Reflective Fragments 

The first time someone called me delusional I was seventeen. The librarian called said that I must be delusional because she was positive that I hadn’t returned a book that I was positive I had. 
The first time I questioned my mental health, truly, I was sixteen, and was largely rebuffed by the professional I confided in. I was lazy, ungrateful, ambitionless, and angsty. Get out of bed, brush your hair, show up to class on time. You’ll feel better. You have so much potential. 
The first time I wanted to die I was fifteen. I had a panic attack over having to tell my mother that I had failed math again. I had myself in such a lather that I began cleaning out my closet, and I had every intention of hanging myself in it with a belt. A pink belt with green stars that I bought at Forever 21, the only souvenir from my school band trip that I could afford. My mother called and asked me to do the dishes before she got home. I missed my window. That feeling of wanting to end would simmer in the recesses of my mind, bubbling over at different times later in life. 

The first love of my life came at fifteen, and has remained my only love. He nurtures the good parts of me, and forgives the bad. I owe him my life. 
The first novel I remember reading was Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. My dog was my best friend, and the book helped put my emotions into words. It also destroyed me emotionally for a few weeks after finishing it. Being able to read independently (i was in the third grade) offered a method of escape that would save my life more than once as I got older. 
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On the foggiest days I can reach out and touch the ragged fabric with which my reality is created. It’s frayed edges like worn burlap glide through my fingers as I struggle to grasp something tangible. As the mist coats the flora in the early morning, so does my fragmented reality coat my mind. My thirst for normalcy never quite sated from such a thin layer of moisture. 

When the wind picks up I am carried into the lives of others. Today I’m a parent volunteering at the school. When the wind changes I am an acquaintance in a tattoo shop, a fraud in a bookstore, a friend via text. I can never commit enough energy or attention to any one person or thing for too long. Lights flash in front of my eyes, I want to entertain all of them but instead cannot focus on even one. 
I feel so many things, yet I am paralysed by the thought of expressing them. Truly feeling them. It would be more apt to say that I think about feelings. If I start allowing myself to feel, I won’t be able to stop. I am an emotional implosion waiting to happen. The only thing I feel is fear. 

Fear of loss. Fear of change. Fear of success. Fear of self confidence. Fear of finding out who I really am. Fear of failure. Fear of faith. 
I couldn’t tell you who I am if I had all of the words in the world. I am a collection of grand ideas, half-truths, fears, and open wounds. The embodiment of an overactive imagination. I am an actual metaphor. Or is it a simile? I could never keep them straight. 

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10,000 Maniacs

How many times in your life have you felt out of control? I’m not talking party animal, too drunk to function, throw up in the Arby’s bathroom, I’m talking about your brain operating so fast that you can’t make heads or tails of anything that you’re thinking. For some people, bipolar is a mixture of depression and mania. I am one of those people. I have experienced depression as well as manic depression, or a mixed-state, but never true mania without the depressive undertones. You would think that being a mixture of manic and depressive could lead to a balance of sorts, because one should even out the other. This however, is not the case. Manic depression is terrifying because your wheels are turning at an incomprehensible speed, and you are powerless to stop them. The thoughts and feelings I have are almost never productive or helpful, and it is in these times that I hate myself the most. 

Some of the symptoms of being manic in my case are excessive sweating, the inability to sit still or focus on one task at a time, spending too much money, insomnia, no appetite, and delusions.

I am about to be  very explicit with my experiences in the hopes that it better explains what I am going through. I want my transparency to help those who are suffering without knowing the root of the problems they face, and the caregivers who feel helpless. If any of these thoughts, feelings, or behaviours sound familiar to you, talk to me. If you know someone who suffers from these symptoms, love them. Don’t punish them for the things that they cannot control, and certainly don’t make them feel ashamed to come forward. Sometimes just being able to say one’s thoughts out loud can save someone’s life. If you can’t be someone to lean on, I strongly suggest you get off of the crazy train at the next stop.

 When I am feeling only depressed, I am tired constantly. I eat too much, and doing anything feels like too much energy. I wear the same clothes, I don’t shower, I feel pathetic. When I am feeling manic depression, I have a lot of energy. I clean, I cook, I put makeup on. On the outside I function mostly well. On the inside, I can’t control my thoughts or emotions. The hate that I feel for myself while depressed is amplified exponentially by mania. My inner monologue screams at me. It tells me that I am useless, that I am not a good mom, a terrible spouse, and that my family would be better off without me. It is during these times that thoughts of suicide crowd my brain, and because i can’t get my thoughts in order, it starts to seem like a good idea. I project my own feelings of self-loathing onto my loved ones, and assume that they are tired of me, tired of having to care for me, tired of having to constantly clean up my messes. Those feelings are my own, and it’s wrong for me to assume that others feel about me the way I feel about myself. One part of me knows and acknowledges this, but the rational part of me has trouble overpowering the yelling that is constantly going on in my head. 

When I am manic depressive I act impulsively. I lavish my loved ones with gifts and money in the hopes that they will continue to love me, in the hopes that they can see a value in the things I give them, because I can’t see the value in just being myself. I am so sure that everyone hates me, and I’m afraid that if I dont’t shower them with gifts that they will give up on me. They will wish me dead just as I do. 

The pinwheel spins so fast that all of the colours blur together and become gray. It slows down long enough for me to see the blue thoughts, the ones that tell me that I’m worthless, incapable of normalcy, inadequate. It speeds up again and I’m left to dwell on the thoughts that came to the forefrunt during the small slow-down. I feel like a car without a driver, a brick on the accelerator. I can see where I am headed but cannot stop myself from getting there. I say and do things that hurt people, but because I can’t explain myself. The result is anger and frustration from the people who I love. I am not an easy person to live with, and I know that I put strain on my friends and family. What they don’t realise is that it causes me pain, too. I don’t want to hurt them or anyone, and as a result we are all stuck in a vicious cycle of me hurting myself emotionally as well as hurting everyone else.

My thoughts of my family being better off without me, running away to help them,  or committing suicide as a way to put an end to their embarassment from having a crazy wife and mother are unfounded in the real world. The rational part of my brain knows that my children need a mother, and that I am thinking about a permanent solution to a temproary problem. I don’t want to die. I want to live free of pain and confusion. Even though that will never be a reality for me, I have to remember that I can make them feel better by trying my best to be a good mom. Removing myself from them doesn’t solve anything, and will cause a permanent hurt that I will never be able to take away. 

Being manic is a very selfish state to live in. The problems that I have inside consume me, and I can’t see a way out. It is truly terrifying to not know what you are capable of. I feel very self-involved, but I’m afraid of what will happen if I let myself stop thinking about it for even a moment. So far, the fear of myself is what has kept me going. 

Two years ago I got into our family vehicle during the only snow storm that we had that year. I jumped on the highway, and I spun my vehicle into the rock face as fast as I could. After I hit I tried to drive away again, even though the front end of my vehicle was gone. It was only after I was in the ambulance and on the way to the hospital that I realised that I had never intended to make it home. I hated myself so much, I was angry that I didn’t die in the hospital a few months earlier when I was sick. I was a shell of myself, filled with hate and anger and disgust. The only thing that could get rid of those feelings was to stop feeling all together. I got home after being checked out in the hospital, and a new hatred filled me. A hate that was fueled by my willingness to leave my family. I looked at my children and wondered how I could be so selfish, how I could think that they would be better off with a dead mother. I felt disgusting and unworthy of love. One thing that I have leraned from that experience is that suicide is not based on anyone other than yourself, but it’s not selfish. You are trying to put an end to their pain, you feel as though you are giving them a chance at a better life if you remove yourself from it. In my case, I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, I was trying to free them. 

Being manic depressive is a constant emotional rollercoaster that can’t be easily explained. It’s like being asked to explain the feeling of vomitting – you can’t listen to an explanation and picture the feeling – you have to experience it. I truly hope that no one I love ever has to know exactly how I’m feeling, but I do hope that if they read this they understand that I never, ever, intend to hurt them, and that I am always trying to act in their best interests. I also want them to know that I am always going to seek help when I know that I am losing control, and that I will, to the best of my ability, shield them from the trouble that my instability can cause. I know that my actions always affect my loved ones, and I am doing everything I can to minimise the blast zone.

Do you know someone who is eperiencing or has experienced anything that I have described? Don’t know how to treat them, act around them, or care for them? Here are a few ideas on how you can engage them in a positive way.

If they don’t want to be touched, don’t touch them. Sometimes being manic can heighten the senses, sometimes to the point of touch being extremely uncomfortable. Always ask before embracing.

Don’t force them to engage. Ask how they are feeling, ask if they need to talk, but don’t pressure or guilt them into talking if they can’t. One thing that bipolar people are good at is deception. If they can’t sort themseves out they will tell you what YOU need to hear, getting you off of their case so they can go back to fighting silently for their lives.

Don’t. Get. Angry. If your loved one opens up to you and is honest with the thoughts and feelings that they are having, don’t react negatively. The first time that you do will be the last time they trust you with their demons.

We don’t come with a ‘fragile’ sticker, so please don’t label us. I know that this is a difficult one, because it’s hard to know what will set someone off. I get that, I don’t know what will set me off, either. Just be patient, and know that we don’t do it on purpose. No one likes being handled with kid gloves. 

Know when you’ve had enough. There is no shame in recognising that you aren’t able to be someone’s nurse-maid for the rest of your life. We know that we are hard to deal with, and the unpredictability of our emotions is taxing on everyone. Have the courage and the decency to say if you can’t do it anymore. It won’t be easy, but if it’s what’s best for all parties, so be it. YOUR mental health should alays be your number one priority.

Most importantly, love and be loved. Let the people you love know how much you do, make sure that they feel it. Gifts don’t equate to experiences…something I’m trying to learn. Everyone has good days and bad, just remember that every new day is a new chance for forgiveness, kindness, and the pursuit of living a full and happy life with someone who is wired a little bit differently from yourself. 

Negative Space

My brain is out of fucking control.

I have no idea what is going on in my own head, and I’m starting to feel a feeling beyond terror. Terror and hatred. Hatred and disgust. Disgust and confusion. What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I be normal? Feel normal. I’m not normal. I’m a larch tree with a twisted trunk, branches askew. The winds of my mind have whipped me and torn the leaves from my branches, pulled at my bark. I go to the doctor, tell him I feel fucked up, he ups my meds. I take them, I feel fucked up, I go to the doctor, he ups my meds, I take them.

What if meds won’t help? What if my ‘fucked up’ is a special brand that nothing can cure? Why can I seem normal sometimes, but never actually feel it? I think I might be delusional. I see things differently about myself than everyone else. I carry on normal conversations and I do normal things, but on the inside I’m a mess, and nothing I’ve tried is fixing it. I want so badly to be fixed. I cause so many problems with my fucked up brain. So. many. Don’t tell me I don’t, if you think I don’t you just haven’t found out about whatever fuck up I’ve caused yet. It’s all I do.

Did I murder someone in a past life? Am I being punished for former crimes in this life? Why can’t I be normal? I don’t want to fuck my kids up. Sometimes I wonder why I’m still here. They have a normal, wonderful Dad. He could find someone new and raise our beautiful children and they would have foggy memories of their fucked up mom sleeping all day and ‘not feeling well’. I don’t feel well. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt well. Felt anything other than contempt for myself. Fear and loathing. But here we are, I’m fucking this idea up, too. Too fucked to leave, too fucked to stay.

I’m tired of going to the doctor. I’m tired of making a shitstorm of everything. I’m tired of not being able to slow down on the inside. I lack the ability to repair anything inside of myself.

To hell with it. I’ll start over again tomorrow. Just like I do every day. Research different ways to fix myself. Get nowhere. Medicate. Repeat. It’s all just bullshit, anyway. We’ll do it live.

Deep breaths.

The Darkest One

*This post originally appeared on my Blogspot in July*

‘My reality’ VS ‘actual reality’
The world in which I exist is a circus-style microcosm of the world that you live in. My emotions are heightened by senses. Smells, colours, and sound are exaggerated and burned into me so quickly that sometimes I break down. My senses become overloaded and I cease to exist on any plane, and become enveloped in every emotion I have ever felt all at once.
I am constantly parallel to you, but we will never reach an understanding on anything, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you. We can both look at the colour red, and though I know you say it’s red, my mind will tell me that it’s something different. I prefer blood, you prefer cherry.
It’s not wrong that I am hyper emotional, in fact, I believe that sometimes it makes me a better decision maker. To see abstractly is to see from all sides, and to pick the prettiest one. Or more like me, perhaps, pick the darkest one.
The kicker is this: knowing that I am more emotionally aware than you puts me in the position to find everyone that isn’t like me confusing, hard to reach, and sometimes not as…evolved, as I am.
 I fear spikes in my emotions and senses because I know that no one understands them. I am not dramatic, I am not a raw nerve, and I’m not an emotional wreck. I feel and love and hear and taste with my whole body and soul, and I know deep down that this is a beautiful gift that I must nurture.
But there is a cycle to this beauty, a cycle that leaves me feeling bloodied and angry – and it never ends. To fit in I change the way I express myself – sometimes subtle things, to let you know that I can cross the tracks and enter the ‘normal human reality’.
Repressing these colourful flaws causes panic that rises from my chest and chokes me in the throat. Anxiety attacks, they are terrifying, and I’m learning slowly that to not have so many, I have to not try to impress anyone with how normal I am.
When I’m angry, I am the angriest person you will encounter. I have no filter on how to control myself when I feel threatened. When I feel loving, there is nothing that would stop me from making you feel like the only person who’s ever been loved.
My point is this: just because the apple I bite tastes sweeter than the one that you bite, doesn’t make me a freak. You can throw buzz-words and pretend psychology at me, but it won’t stick anymore. I am allowed to live my emotions, regardless of if you feel comfortable or not – I am not damaged.
I am always open to hearing your feelings. If I have hurt you, I want to know. I crave openness with all of my loved ones. I crave honesty and hugs and the knowledge that we are all better for having each other. We are all beautiful, and I’ll stop calling your emotional volume too quiet if you stop calling mine too loud.

From The Archives: Reaching Out

*This post originally appeared on my Blogspot in August*

How do you approach a loved one on the topic of their mental health? This post has no answers; I am reaching out to my community for support and guidance in the hopes that we can open a dialogue on a touchy subject, and hopefully pass on the knowledge that we have to each other to piece together a better understanding of mental illness.

If you have read my blog before, you are no stranger to the mental illnesses that I live with. I try my best to be completely transparent with my symptoms, sufferings, and downward spirals, in the hopes that I can encourage others to be honest with themselves and others on the topic of their mental health. So what do I do when I recognise symptoms in a loved one? My concerns have been mounting for several years, and I always try to counter my own arguments to avoid projecting my own symptoms onto this person. However, after a few years of studying, I feel confident in saying that this person IS suffering from mental illness, but does not realise it. I have tried bringing it up in conversations about my own mental health, bringing up genetics, talking about the similarities that we share in personality and the way we react to situations, but so far, nothing has clicked. The biggest problem that I find blocks us from making any progress is, this person believes themselves to be somewhat of a psychology expert – an armchair psychiatrist even. They are quick to point out the damage that they see in me, and even offer ideas on ways that I could improve myself, but refuses to recognise these symptoms in themselves.

Sometimes these conversations are infuriating. I am not always the instigator, and to be told sometimes relentlessly that I am damaged goods, and that I need more help, and that I don’t see in myself what this person sees, eats at me, and causes me extreme anxiety. My first instinct is to lash out, respond with extreme anger (as I am prone to), but I try very hard to repress these feelings, mostly so that I don’t prove this person right. I get so offended at the implication that I don’t know my own suffering. I have been dealing with some of these problems my whole life, and have been very proactive in finding ways to help myself, how dare anyone tell me that I am not trying hard enough? I am tired of receiving ‘advice’ from this person, but at the same time, I understand that they are also suffering; probably more than I am, because they don’t realise that anything is wrong with them.

To be direct with this person is out of the question. Confrontation is not their strong suit, unless they are the confronting party; and being confronted even gently about any subject causes them to shut down and regress into a very angry survival attitude that is unreasonable and impossible to deal with. I have tried to introduce the common-denominator theory to them, obviously with no success. In case you aren’t aware of the common denominator theory, I’ll explain it quickly: If you have more complaints about life, people, work, weather, etc. in a day than the people you normally associate with, then the common denominator in your poor day is you. (A very simple way of putting it, but I think that gets the point across). I have also entertained the idea of staging some sort of mental health intervention. After giving it a lot of thought, I have determined that if it were I that were being confronted about my mental health by a group of people, especially after decades of refusing to see the problems within myself, it would likely cause a large emotional breakdown at the least, and violence, extreme rage, or even suicide at the worst. No one wants to hear from a group that they are questioning your mental stability, no matter how much they need to hear it.

So what options am I left with? Guided discovery hasn’t been successful, hint-dropping hasn’t been successful, and asking them to read articles about mental health has only lead to them finding more problems in everyone else. I feel like I am running out of options, which is a scary feeling. I love this person very much, and I care deeply about their well-being. Their treatment of me and their constant chipping at my own health is wearing me down, however, and I fear that I won’t be able to control my own anger for much longer. I don’t want to cause this person any damage.

I am going to include some links on this page for some helpful resources regarding mental health. I know that the person doesn’t read my blog, but I am hoping that if enough of the people surrounding them have a good understanding of signs and symptoms, it will be easier to help them find their way to acceptance, and ultimately, help.

If anyone reading this has ANY suggestions for how I can better help this person, please leave me a comment or reach me on Twitter (@thesagemum).

My goal is not to shame this person or make them feel the stigma that I have lived with for most of my life, but to offer them support, love, and an understanding person to talk to about all of the new things they will be dealing with as a card-carrying member  of the mental illness club.

CANADIAN MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION – UNDERSTANDING MENTAL ILLNESS

http://www.cmha.ca/mental-health/understanding-mental-illness/

THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY for BIPOLAR DISORDERS

http://www.isbd.org/

ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA – FACTS AND STATISTICS

http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

A link to my favourite poem about war-time: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, by Dylan Thomas

Some of my family went to the cemetery where my granddad is buried and put their poppies on his memorial tree. Had I been home, I would have done the same.
Some of my family went to the cemetery where my granddad is buried and put their poppies on his memorial tree. Had I been home, I would have done the same.
The high-browns of the Mountie who stood guard at the Cenotaph today. This is where my daughters and I placed our poppies.
The high-browns of the Mountie who stood guard at the Cenotaph today. This is where my daughters and I placed our poppies.

My Remembrance Day started a few days ago, when I asked my husband to have his uniform dry-cleaned for the service. Each year we argue over whether or not he is going to wear it, and each year he pitches a fit; but I always prevail, and he wears it to the service. This year, he didn’t, and it threw everything off for me. I tried to explain why it was important to me, but I am not always great at expressing myself when it matters. Both of our families are rich in military history, and when he wears his uniform he is a visual representation of everyone that I have loved who has served. I can’t be with them to hug them and see that they are still here (for the ones that are in fact, still here), but I can be with him and see his uniform as a representation of everyone else. That’s the best that I can explain it. Maybe I should have explained it that way to him. My mama compares my marriage to that of her parents quite a lot, and this situation reminded her of them at this time of year. Every year my grandmother would argue with my granddad about wearing his uniform, and every year he would stubbornly say no. I understand that a lot of our members choose not to wear their uniforms because they don’t wish to draw attention to themselves, but I feel like for one day a year they deserve it, and the rest of us deserve it too. We need to feel that they know how much we appreciate them. Selfish? Maybe. Don’t care. I want my pride in him to be validated by a sea of civilians who respect and admire the sacrifices he makes that others cannot. He works hard and deserves his one day of accolades, n’est pas?

Remembrance Day is emotional for me for various reasons. The most obvious being that my husband is an active member. (See: paragraph 1). The next reason is my granddad. He died in 1978 when my mother was just 11 years old. Before the war he was a farmer, and during the war he sent money home to his father to help out. When he returned from war after storming the beaches of Normandy, being shot twice, watching his friends and brothers die in front of him, he came home to nothing. The farm was gone, the money was gone. A resilient man, he worked at the CN Rail yard until his death. Every year we mourn his loss on his birthday, death-day, and Remembrance Day. It is a day of great sadness as well as pride – pride in his exemplary service and dedication to his family, and sadness that I never had the chance to meet him, ask him questions, have him brush my hair. He loved children, and even though he would be well into his 90’s now, I know that he would have loved to meet all of us, and I often think of what it would be like to have a granddad, and my girls have a great-granddad. They are lacking in grandparents on my side of the family.

He instilled in my mother and her siblings an honourable sense of familial responsibility, and they have handled their jobs as matriarchs and patriarch of our family quite gallantly. They in turn have passed that on to my generation. Pride in family, hard work, and respect for the past. We are all descendants of him, and us living our best lives is a tribute to him, and to his service as a young man.

The other soldier for whom I pray on this day is my father’s brother, the bravest man I have ever known. He served in the American Armed Forces for as long as I’ve known him and much prior (we met in 1997ish), and had an incredible career. Each Remembrance Day in which he was deployed – which was most of them – I would attend the service feeling sick to my stomach. Before the days of Skype or Facebook I would go months without hearing from him, and the terror of not knowing if he was safe or not caused me more sleepless nights than any kid needed. I’m not complaining, he deserved my worry. I would cry for him through the moments of silence, shakily sing the hymns (still crying), clutching a book of photos of him that I have amassed over the years. My worry for him didn’t fade on the days that weren’t marked for remembrance, but November 11th amplified it exponentially. He finally retired after my second daughter was born, and the Remembrance Day after his last tour overseas I cried with relief that he was finally safe forever. I am closer to him than I am my own father, and the thought of losing him still sends my stomach into a horror-spiral. He is the one hero I have had in my life, and I am so  grateful that he is safe. If I weren’t blonde I would definitely have grey hair from worry!!

My life as a military wife has been a roller coaster that I keep paying to ride. I love my life, and I am so unfathomably proud of my husband. The time that he goes away is hard on my soul, because I worry about his physical and mental well-being, but I am normally good at coping with keeping our home running while he is away. I owe him that. I take good care of our girls, I pay our bills, I get on with our lives. I don’t have crying fits, I don’t need breaks from my children, I operate in survival mode so that he doesn’t have to worry about us. As strong as I can be through deployments and training, I still cry when I hear songs that remind me of him, and my insomnia gets worse when I think about him being so far away, and some nights I shake with fear from the knowledge that I am the only one protecting our house; but I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. I am so proud of how far my family has come, and it is because of the man who gives up his family time to protect us globally. He has missed birthdays, holidays, and was away for the birth of our second daughter. As hard as it was for me, I can’t imagine how it felt for him. I am so grateful to him that I don’t miss out on any milestones, although I regret that it is at the expense of him experiencing things first-hand.

I gave him a very hard time today for not wearing his uniform – I had hurt feelings and chose to take it out on him, even though ultimately it’s not up to me whether he wears his spiffy’s or not. I don’t regret cajoling him, but I hope he knows that I love him past all of the stars, and am so proud of him that sometimes I fear my chest will burst. Our daughters are proud of him whether he’s in uniform or not – he is their super hero every day. Their eyes sparkle when they think of him, and I hope that they will continue to accept and understand our lives as they grow older.

At the end of today we took some nice family photos, and I popped several Advil for the migraine that I get every year on this day. We ended our solemn day with smiles and full hearts, happy that another year of safety for our loved ones has passed. Not every year will be happy ones for us, it’s a hazard of the life that we live, but for now I will focus on the good. Everyone we know is safe, my girls are learning to respect the past and enjoy their history, and I have one day where everyone else has my husband on the same pedestal that I do.

“Thank you for being here reading.”

The other day I was reading through the blogs that I follow on here, and I decided to leave a comment on one that I particularly enjoyed. The blogger is chronicling her struggle to overcome an eating disorder, and I find it especially interesting because that is one thing that I have never dealt with (Although when I was younger I was frequently referred to as a ‘dyslexic anorexic’ because I had a fast metabolism and ate a lot).I left my comment and the author responded with “Thank you for being here reading.” This phrase can be interpreted several ways. I could take it generically, literally in the sense that she is thanking me for reading, or I can apply it to my own life, that i am still here – and reading.

Of course I wouldn’t be writing this entry if I had taken it the generic way.

People like me who are self-destructive, angry, depressed, people that have the inability to always see the value in themselves, people like me who fight every day to remember that we are worth more alive than dead – every day that we are here is a victory. We sabotage ourselves in the hopes that someday our faults and failures will be a memory for the people we loved but couldn’t love the right way. (In our own skewed opinions). When I read her response, “Thank you for being here reading,” it resonated with me. I am here. Not only am I present as a heart that hasn’t stopped beating yet, I am providing (hopefully) words of encouragement to someone else who could be in my same emotional and psychological situations.

Everyday we struggle against the current of our emotions. We are fighting a constant battle against the filth in our minds telling us that we aren’t worth as much as the rest of the world. We aren’t worth enough to care about our bodies, we aren’t deserving of true love or friendships, people don’t really like us, they tolerate us. We can hear the judgmental whispers, and we cannot always separate the ones coming from hurtful people versus the ones that our minds are creating. The seeds have been sewn, and too often the justification for taking our lives becomes easier than finding reasons to keep fighting. I am proud of myself for every day that I finish without knowing how easy it would be to leave. I will think these thoughts for the rest of my life. I have a poison in me that I will always have to fight against to keep what little sanity I have. There is no day off from a battle within yourself, the effort is as real and as physical as running laps at the gym. I am exhausted at the end of every day, but I’ve made it.

Thank you for being here reading.

This simple phrase meant so much to me. An acknowledgment within myself that I am still here, and that there are people who appreciate my just being here. I didn’t do anything special for her, I just read and commented. She however, did something special for me. Sometimes the validation of a stranger can put your life back into perspective, and it’s refreshing. I know my kids love me, and I’m sure they appreciate the things that I do for them in a day, but it’s easy to fall into a space of complacency when you live the same routine. Fight, nap, make a lunch, kiss a boo-boo, brush hair, run a bath, turn the fight inward. 

So now I say thank-you to you, for  being here. Take that how you want, but know that I appreciate every heartbeat that is reading this, and that isn’t, because we all deserve to be here. The fight is hard and frustrating and never ending, but we all deserve to be here – and as long as you need a friend, you have one in me.

Day by Day | Rewriting the heart and letting go. (This is a link to the blog that inspired this post)

Who Do You Manage Your Illness For?

Mentally ill or not, we all have facades that we present to the world to help us cope with our surroundings. Some of us choose to have perfect makeup, beautiful hair, manicured nails, or maybe a nice car to meet clients in. How about that giant house you’re paying out the nose for? It’s all part of how we wish to present ourselves to the outsiders that we have to deal with. But what about people that are in our inner circles? It’s harder to maintain this facade with your family, your lover, your children, your best friends. When you live with mental illness these facades are infinitely more difficult to maintain. Sometimes you have several, but there are cracks in all of them, and over time the people whom you love the most will bear witness to the darkness that flows like nightmares through those cracks. 

Who benefits from our hiding?

In short, everyone; for a while. The reason we do it is not to prevent people from knowing, but to protect people from their own fears. Mental illness is an exceptionally abstract concept for the professionals that deal with it, it is infinitely harder to understand for people who have no previous knowledge of it. It is also a security blanket for those of us who are ill. In a lot of cases, family members have their own preconceptions of what it means to be mentally ill, and they usually aren’t good. They classify people with depression as lazy, people with bipolar as crazy, and people with schizophrenia as dangers to society. If you can’t will yourself into being better, than you are an attention-seeker, a downer debbie that craves drama. Turn that frown upside down, and get over yourself. We’ve all heard it. So our masks provide a protection from the people who we know won’t understand, people who will unintentionally (or perhaps, intentionally) hurt us with their archaic opinions. It’s one thing if this is an old spinster aunt who refuses to learn anything that was published after 1975, but what happens if this person is a parent, a sibling, or even worse, your spouse? Do we continually mend the cracks in the facade in the hopes that they never realise that it’s as bad as it is? Or do we put all of our cards on the table with the full knowledge that they may choose to walk away from us?

Coming out as mentally ill is never an easy conversation, it requires a lot of trust, high hopes, and if you’re lucky enough, some liquid luck to make it go the way that you need it to. None of my admittance conversations have gone the way I expected them to. (I’ve never been successful at brewing liquid luck).I have recounted this before, but I feel like I have glossed over a lot of the emotions that I had felt, so I will tell you again, hopefully in better detail. When I told my husband that I was going to start taking medication to deal with illness, it was not the first time we had talked about psychotic disorders. He had grown up in the camp that believed that fresh air and exercise were the best way to deal with the cobwebs in your attic. I had went so far as to get a gym membership, and I worked my ass off. I was at the gym every day, I ran constantly, I used tanning beds, all in a fruitless attempt to find out that yes, exercise would cure whatever was wrong with me. After a few months of being at the gym every day for most of the day, I realised that although I looked good, and felt good while I was there, it was not a cure to my problems. I would be able to incorporate it into a feel-good plan, but there was no way I was going to continue to survive without medical intervention. Knowing his opinion was terrifying. I was worried that he would think that I was faking it, or that I was unappreciative of the wonderful life he has worked so hard to provide for me. What do I have to be depressed about? He’s given me literally everything I’ve ever wanted, including working hard so that I could stay home with our kids. I have no real problems. What I had to learn to accept before I could talk to him was that it has nothing to do with being sad, or greedy, or disappointed in my life. It is a flaw in my chemistry, and I can still feel happy or loving while living with the underlying problems that I have. 

I waited for a long time to tell him, I had to convince myself that he had the right to know what was going on with me, and he also deserved the chance to say that he was willing to put up with it or he wasn’t, lying by omission is still a lie, and I felt guilty thinking that he was unknowingly dealing with all of my demons. If he wanted a clean slate for himself, that was his choice, and I had no right to take that away. We eventually had our discussion, and he decided that although he didn’t understand it, he would do his best to support me, and hopefully learn a few things along the way. I have found myself to be considerably gifted in the spouse department, because not only has his ideas of mental illness shifted, but he has taken such an active role in my health that I truly feel like I have one person in my life that no longer needs to see me in a mask. It’s liberating and vindicating, and if he is the only person in my life that makes an effort to understand, I will count myself a very lucky woman.

What if he didn’t understand? That was always an option. I had to be ready to completely destroy my life to include him in this dark part of it, what if he decided he couldn’t stay? It happens to people with serious injuries and cancer, it definitely happens to people who are mentally ill. What happens if you open up to your loved ones and they can’t or won’t support you? It’s a terrifying thought, but it is equally terrifying to live with the knowledge that every day you come closer to letting slip that you aren’t ‘like the rest of them’. Part of receiving treatment for mental illness is admitting that you are stronger than you think, in ways that you don’t understand. It takes an incredible amount of strength to keep yourself together in times when you wish you could fall apart, and an even larger amount of strength to take that first step in admitting that you need help in the first place. We live our lives in terror, and adding the uncertainty of how your loved ones will react makes getting out of bed seem impossible on most days. 

The point of this post: Who do you manage your illness for? 

As much as we love and respect the people that are closest to us, if we manage our illness based on what they think and feel, we aren’t actually managing our illness. It is another facade, that will eventually crack and leave us exposed and potentially dangerous. The more we hide and sweep things under the rug, the easier it becomes to lose sight of why we are taking these steps to take care of ourselves in the first place. Yes, we learn to manage our illnesses because we love our families and friends, and we want to be the best version of us that we can for them, but the most important person that we are managing for is us. If you forget that, you are causing an infinite amount of extra problems and fears for yourself that you do not aid in your recovery. There is no value in glossing over the facts of your illness, and it is selfish to hide the scary parts because you are afraid that people won’t love you the same way. Maybe the won’t, but that seems like a pretty solid indicator that they also have problems within themselves that they haven’t acknowledged yet. 

Dealing with someone else’s mental illness is a tall order to fill, and can’t be done overnight. Even the most willing of participants have trouble understanding what’s going on all of the time, just as we ourselves don’t understand. What we all need to keep in mind is that we will not be cured. We cannot make promises that we will ever be off of our treatment plans, because we may not, and giving people vague answers like ‘I’ll reevaluate in a few months’ only gives them a false hope that you will ‘get better’, and leaves you feeling stressed out leading up to that deadline. We learn to live with our illnesses, we master the tools that we are given and we are capable of seeming as though nothing is wrong, but the bottom line is, it’s still there. We will always have bad days. Sure, they will become fewer and farther between, but it will happen, and when it does our loved ones can’t be surprised or shocked by it. We work very hard to manage the person they see, but it’s not always perfect. There are two promises that I believe we should make, one to others and one to ourselves.

To others: I promise to never blame you for my actions or illnesses, and I will not lie to protect your feelings.

To ourselves: I will never minimise my suffering for the sake of others, and I will not cling to those who cannot accept me for the beautifully flawed being that I am. 

These are two promises that although seem easy in writing, are harder than we realise. But hey, we all already lead such exceptionally hard lives as it is, so why not add these two logs into the fire? 

The bottom line is this: We all deserve our own version of happiness. We need to surround ourselves with people who only contribute to our success, not minimise our good days and exaggerate our bad days. We love incomparably and magically, and there ARE people who are willing to love us in the same ways. Maybe they are also damaged, maybe they aren’t. Our lives are a continuous parade of people who march in and out making promises to us, and even though it’s exhausting to sort through them, it’s important that we do; because maybe that one person who offers us that mask-free existence is hiding in the crowd, waiting to accept you for exactly who you are. Never give up on what you deserve, and never settle because you think you are too damaged to do any better.