As humans, our vitality and existence depend on our ability to create passion and meaning in our lives, and also our capability to form and nurture social connections. It is when we cannot do so that we diminish, we shrink smaller and smaller on this earthly plane. Thus life purpose and the holding of worthwhile, sustaining relationships are necessary ingredients in a recipe to human happiness. In our lives, circumstances often inhibit the cultivation of these factors. These can include family difficulties, job loss, or poor or compromised health and general wellness. While we may have no control over these issues, there exists an interesting perspective concerning what we, as individuals, can do to mitigate and lessen the negative effects and find self worth and purpose once again.
Marsha Linehan discusses the concept of dialectics in her pioneering mental health treatment modality called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT. Simply put, a dialectic proposes that two seemingly contrary things can be true at the same time, not existing independently of or in conflict with one another. For example, I cannot be unemployed and still experience happiness and have positive experiences. A dialectic approach would say that yes, while you may be unemployed, that does not have to hinder your ability to be happy and enjoy life. Dialectics often keep us from engaging in life in the ways important to our health and wellbeing, as discussed above. We are waiting for one end of the supposed spectrum to reconcile the other, and this is the inhibitory factor. By accepting both as true and congruent, such reconciliation is not necessary.
I have been struggling with dialectics in my journey through the world of mental illness. My crash into depths I previously could not have fathomed has created a state of mind in which I believe I cannot both have a debilitating bipolar disorder and also have a meaningful and purposeful life – such as finishing college, interning and volunteering, having a social life, and engaging in activities I once found pleasurable. Severe circumstances with hospitalizations, ECT, and medications have certainly contributed to the neglect of these areas of my life, but they do not have to define me. My therapist recently pointed out that I have put my entire life on hold for my illness – I have become its keeper, its slave. It is unknown when I will recover enough to personally deem myself ready to reenter the world. Why must I wait? I have hidden in the darkness and depths too long. Overcoming this dialectic – I can both suffer from a mental illness and participate meaningfully in life – is extremely necessary to my wellness and may improve my prognosis as a whole.
Dialectics have the power to put our lives on hold, to cause us to exist in stagnancy. Such a state only hurts and hinders. It is not a matter of reconciliation, but of embracing the ways in which different components of our lives come together.