughts, feelings, and emotions flow through us based on our cognitive thoughts, memories, and experiences. These take the form of various chemicals and enzymes our body produces to make us feel one way or the other. When the chemicals are used up, the feeling passes – or – the opposite feeling occurs (that downer feeling after a comedy show for example). So there is no perfect state of balance in our brains, only a state of motion where we excrete and absorb the different chemicals that make us feel.

In Pursuit of Perfection

Pursuing balance can be a dangerous proposition – as anytime we have a goal, that goal must be graded. As in how successful we are at the goal. Did we pass or fail? Not achieving balance could be seen as a failure. That failure could swing the pendulum to the far end or start it swinging again. We’re not very good at failures so let’s stop grading ourselves that way.

In substance use treatment, almost every program out there establishes a zero-tolerance policy of use, with the predominant program (12-step) counting days from last use and celebrating birthdays and anniversaries of sobriety. While this may be positive for some, there are unintended psychological repercussions from this concept. It’s like a poor kid going to a rich kid’s birthday – there is unintended shame in someone else’s celebration. “What did I do wrong”? “Why couldn’t I work my program as well as they did”? “What did they do that I didn’t do”? “What’s wrong with me”? Horribly damning thoughts.

In the mental health treatment field, we seek to return to our predetermined definition of what may be considered normalcy. “Why can’t I feel good or feel the same way as I think others feel”? “Why don’t I feel happy”? We chase the idea that feeling bad is bad and feeling good is good, when in reality they are neither. They just are. The treatment modality is to medicate until these feelings are compressed or manageable – not to make them go away. But we expect that perfection, and we expect that cure.

The pursuit of perfection is dangerous because we will never achieve it. Instead, we should pursue how to live with ourselves. That’s hard enough.

Not Swinging as Far

This last year I had to modulate my meds. I had Low-T and finally started up on the injections which brought me back up to normal levels. Which then made me hypomanic. So working with my psychiatrist I titrated down on the Wellbutrin until I no longer took them at all. Fast forward a couple months and I was sitting on my back porch wondering if I was going back to bed for the day or if I actually wanted to do something. This is probably why I dropped off on posting for a while.

I am not depressed, I’m just not manic. I had a really good session with my psychologist talking equanimity and about where I am. See, I am learning to decide whether I want to hyperfocus and be hyperproductive. I am also learning to decide if I want to just go back to sleep or watch Netflix. Most importantly, I am learning that either choice is an acceptable one. I am allowed to be moody – it’s normal. I am realizing that feeling good or feeling bad has no morality and not to weight one side more than the other. It is really hard to deprogram that but I’m trying.

I am not designed to be balanced, but I can learn to time the pendulum swings with a little push here and there. So to me, being balanced doesn’t mean I don’t swing. It just means that I’m working on not swinging as far. Eventually I’ll find the center – maybe.


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