I could always feel the slight something off.
Not wrong. Just…slightly left of center. An ability to feel more keenly, sensitive. A “cry-baby” as peers, teachers, and occasionally parents, frustrated, would call it.
After my mother died, I felt this power even more, picking up on the emotion radiating from others, swallowing it much like a sin eater and making it mine. Sadness was overwhelming and yet pedestrian. Even at 12 or 13, the suicidal thoughts which flickered seemed normal, standard, and caused me no alarm.
The world tells you teenagers are mopey, pained creatures, so I assumed I was normal. With the addition of losing my mother young, so did everyone else.
I made all the wrong decisions for awhile, felt free, was free, the monster growling in my head stunned into submission by mania and glee.
When it came tumbling down, it was slow, but it was awful. The knowledge that something is wrong, the inability to fix, the lack of help when I did reach out. Coupled with someone trying to love me, and my being unable to let him, the world closed in, and stopped, stagnant.
A world without color isn’t life.
While you can live with depression, live with unrelenting grey days that rarely seem to pass, sprinkled with sparkling good days here and there which give hope, you cannot live well. You cannot thrive. Which is why I may always be grateful to my second pregnancy.
I went insane then. If I look back, I can place myself slightly into my head, swirling with emotion that overcomes at every curve, possessed by a black rage, akin to Morrigu, high on sweet sugar love for those around me, transfixed and terrified at the thought of a family of 8 dying in a fire, unable to look away, swallowed by sorrow. 9 months like this, and then an aftermath of death desire, hatred for my child, rejection of my breast by myself.
It took a year to love that baby I protect so fiercely now.
A chance call from a support worker led to a conversation with a social worked led to a therapist who led me to a psychologist via my GP. Which all led, finally, to the proper diagnosis after so many years.
I’m not ashamed to admit I cried, to find have the words, the right words, to commit to my brain, a reason, something I could fix instead of an undulating “fucked up” that followed me around like smoke.
I dutifully held out my hand, took my pills. Tried more pills, found something that worked, finally. Put myself in the hospital, found the bravery somewhere. Rested my head on nurses and doctor. Let them help me fix me.
Find myself today, the fog mostly lifted from my brain, my family, strong and still here, with me. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s almost so normal.
There are people with small depressions. Not enough to keep them in bed, or in the house, but enough to rub the shine of each moment. Some are like me, teetering on the edge, nearly destroying their lives but somehow, finding their way and making it right. Others are where I was so tempting to fall back into, that world colored by the sickness, pretty like Delerium’ s holdings, nonsensical by safe in it’s insanity. Others still take their meds, live their lives, with you none the wiser. Mother’s with new babies. Wives who have lost their husbands.
Everyone has a story, whether it lasts a month or a year or 20. Everyone has held their mental health in their hands at one point, and tried to juggle. Yet so many of us still try and turn from it, unwilling to face Mental Illness as a real sickness, much as you might view diabetes. A chronic illness that can be helped or overcome with medication, therapy, diet, lifestyle changes, or a combination of all these things. An illness that might change us from who we are to someone else. I don’t recognize the person I was for years-she wasn’t me. She rarely laughed, or smiled, couldn’t leave the house. I’m not that person anymore. She’s receded into me, part of who I was but not who I am.
I watch each day as comments pile up on posts like “Why do bipolar partners push people away” (371) or “Why does my bi-polar husband run away?” (71), posts written because so many people searched the phrases. I grind my teeth in frustration at the irrational arguments against The Mother’s Act in the US, wondering why mother’s need to punish other mother’s by blocking such mundane legislation. I overhear people are work joking about how they think a friend is crazy, maybe bipolar, and how hideous that is, and I wonder if they realize their friend might very well be sick, and very shamed by them. I wonder why we use crazy as an adjective.
Mental illness, our mental health, shouldn’t isolate us. It should bring us together. We aren’t alone-nearly everyone has been touched, whether they have a mental illness, or a friend or family member does. We aren’t doing the St Vitus dance in the woods, we aren’t locked away in an institution any longer, hysterical. We live full, magical lives, even while sick. We ride the bus with you, we bear your children.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. For those of you still ashamed by what’s wrong-don’t be. You have done nothing. You can fix it, you can be helped. Most importantly, you deserve to have your voice without shame or fear. If you have someone in your life with mental illness, and you worry about, have questions-ask them. For my part, I feel I owe it to others to try and educate people about what mental illness really means. That it’s not a death sentence, and I’m not in a hovel eating cat food.
I have a family I love, who loves me back, I have a house, I have a job, I have skills and I live a life I love. I might have a mental illness, but it doesn’t have me.
I watch my children for signs I need to worry. I know, that more than likely, a genetic predisposition coupled with traumatic events in my childhood set me up for my bipolar. So I don’t worry too much. But if I can find a way to make sure they do not have this struggle, I will do so.
Don’t get me wrong. I like who I am, and I’m proud of who I’ve become. I just want their lives to be far easier. Each breath should never be a mental struggle. Love shouldn’t be a struggle.
I have this voice for them, should they ever need it.