Will Power - the Enemy of Recovery?

Inmy book Conversations with Batty - How Talking to myself Kept Me Sane, I wrote a chapter on willpower and it's place in recovery.

Just so that you understand the 'conversation' that follows, here is how it came to be:

The thirty years I spent fighting against my condition have taught me this: I can't win. It doesn't matter how tough I am: I can't win. My one chance of living a fulfilling life is to make friends with my Bi-Polar Disorder; not fight against it.

And so a friend she is. She is a 'she' because I am a 'she'. In and of itself Bi-Polar Disorder is genderless.

I named her Batty because she is immensely strong and can hit me with the force of a baseball bat. She is also a little crazy AND she seems to like the night more than the day, which is not always easy for me to live with.

After I had named her, I felt the urge to 'talk' to Batty and ask her questions. Some of the internal dialogue that ensued surprised me! I did not want to lose what Batty was telling me so I started to write our conversations down. I also found that writing down our conversations facilitated their flow, as if I writing opened Batty's floodgates, so to speak.

I made the decision to write what came into my head as it came into my head. What you are about to read was written in the moment, in the order in which the conversations took place, without any censorship or editing on my part. It is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, uncomfortable as this may have been and still is for me.

When I read what I have written, I have the strange sensation that it was written by someone else! I am not at all sure of where Batty's part comes from although she reveals her true source towards the end of the book.

My exchanges with Batty were (and still are) a crucial component of my reaching recovery and staying there.

Anyway, Batty and I invite you to earwig on our conversation on will power.

Batty always speaks in italics.

About Will Power

Hello Batty ; are you there? I feel it's time for you and me to talk.
Better late than ever eh?

Is that all you want to say to me?
No; I also want to say this: you and your will power, you make me laugh!

Whatever do you mean?
You seem to think that it is the be all and end all.

Will power is important! Without it we are just like weak children unable to control ourselves and achieve anything.
You automatically assume that people can have too little will power but have you ever asked yourself what happens when they have too much? Will power is like water: too little of it and you die of thirst but too much of it and you drown.

I had never looked at it that way. It's;s true that I have always assumed will power was a good thing.
Will power is neither good nor bad. It's just one of the many'character tools' that are available to you. Like all sophisticated tools, they need practice to be used effectively and they need discernment to be used appropriately.

Are you saying that I lacked practice or discernment in the way I dealt with you?
What do you think?

I hate it when you throw the ball back in my court like that!
Well, I should have thought the answer was obvious. Looking back at your history with me, do you really think you lacked will power?

Not really; if anything I think I exercised too much will power.
Correct; so you didn't lack practice, you lacked...

Discernment. I hate to admit it but I suppose I was so busy being strong that I forgot to be wise.
Indeed. There's another problem with will power: it's all in the head. It rarely engages the body; in fact it does its best to ignore the body and you know what happens when you do THAT for years and years. The body will not be ignored and quite rightly so. How can you justify taking better care of your car than of your own body? You wouldn't dream of driving all the time with your foot on the accelerator pedal as far down as it will go but that's exactly what you did to your body.

But if I hadn't pushed myself I would never have got anything done! Surely you need will power to recover from any illness or else you might as well give up!
Nope. You need strength of spirit. It's not the same thing.

What is the difference?
If will power is like a tank then strength of spirit is like the wind. You can stop a tank if you try hard enough but you cannot stop the wind. The best thing you can do is learn to harness its power so that it serves you rather than destroy you.

I have a sense of what you are saying but what does it mean in practical terms when you are dealing with an illness? How can you 'harness the power'of a severe condition such as you?
You must take four crucial steps:

1.    Recognisewhat you are dealing with. The day you recognised me and gave me a name was the day you started a new chapter in your recovery

2.    Acknowledge that the behaviour that brought you to the illness cannot be the same behaviour that will enable you to deal with it effectively

3.    Accept that all will be well even if you’re not. You are not the centre of the universe and life on earth will continue with or without you. I am talking about humility here – not defeatism.

4.    Embrace your change of circumstances and the changes in you. Don’t fight change: it is necessary to move you forward. Besides, fighting change is like fighting the wind, a waste of precious energy.

I suppose you could call this the RACE to recovery.

Very clever.... Easier said than done though. It's one thing to philosophise when you are functioning normally but it's quite another when you feel like you have totally disintegrated from within. It's pretty impossible to RACE anywhere when you can't even get out of bed! Besides I would add something to your RACE to turn it into a RACER. I think you also need to learn to Receive: help, support, guidance, and love from others. It's particularly important when you are too ill to even love yourself.
I'll buy that - so you need to take five steps.

As I am listening to you I am becoming aware that I have always thought of my spirit as totally separate from my body. I am suddenly reminded of this quote: "the body is the garden of the soul". For some reason, I now feel like my spirit inhabits my whole body, not just the top of my head.
I am no spiritual guide (for now anyway) but I do know that you are a spiritual being living a physical life. To reduce your spirit to a spot at the top of your head is a sure way to give yourself chronic headaches!

Oh don't say that! I have suffered from migraines all my adult life!
I am sorry to hear that but I am not altogether surprised

So what is the place of will power in recovering with you rather than against you?
An act of will is necessary to comply with your treatment plan. You must wilfully choose to take your medication as prescribed even if you dislike taking drugs. Another act of will is required to keep away from alcohol or other substances that would interfere with your medication. Yet another act of will is essential: you must wilfully decide that you will work with me rather than against me and hold yourself to it. Will power has its place.

I see. I think I get it now. I need to stop fighting windmills 'a la Don Quixote' and get off my high horse when the wind starts blowing. I need to accept the wind and learn to work with it so that it works for me. This requires an act of will. After that, I need to let my body guide me in unison with my spirit AND respect your spirit too. I have a sense that each illness has a spirit of its own. Is that a stupid thing to say?
It's a little weird but I quite like it. In fact, I'll ponder this for a while...

How about that! I've got YOUstumped for once!
Just because I am pondering doesn't mean I am stuck.

Oh sorry - I didn't mean to imply anything. You are a bit touchy aren't you!
YOU can talk!!


End of Chapter on Willpower.

I am so glad you wrote that

I am so glad you wrote that and that I read it. I am guilty. Now facing ( because there is no longer any chance of Will Power tanking me one step further on it's own) the staggering challenge of how to let the wind take me ... And your naming of her interests me, reminds me I still haven't achieved a Naming task I was set in schema therapy a little while ago ...

I need to come back to this blog when all is quiet, to study and think ...

With love

Thank you Tess

You did that my dear  :0)  I look forward to hearing from you again in due course.

Gabrielle x

Our creativity is our strength- I am inspired, thankyou!

I too have fought long and hard......integration with our so-called shadow side 

has a surprising effect with us bipolers!  I love the extract above and can relate

to it readily from my own experience. You inspire me to continue my recent creative inner dialogue.

I still feel we hold the keys to unravelling this condition since we suffer its tortures. 



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