Republished on The Mighty on 5/4/20.
Republished on Yahoo News on 5/4/20.
Republished on The Mighty on 5/4/20.
Republished on Yahoo News on 5/4/20.
My youngest just started college. He took a train upstate for a weekend visit after his last class this past Friday. I spent the two days prior trying to build up my energy preserves before his arrival. We didn’t have a particularly eventful weekend, yet I was worn out by the time he left. It isn’t that he is exhausting. My depression is.
Even when my children were younger, I found myself building up reserves of whatever energy I could muster, saving whatever I could for them. It seemed like I was eternally exhausted, forever worn out and hanging by a thread, trying to scrounge up whatever motivation I could manage in a feeble attempt to be the mother I felt they deserved.
We took frequent long walks to parks throughout the city, many day trips to area museums and festivals. Yet I always felt like I fell short, like I never was able to do even a portion of what I wanted to do with them. More than anything else, we had quiet family movie nights or game nights at home, days spent home playing in the backyard or drawing with chalk on the sidewalk out in front of the house because I was too exhausted to do anything else.
The fact is that my depression is both physically and mentally exhausting. I am engaged in a never-ending battle with my own brain. I begin most days already feeling like I am running on empty. Even my sleep is restless so I never fully recharge.
On the average weekday morning these days, I am up when my fiance’s alarm goes off. I scurry around for an hour or so, helping him get ready for work. It gives us a little extra time to spend together on days when he’ll be gone most of the day. When he leaves, I collapse on the couch, where I spend a good chunk of my day. It isn’t that helping him get ready is exhausting. My depression is.
An hour before he is due home, I muster up what little energy I have left to somewhat straighten the house and start dinner. There’s always easily a dozen things I wish I had done throughout any given day that will get put off to another day. I truly wish I had the energy to do more. Most days, I’m amazed I managed to do as much as I have.
The truth is that I spend most of my time alone in a fog of depression. I often use up what little energy I do have on my family so by the time they leave I am tired, exhausted, worn out. Some days, I am caught in a funk, immobile and numb. On other days, I wait until I have the house to myself to break down and cry, sobbing throughout the day. Either way, I find myself crumbling and falling apart moments after my family is out the door.
Shortly before they’re due home, I dry my eyes and paint on a smile. I straighten my hair and tidy the house. I try my best to hold everything together for them even though I usually feel like I am falling apart inside. By the time they come through the door, I am already wishing I could climb into bed. It is exhausting.
I often do my best to keep the true extent of my struggles to myself because I don’t want my family to worry about me or to suffer over my pain. I don’t want them to question whether they are doing enough for me or whether they have been supportive enough. They know about my struggles with depression yet I still try to shield them to the best of my ability. My mental illness is not their fault. I always feel like I must protect them from it, shield them from it, save them from the worst of it.
I conserve my energy for my family in part because I want to be strong for them. It is bad enough that I feel weak and helpless – I don’t want them to see me that way, as well. My family brings out the best in me so I want to give them the best of me in return. A large part of me is also honestly terrified of letting my family down, of being too broken, too much of a mess to be the person they need me to be, the person they deserve to have in their lives.
Please know that they have never said or done anything to make me feel this way. I know that these feelings, too, are products of my depression. I prioritize others over myself because my depression makes me devalue myself. I internalize everything, blaming and beating myself up far worse than anyone else ever could. My depression makes me feel like a failure, tells me that no matter how much I do, it will never be good enough, never be enough in any way.
Unfortunately, though, recognizing that it is my depression is not enough to stop these feelings or the behaviors that result from them. Depression is an illness. Calling a duck a duck will not make it disappear. A diabetic labeling their illness will not magically balance their sugar levels any more than someone with a mental illness acknowledging their symptoms will instantly change how they feel inside. It is good to acknowledge the illness so you understand why you feel the way you do, but comprehending an illness will not make it go away.
Perhaps, in time, I will acquire more self-care and coping skills so that I do not always feel like I am running on empty. Perhaps, as well, I will heal more and become somewhat more functional again. But in the meantime, I only have just so much energy to give and I choose to give the majority of it to those who reside in my heart.
I do not resent my family for soaking up the majority of my energy each day. It is my own choice to do this. I do this not because I feel that I have to but rather because I want to do so. My family means the world to me. I would do anything for them – even give them the last little bits of myself that I have left for the day.
Because on a lot of days, that is exactly what it is. Those little stores of energy I have managed to reserve for them are the only true sparks of myself I am able to muster. When they are used up, there is nothing left of myself for myself. All that remains is my depression.
I know many people will say that I must take care of myself as well. I’ve been reminded often that “you can’t fill from an empty cup”, implying that I cannot truly be there for anyone else until I have tended to myself first. But, for me, taking care of my family *IS* taking care of myself. It is an all too common sacrifice for those of us living with depression. We give the best of ourselves to our children, our partners, our family and friends because in our hearts we believe that they bring out the best in us so they deserve nothing less than our best in return.
Depression is exhausting. Most days, I have very little of myself to give the world. I give all I can to my family, even if it leaves little to nothing for myself. I do this because I am my best self when I am with my family. I am more myself when I am with them than I ever am when I am alone. If I only have a little of myself to go around, I want to share it with those who love and accept me, depression and all.
Republished on The Mighty on 11/2/18.
Much like the classic question of whether the chicken or the egg came first, it is equally as hard to determine whether depression or loneliness comes first.
Does depression come first, causing a person to isolate, contributing to their own increased loneliness?
Or was the loneliness there first, causing worsening depression because you feel alone, like you have nobody there who cares, nobody who understands?
Often the two go hand in hand, causing a vicious cycle that spirals down, magnifying the impact of both.
In the beginning of the downward spiral, you don’t want to bother or inconvenience anyone with your problems. The depression is there, but it feels like more of a trivial nuisance in your life than a bonafide issue. You minimize your struggles because you don’t want to appear weak or helpless. Your depression fools you into believing that you’re doing others a favor by not bothering them, that they have other, more important things to worry about than you. You feel like you should be able to handle everything on your own so you begin to pull away, to isolate, and to justify those actions because you don’t want to trouble anyone else.
You feel disconnected and lonely, like you’re completely on your own.
And, over time, your depression continues to worsen, unchecked.
You close doors, put up walls and stop communicating. It is not long until you’ve distanced yourself for so long that you feel you’re no longer entitled to reach out to those you have pushed away. You feel guilty for being a bad friend. You rationalize that it has been so long since you’ve spoken to everyone that to contact them now, just because you’re struggling more, would be wrong. Even the thought of reaching out to anyone else feels awkward. You feel like you’re being unreasonably needy for even wanting or wishing someone was there.
By this point, the depression has bled into every aspect of your life. Everything feels utterly hopeless. You feel completely lost, isolated and alone, like no one else could possibly understand. Your depression convinces you of the fact that you are inherently broken in some strange and unique way that nobody else could ever understand. You are struggling to function, struggling to even pull yourself out of bed.
You have not only pushed away everyone who was close to you, but you have also started to avoid everyone and everything else, as well. You have stopped doing many of the things that once brought you joy because you feel you don’t deserve to be happy. You don’t want anyone else to see the mess you’ve become. You shut yourself off from the world, telling yourself the world is a better place without you in it, mucking it up.
And you have nobody to turn to, no one to talk with, nobody to lean on or confide in.
You’re completely alone.
The farther into the depths you spiral, the worse the loneliness and the worse the depression. It isn’t a cycle that just loops endlessly in circles. Instead it is a downward spiral that feeds off each other, making each worse in turn, dragging you further and further into the darkness.
Ironically, at the bottom of the spiral, you feel betrayed and abandoned. Despite the fact that you intentionally isolated yourself and pushed everyone else away, your depression lies to you, telling you that if others truly cared, they would have seen all the signs, that they would have been there all along. Your depression deceives you into believing that they would have fought harder to be there, refused to be pushed away. It convinces you that nobody truly cares, that you are completely alone now and could not turn to anyone else even if you wanted to do so. Your depression projects onto them the ability to read minds and to see everything you have hidden from them all along. In the depth of depression, the irrational seems completely rational.
I have been there myself more than once.
Every time my depression begins to worsen again and spiral downward, I find myself isolating more and more.
I pull away because I don’t want to bother anyone else with my issues. I always feel like a massive burden to everyone in my life. My family and friends have seen me struggling for years. I figure they must be tired of it all, exhausted from it by now. I tell myself they don’t deserve to be plagued by my problems any more than they already have been. I tell myself I am sparing them from my drama, saving them from any more heartbreak from seeing my continued struggling.
I feel like a horrible friend, a horrible person for even wanting to have them there during my bad times. I feel like they deserve better than me.
I tell myself that I am doing them a kindness by keeping them away.
I desperately yearn for someone to talk to, someone to lean on, to have someone who truly understands.
Yet I feel completely alone…
…Because I have chosen to make myself alone.
It isn’t that I’m alone. I have an amazing fiance who loves me to death and is both caring and compassionate about my mental illness. I have wonderful children that have grown into incredible adults who want to be there for me. I have a loyal and understanding circle of friends that have stood by me over the years. I have a supportive team of doctors and other professionals whose primary goal is to help me.
That is the reality. I am not alone.
However, the reality is also that I have depression, a mental illness that often convinces me both that I am alone and that I am a nuisance to everyone else in my life.
I don’t want to be alone.
But I don’t want to trouble any of them with my struggles or be a burden, either.
It is a catch-22, spurred on by the lies that my depression tells me.
It takes a continuous, conscious effort to remind myself that I am not a burden to any of them, that they love me, care about me and truly want to be there for me and help me. I have to remind myself regularly that I am not alone and that others do truly care. Again and again, I find myself itching to pull away, wanting to distance myself and my problems from everyone else. It is a constant struggle not to isolate myself for the perceived benefit of others.
I have to remind myself, as well, that I don’t have to carry everything on my shoulders alone. Often, I have to push myself to reopen those doors, tear down those walls and let others back in. It is admittedly very hard a lot of the time to lean on others, to bother them with my problems, to even ask for help when I need it. Instinctively, I always feel like everyone else has enough on their own plates without adding my mess to the mix. I always feel guilty for needing other people. Whenever I start feeling that way, I have to remind myself that others are there because they want to be.
Deep down, I know I am not a burden.
I know I am not troubling or bothering anyone with my problems nor am I forcing anyone to be there against their will.
I know I don’t have to face my illness alone.
I know all these negative feelings are lies, though they feel completely legitimate and real to me at the time.
We feel completely and utterly alone because our depression lies to us, convincing us that loneliness is a reality when you have a mental illness. We don’t have to be alone, though. Don’t let your depression deceive you. There are others that care, others that want to be there.
There are people you have pushed away who are yearning to be back in your life, people who truly care about you and your well-being.
There are also others out there who you may not even have met yet who would be willing to be there, who understand what you are going through and don’t want you to have to struggle alone.
There are doctors and therapists, as well, and support groups out there who are willing to help.
I honestly cannot tell you whether the spiral starts with depression or with loneliness, though the two often go hand in hand. Together they form a symbiotic relationship that feasts on your mental health, starving you of your happiness and well-being.
I do know one thing, though.
You don’t have to be alone…
…So please don’t choose to be.
I have struggled with depression my entire life, in part due to a genetic mutation passed down to me from my parents that affects the way my body metabolizes specific chemicals my brain needs to moderate my moods. I regularly go through horrendous downward spirals where I feel completely broken and worthless, where life feels utterly hopeless. I struggle with long periods of numbness where I have difficulty functioning or even finding the motivation to get out of bed. On bad days, I will cry until my face is sore and my voice is hoarse, and it is unlikely I will be able to accomplish much more than basic self-care. I am battling an illness that warps my very perceptions of life and continuously exhausts and pains me both physically and mentally.
But I am happy.
I have an amazing fiance who is very supportive of me and my diagnosis. I have healthy, kind, smart and all-around wonderful children who have grown into incredible adults. My fiance’s children are both amazing, as well. Together we have all formed a beautiful, blended family that I love with all my heart and am proud to call my own. I have a team of doctors who actually listen to me and a treatment plan that is slowly but surely helping improve my quality of life. And I have a blossoming writing career that has given me a true sense of purpose and an ability to help others in need. I have many wonderful blessings in my life to be grateful for, many reasons to be happy.
Yet I have been diagnosed with depression.
That is because a mental illness like depression has nothing to do with happiness. Depression is not caused by being in the wrong frame of mind or just not trying hard enough to be happy. Having a depression diagnosis has nothing to do with feeling sad, a little blue or under the weather. People with depression aren’t being Negative Nancys or Debbie Downers who just need to learn to lighten up and look on the bright side. My diagnosis wouldn’t just disappear if I just tried to smile a little harder or maintained a more positive outlook on life. My depression has nothing to do with whether or not I am happy.
I have trained myself to find reasons to smile everyday. I am usually the first to look for something positive in even the roughest of situations. No matter how hard my own day might feel, I always try to show compassion and kindness to others. If nothing else, I am grateful each day I wake up and thankful of all the loving and supportive people in my life and share that sentiment regularly. I am hopeful for the possibilities the future may have in store for me, as well. Some of my friends lovingly joke that I am the happiest, most positive little depressed person they know.
Yet I continue to struggle with my depression diagnosis.
My brain does not care whether or not I am happy or grateful, whether I am hopeful, compassionate or kind. My mental illness is caused by my brain not working properly, much like a diabetic’s pancreas malfunctioning causes their condition. I have no more control over having a mental illness than someone else having diabetes, heart disease or another medical condition they may have been passed genetically. Yes, events in my life may have further exasperated my mental illness, much like having excessive sugar might worsen a person’s diabetes or having foods high in cholesterol might affect the severity of heart disease, but my condition preceded any of the traumas and abuses I have endured over the years. I have even sought treatment to help resolve those issues to the best of my ability, yet my depression has remained.
Because depression is an illness, a medical diagnosis with both mental and physical causations.
It is not all in my head.
It is not a state of mind or an emotion.
Depression isn’t about being sad.
The cure for depression is not happiness.
Like any other illness, depression needs ongoing medical treatment. Doctors need to not only diagnose the condition, but also to isolate and treat both the mental and physical reasons for the illness, as well. Though doctors often utilize psychological treatments like therapy, meditation and mindfulness, they usually also include psychiatric methods and medications to help treat the physical causation. That is because doctors recognize mental illnesses such as depression as a verifiable disability that deserves a comprehensive, multi-pronged treatment.
In cases like mine where my depression has a genetic causation, my diagnosis is permanent. I was born with it much like some children are born diabetic. You would not blame a child for being born with a pancreas that was incapable of functioning properly so please don’t blame me for the fact that I was born with organs that malfunctioned, as well. The only difference in my case are the organs affected. No matter how happy I am or how positive my outlook is on life, my liver will never be able to metabolize the substances my brain needs in order to function properly. I will have this medical diagnosis and need ongoing treatment until the day I die.
If I confide in you that I am struggling with depression, please don’t try to encourage me to try to be happier and more positive, or point out all the blessings I have in my life. I am happy and grateful already. You do not need to remind me to be hopeful for the future because I already am. Please don’t blame me for my diagnosis either, insinuating that I wouldn’t be ill if I just tried a little harder. I did not ask for this diagnosis, nor did I cause it. What I need from you is the same compassion, understanding and support you would give anyone else with any other medical diagnosis.
Because, though I am already happy, knowing you were doing your best to be supportive and treat me with the same respect you would someone struggling with other illnesses would make me even happier.
Republished on the Mighty on 4/4/19.
*** I know I normally write about mental health topics on my blog, but I believe this had to be written, had to be shared. I hope my readers will understand. I apologize for the casual writing and punctuation, as well – Please know that this comes from the heart, completely unedited and raw. ***
We have two framed pics hanging in the apartment.. one by our bedroom door and one in the little hallway by the bathroom.. they were both my fiance’s when we got together.. as much as all of our other walls are covered with pictures of happy memories, I felt it was important to hang them up, as well, because it’s so easy to take life for granted.. to take family for granted.. Life can change in an instant..
It’s so easy to look at things on the news as far away, with that abstract “it’ll never happen to me” feeling.. something on the other side of the world that has little impact on our everyday lives.. well that day it landed squarely on our front door..
As our parents could tell us where they were when Kennedy was shot.. and many of the people around my age remember sitting in class watching the Challenger explode live on television, anyone who was alive that day and old enough to remember it can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing..
I had just sent my daughter to school.. I remember hearing that there was a plane that may have veered upstate and may be looking for a large target.. her school was on lockdown.. I couldn’t get her out.. home.. safe.. I remember feeling completely helpless to do anything to keep her safe, jumping at the slightest sound.. scouring the skies looking for planes.. praying I wouldn’t see any..
I remember thinking of all the other parents.. children.. spouses.. siblings.. neighbors.. friends.. all the others listening desperately to the tv or the radio.. not knowing whether their loved ones were safe.. whether they were even alive.. I remember watching broadcasts of people jumping.. watching the explosions aired and re-aired.. thinking to myself how on earth could this happen?
In the aftermath, I remember crying and hugging my children tightly.. not wanting to ever let go but not being sure what to tell them.. I remember the ever-present fear that it might land on our doorstep again.. that it was no longer distant and abstract.. that we were no longer safe.. that we had never been safe – we only fooled ourselves into believing we were because things like that had never hit so close to home..
I remember friends heading downstate to NYC to help.. friends going to the recruiters to find out about enlisting.. friends posting about family they had lost, childhood friends, neighbors.. I remember stopping in my tracks for months afterwards whenever I heard a plane.. Everyone in this country’s lives were changed that day..
There’s a section in the New York State Museum in Albany dedicated to that day.. Though I have been to that museum dozens of times, I still cannot walk through that display without crying.. Every single time, I pass others with tear-stained cheeks.. We all remember.. None of us can ever forget..
These days, everything is so divisive.. you’re either this or you’re that.. republican or democrat.. either black lives matter or cop lives do.. pro-life or pro-choice.. everyone is expected to pick sides.. you either care about guns and your rights to bear arms or you care about the safety of our children.. if you support kneeling during the anthem, you must hate your country and the military.. either you support gay rights or religion.. nobody is allowed to be middle of the road.. no one is allowed to be the voice of reason.. you’re expected to pick a corner and blindly hate the other side for having differing views, completely and without thought..
perhaps what this country needs more than anything today is to take ourselves back to that day.. a day when we were all lost, all scared.. when we reached out and cried in each others’ arms, when we didn’t care if someone was democrat or republican, whether they were black or white, gay or straight, religious or atheist.. maybe we need to all go back to when we were all just Americans who were all shocked and scared, who reached out to each other so that nobody had to face that day alone..
I can’t think of a better way to honor that day, and all those lives lost, than to stop our fighting, stop the blind hate and all come together again as Americans..
And please.. if you do nothing else today, hug those who matter to you.. Be kind to others.. Let go of the blind hate and love one another.. Never forget that our lives and the world we know can change in an instant.
Much love from my heart and home to yours.
Everything had been building up for months, years.
It was not that I didn’t have wonderful things in my life to be grateful for. I had healthy, compassionate, intelligent children that were growing into incredible adults before my eyes; I had reconnected with my first crush ever who has turned out to be the love of my life and we have a wedding to plan; I had finally found my calling as a mental health advocate and had the start of a promising writing career; I finally understood my struggles with my mental illness, having found a clinic that not only helped me to find the answers I needed, but also actually gave me hope for the future. In so many ways, my life was finally looking up.
However, it was overshadowed by a lifetime of struggling. I had been battling my own brain my entire life. And in recent years, the government and my insurance company, as well. It felt like all I ever did anymore was fight everyone, again and again. It seemed never-ending. I was so exhausted from fighting all the time, never getting to catch my breath, never getting a break.
Add to that discovering not one but two meningioma tumors on my brain. I had survived years of abuses that left deep scars that would never fully heal. My fiance and I were facing a possible pending eviction caused directly by the government’s prolonged inaction in my case and direct refusal to comply with a judge’s previous fair hearing decision in my favor.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was the fairly consistent presence of someone toxic in my fiance and my lives under the guise of one of his childhood friends who was hell-bent on causing problems in our relationship, repeatedly trying to split us up.
To give a little background on the situation, she had known him since she was thirteen and had a crush on him for close to thirty years, bordering on stalkerish. When he was staying with his parents following the end of his marriage, she would intentionally show up hours before he was due home from work and say she would wait in his bedroom for him as an excuse to sleep in his bed. Though they never had any type of a relationship because he never saw her THAT way, for years, she regularly borrowed hats and shirts from him and kept them, much like a girlfriend would normally do. Despite having a crumbling relationship at home she should have been devoting her attention to, she tried repeatedly over the years to supplant herself into my fiance and his family’s lives in any way she could whenever she could, often causing drama in the process. Though he later forgave her to an extent, she even played a crucial part in the break up of his first marriage.
From the time we got together, she had been trying to cause problems between us and split us up. The first time I met her was a month into our relationship, shortly after his father went into hospice. She pulled me aside and tried to convince me that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into or the mess he was going to be so I should just walk away before I got in over my head. She told me he was mentally unstable, that she knew him well enough to know I could not handle what was in store. She seemed thrown aback when I told her I had known him longer than her and I was in it for the long haul.
When she could see I was not going anywhere, she switched tactics. Over the course of the next year, every single time she came over she would make negative comments about me and my mental illness, lecturing me that I needed to stop being lazy and do something with myself and my life. Whenever my fiance and I would both jump in to defend me and attempt to explain the disability diagnosis my doctors had given me, she would interject that she worked in mental health, too, and she “knew what she was talking about”. She worked in a mental health care adjacent position, as a glorified overnight babysitter at a facility that housed mentally or physically disabled adults, a job you didn’t even need a high school diploma or any certification to get, yet she swore repeatedly that she knew better than all my doctors over the years. She frequently trivialized my mental health writing as a waste of time and criticized everything from the cleanliness of my apartment to my cooking, as if nothing I did even remotely met her standards.
As if the constant attacks were not enough, she also was constantly attempting, albeit admittedly very poorly, to blatantly flirt with my fiance in front of me. She would try to run her fingers through his hair and insist he let her cut it, to which he would pull away and say I will cut his hair when he needs it done. When he stopped shaving for no shave November and the couple months afterwards, she commented repeatedly that he should shave because he looks so much better clean shaven, that she prefers him that way, even offering to do that for him, as well. She was forever reaching out to touch him, swat at him or rub him with her hand while she talked, trying to take sips out of his drinks like a girlfriend might do and regularly found excuses to lift her shirt or drop her pants in front of him under the pretense of showing off numerous bug bites and bruises. She would often announce wildly inappropriate things that people wouldn’t normally discuss with friends, like she had just shaved her nether regions or talk about having sex, watching porn or masturbation when she came over.
We tolerated much more than we should have because honestly we felt sorry for her. She was always desperate for attention and, according to her, her problems were always ten times worse than everyone else’s. For example, when we attempted to explain about my doctors finding my brain tumors, she cut us off by saying, “That’s nothing! Did I tell you I had to bring my car back to the shop again?!” as if car problems were somehow worse than brain tumors. She was loud, obnoxious, crass and crude with no concept of respect or boundaries, always saying or doing whatever she could think of to get all eyes on her. She was always talking badly about someone when she came over, usually my fiance’s ex-wife, even though she was supposedly still good friends with her, to the point where we began watching everything we said around her to avoid becoming part of her gossip. She also had severe substance abuse issues. In a year and a half of seeing her once to twice a week on average, I never once saw her even remotely sober regardless of the time of day – she was always drunk, high or both. We knew from everything she had talked about that things were bad for her at home, that her relationship was in shambles. A lot of people had written her off already over the years for her behavior but we understood that she had a lot of issues so we tried to cut her some extra slack.
I had tried my best to be kind to her. On more than one occasion, I took the time to show her sons my sugar gliders and explain more about them. I even watched her youngest once for over an hour while she ran an errand. If we had leftovers when she stopped by on her way to work, I would send her with a plate or bowl. She would regularly fill her purse from treats I had put out in snack bowls. I baked her family Christmas cookies and sent her with extra for both home and work. I once even lent her an old pair of pants that were too big on me so she had something clean for work when she stained her own. I listened sympathetically when she complained of relationship issues, health problems or other stresses, trying to extend an olive branch of friendship. I even did my best to overlook her steady barrage of flirtation with my fiance because I realized it must have been hard to see someone you crushed on for decades happily with someone else.
But despite all my attempts at kindness, both her attacks on me and her inappropriate flirtation with my fiance not only continued but steadily increased. What originally may have been one off-handed comment about her believing my disability was nonsense became full-fledged rants. She began making snippy and snide remarks and telling us to stop whenever my fiance and I were affectionate to each other as if she resented anyone else showing him attention or love. Over time, it had all became too much to bear. When my fiance and I began contemplating marriage, she declared we were not ALLOWED to both get married a second time because she had never even been married a first. When we officially announced our engagement, she responded by referring to me as (please excuse my language) his “fuck buddy”, saying outright that the only thing I did for him was give him my “roast beef curtains” and insist that he deserves better than me. That was the last straw and we agreed she was no longer welcome in our house or our lives.
For two weeks afterwards, she did not come around. Then late one night, well after one in the morning when we were already in bed, we heard a drunken knock at our kitchen window. We both knew exactly who it was because she was the only one we knew with the audacity to think that would be acceptable. I was livid and wanted him to tell her to leave immediately. He wanted to quietly let her in to avoid her making a drunken scene in our apartment building, to wait to tell her she was no longer welcome here another time, during more reasonable hours when she might be somewhat more sober and perhaps slightly more reasonable. Everything quickly escalated.
We were both beyond stressed at the time, not at all with each other but rather with life circumstances in general, topped off by our unwelcome, uninvited guest. Beyond all my own issues, he had been struggling terribly, as well. He had a lifelong battle with his own mental illness. In the last year, he had lost first his father then his job. The family dog that had been his parents’ for well over a decade had to be put down and he was struggling to keep his truck, one of his last physical connections to his deceased parents, on the road and in working order. We were both well beyond our breaking points on many fronts and the culmination of everything with her pushed us right over the edge. We fought terribly, something we don’t often do even in a mild sense. It may have been the worst fight of our entire relationship. Afterwards, I retreated to the bedroom to cry, locking the door so I could be alone.
I did not have any plans to commit suicide. The thought honestly had not even crossed my mind. I was not trying to hurt myself in any way. I loved my fiance and my children more than I could ever put into words and would never have wanted to hurt them in any way, either. I was hurt, angry and distraught over our fight, disgusted that we had tolerated someone so blatantly toxic for so long, and I was exhausted and overwhelmed with life in general. I just wanted to be alone, wanted to try to calm down, to catch my breath, to stop feeling like I was free-falling through a world where I was never allowed to just be happy, never allowed to just rest and be at peace.
I dumped the basket of pills out on the bed and fished out various bottles of my take-as-needed anti-anxiety medications. In between sobs, I took a few. Then I vomited.
Seeing the pills floating there on top, I took a few more to replace the ones I had lost. I continued to sob and to vomit. To vomit and to take more pills to replace the others.
At this point, I was no longer thinking clearly, caught in a nightmarish loop, wanting desperately just to calm down, to stop feeling like this, and to get some much needed rest.
Eventually, sleep came. I started to feel dizzy and thought to myself, “..finally.. they are starting to kick in..” It is the last thing I remember for almost two days.
I woke up a day and a half later in the hospital. He was seated at my bedside, looking ragged, like he hadn’t slept in days.
Baby! You’re awake! Oh my god I love you. I am so sorry about everything. How are you feeling? What do you remember?
I was confused and disoriented. On oxygen. Had a bunch of tubes and wires all over my body. It took me a few minutes to realize where I was and what was going on. I could not remember anything since taking the pills, crying and throwing up repeatedly. I was not even sure what day it was.
I can’t believe you don’t remember any of it. I had to kick down the door, to call the police.
My chest hurts.
I can only imagine. One of the cops did a sternum check, pushing really hard on your chest, hoping for a reaction to the pain. You were completely unresponsive.
My throat hurts.
You had tubes down your throat. They had to restrain you for a bit because you started to flail and grab at the tubes. You have no idea how much you scared me baby. What you looked like, laying there hooked up to all those machines, all those wires and tubes. I thought I was going to lose you. Please don’t ever scare me like that ever again.
I wanted to talk about it all, to explain, but my voice was raspy, my throat raw. It hurt to talk. I couldn’t stop coughing. I wanted to insist I hadn’t meant for any of this to happen, to swear I wasn’t suicidal like I had been all those years ago before we were even together. I wanted to apologize for scaring him, for fighting over stupid things like people who were inconsequential and irrelevant. All I could do though was cry as he held me close, my tears flowing freely with his.
I had lost a day and a half.
But more importantly, I tarnished our relationship in a way I can never take back. The sight of me laying there unresponsive, of being carted out on a stretcher, of my laying there as the doctors frantically worked to revive me, will forever haunt his nightmares.
I spent the next day in intensive care as they closely monitored my heart, followed by three days on a secure floor on suicide watch. Again and again, I tried to explain it all to whoever would listen, to insist I was not suicidal. However, protocol required a few days of observation no matter what was said.
My heart was constantly monitored, my vitals taken every few hours. My IV was moved numerous times as my veins collapsed and fresh bruises appeared up and down my arms. I was stuck in bed for the first couple days upstairs while I waited for nurses to find me clothes other than hospital gowns. The clothes I had arrived in had been cut off me in the emergency room when I arrived. I could not wear other clothes from home until after I was cleared for discharge.
I was not allowed many other items often taken for granted such as a phone charger or silverware. Well-intentioned staff reached out repeatedly to try to convince me life was worth living. Meanwhile, they rushed to confiscate any cans or other sharp items from meal trays and to take endless notes on everything I said and did to assist with my psychological evaluation. I had a constant companion, a nurse or aide to sit with me at all times to prevent me from possibly further harming myself. Though I was never by myself during those four days, I had a lot of time to lay in bed alone and think.
I was not suicidal but I have been in the past. I did not intent to harm myself, but I had in the past. Intentional this time or not, I found myself in the same place and, like my previous attempts in the past, it had not solved anything. On the contrary, it made everything much worse. It hurt the people I love, scared my fiance and my children to death.
I didn’t get any time to calm down, didn’t get that moment of peace I had desired so badly. The majority of the problems had not gone anywhere. I lost a day and a half, woke up in pain and discomfort only to face new problems created by my own actions.
I was extremely lucky just for the fact that I am still here to tell my story. I could have just as easily become a statistic that day. My story could have just as easily ended with my obituary, the words and questions of others left unanswered, adrift in the wind.
I cannot apologize enough for what I put everyone through. I feel stupid, ashamed, that I should have known better. There are no words that could adequately express my remorse. I would do anything to take back that night but there is nothing I could ever say or do that would erase the past.
I would love to say there is no excuse for my actions but when my depression and anxiety reach certain levels, I no longer always think clearly. I become increasingly overwhelmed, the world feels largely hopeless and I am no longer able to cope. Even when I am not actively suicidal, which I have not been for years now, I struggle regularly with suicidal ideation, not exactly wanting to die but no longer wanting to continue living my life the way it is, either. Though I never meant to fall apart like I had that day, unfortunately once I reach a certain point, I react before rationalizing the repercussions of my actions.
I would love to say there is an easy solution to this, that I could take a magic pill or think some happy thoughts and my mental illness would just fade away and disappear. I wish I could say it was a temporary phase even that I would eventually get over. My mental illness is caused in part by a genetic mutation. I was born with it and I will have it until the day I die. There is no cure for me. It is permanently hardwired into my genetics. I can receive therapy for past traumas and current issues, I can take medication to provide my brain with the chemicals my body cannot make itself, I can fill my coping toolbox with techniques and strategies for dealing with harder days and attend things like tai chi and yoga classes until the day I die. Yet I will always have a mental illness. It is a lifelong, permanent diagnosis for me.
Mental illness is my cross to bear. Though I truly appreciate that my loved ones are willing to stand by me and support me through my struggles with my mental health, it is not fair or right for them to suffer like they have for my diagnosis. Although I never intended to do so, I severely hurt everyone that matters to me. They all have tried to be compassionate and understanding, to forgive me for an illness that often wreaks havoc in my life, for a condition frequently beyond my control.
However, I am not sure I will ever be able to forgive myself.
Since getting out of the hospital, my fiance and I have not talked much about the incident beyond him being thankful that I am okay and asking me to please never scare him like that again. I have reassured my children that I am okay, as well, trying to minimalize the severity of it all to lessen their fears. Again, I wish there were some magic words I could say to take away the pain and panic in their eyes. I fear no apology will ever be enough.
It took almost a week before we could even sleep in our bedroom again. While I was in the hospital, he slept on the couch when he could sleep at all, the spilled pill bottles, vomit and towels still sitting where they were when the ambulance carted me away. I insisted on cleaning it up myself when I came home, my mess, my problem, but going into that room felt like crossing into an alternate nightmare dimension. Nevertheless, I fought my way through a bevy of anxiety attacks and breakdowns to clean it all up. Even after everything was cleared away, no trace remaining, we opted to sleep in the living room for the next week on our air mattress. We knew what had happened in there, we had lived through it, yet we were still not quite ready to fully face it.
The first couple nights that we returned to the bedroom, I couldn’t sleep at all. He continued to cling tightly to me all night while he slept, as he had done every single night since we returned home from the hospital, as if he was terrified that I would disappear forever if he let go for even a moment. I laid awake both nights, silently crying for the pain and fear I had placed in his heart. A month later, my anxiety still rises whenever I enter that room, my sleep restless and plagued by nightmares old and new.
I know I need to change many things, to put safeguards in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again. I cannot change the fact that I have a mental illness, but there are other things I can address, precautions I can take. I never want to hurt my loved ones like that ever again. For instance, no more locking myself away when I am upset. No more taking extra dosages of medication early, even if I have thrown up the dose I just took. No more tempting fate when I might be too emotionally irrational to think clearly.
I have a constant pressing need now to reassure him that I am okay, that he doesn’t have to worry. I catch him looking at me, watching me, more frequently now, and checking in on how I am feeling. We are trying to heal from this, to move forward, though I’m not sure we can ever completely move past it. He almost lost me that day. He is always going to worry just a little bit more now.
We have also agreed to remove certain toxic people completely from our lives, those who prefer to add drama and conflict rather than happiness and support. We learned the hard way that some people will take advantage of our kindness and tolerance, repaying us tenfold with cruelty and drama. The nail in the coffin of that childhood friendship was hearing from mutual friends that she had been going around laughing and bragging about “putting me in the hospital”, proud of the part she played in my breakdown. We will never again allow anyone like that into our lives. Whatever it takes to never find ourselves in that situation again.
Some people say that suicide is selfish because all it does is pass the pain onto others. Other people attempt to explain that those who make attempts just don’t want to hurt anymore themselves. Many nowadays recognize that suicide is often a tragic byproduct of mental illness. I have been suicidal. I have been in those moments of desperately wanting the pain to stop. I have had suicidal attempts in my past and now an unintentional attempt because I was upset, irrational and not thinking clearly. I have lost loved ones to suicide, and known others who have lost people they loved deeply, as well, so I understand all too well how devastating it can be from the outside looking in. Regardless of where you fit in the equation, suicide is always heart-wrenching and tragic.
One thing I can tell you, whether you are suicidal or not, whether your attempt is intentional or not, the result is always the same. Pain. Pain for everyone you love, everyone who loves you. Pain for yourself should you survive. And not just physical pain from tubes and tests and IVs. Emotional pain as you see that haunted look in their eyes, that kernel of doubt that appears every time afterwards that you insist you’re okay. Pain that will continue for years, that will likely never go away, whether you’re around to see it or not.
Pain and overwhelming loss for everyone who has ever cared for you. They will never be the same. You might carry physical scars from your attempt, but theirs will run much deeper and never fully heal. Those close to you will retrace all your interactions, looking for signs, real or imaginary, to explain what happened. They will question whether they should have said this or should not have said that. People who you have not seen in ages will question if they should have reached out, as if they could have magically known things were bad and somehow made a difference. They will all blame themselves for your actions and choices. Whether you die or not, they will be forever haunted by that one choice you made, something completely beyond their control. Yet, in their pain, they will embrace that blame, caught in a cycle of imagining every scenario that could have prevented it.
To those contemplating suicide or just on that edge of not being able to cope with life anymore, please know that I understand completely how hard it can feel, especially when you’re struggling with mental illness. You are not alone. But I wouldn’t wish the kind of pain I caused on anyone, not my worst enemy, not my loved ones or yours. Once it has happened, though, you cannot ever take it back. Even if they don’t lose you, your relationships will never be the same. I cannot change the pain I’ve caused, but perhaps, by sharing my story, you can spare your loved ones from the same fate.
Please be careful. Be careful with yourself and be careful with your loved ones. Life is a fragile thing, a light that can be snuffed out in a moment. It may be hard sometimes, downright unfair. But life is also precious. As is love. Don’t take either for granted.
I know all too well that mental illnesses are rarely rational. When we are upset, we often react based on pure emotion. So take precautions now, during the calm before the next storm. Do not leave ways to harm yourself readily accessible when you might find yourself too emotional to think rationally. Don’t set yourself up to fail or to hurt yourself or those you love.
I thankfully am very lucky to still be sitting here, able to share my story. Many others have tragically lost their battles with mental illness without ever having a chance to tell their tale. Their stories are told in yearly mental health statistics and on memorial pages created by those they left behind. We’re all in this boat together and we only have two choices. We can either become a statistic or we can keep going, keep fighting, and find some way to make a difference in this world, even if only to show others that it is possible to survive our diagnosis. There are too many mental health statistics and enough pain already in this world. If we have to choose anything, let’s choose life and love.
Much love, compassion, hope and faith that even if this does not find you well, it finds you strong enough to keep living. ❤
As a young girl, I dreamt of my wedding day many times over. My friends and I had mock weddings in our backyards and on the playground, pretending our dandelions were expensive bouquets and using whatever we could find as makeshift veils. We would practice walking down the aisle, improvising imaginary heartfelt vows that professed undying love. It was thrilling to imagine that one day, when we found our real life prince charming, he would sweep us off our feet and we would get to plan our wedding for real.
I have never planned an actual wedding before. I was married once before but I never did get the fairy tale wedding of my dreams.
My ex-husband and I got married more out of obligation than any deep-seated desire to be wed. After struggling to find his way in life, he stopped in at a recruiting station on the way home from work one day and decided on the spot that he wanted to go into the Air Force. We had a young son together at the time. The Air Force had a steadfast rule against recruiting single parents. Upon learning this fact, he came home from the recruiter’s office that afternoon to explain his dilemma.
It was followed by a simple “..so do you wanna get married or what?”
I was not one to stand in the way of his future or his happiness so I agreed.
Not a very heartfelt proposal followed fairly closely by an equally eloquent wedding a few days later, a simple hand-fasting in his mother’s living room, followed a store bought sheet cake.
I had a wedding gown that I had previously purchased when my ex and I had casually tossed around the idea of possibly getting married one day. I had found it on sale, a virtual steal, already altered for another bride with a similar frame who changed her mind at the last moment. The dress originally retailed for a few thousand but had been marked down to just over a hundred because it sat in the store, unpurchased, for so long. It seemed like kismet to find a gown already tailored to my exact proportions. It was beautiful and elegant, everything a young girl would imagine her wedding dress to be. Yet it sat in the closet on my first wedding day, never even made it out of the box. It seemed silly, bordering on asinine, to even put it on when the rest of the few people in attendance were not dressed up at all. I have since gotten rid of that gown because it stood as a painful reminder of everything my wedding should have been but wasn’t.
This time around, I want to do it right.
By right, I don’t mean some over-the-top fancy gathering where everyone is dressed to the nines and I’m paraded around in a dress that costs nearly as much as a new car. I honestly don’t even need another fancy wedding gown, though I do want to wear something simple yet beautiful to mark the occasion.
I don’t need an expensive bouquet. Nor do I need a fancy big cake with multiple tiers and arches. I’m actually partial to wildflowers. And we both love cheesecake. I’m open to compromises as long as I am not compromised right out of my wedding day altogether. I refuse to ever do that again.
By right, I mean a wedding that’s planned out, on my terms, incorporating things that mean something to both Marty and me. I want to be surrounded by our family and friends. I want to have music we’ll both happily sing along to and food we’ll both enjoy. I want it to be a day full of love, laughter and happy tears. I want it to be a day that I will cherish forever, look back upon years from now and smile. I don’t want some rushed, generic ceremony with no heart done out of obligation. I want a real wedding.
That being said, I have no idea how or where to begin. I have a vague idea of some concepts I would like to incorporate but I have yet to weigh which are realistic and which are not, not to mention what will be affordable.
We don’t have a lot of money to dedicate to the day, but even that is fine by me. We will manage. After all, a marriage is supposed to be a celebration of love, not of wealth. But I don’t want to disregard the day as unimportant, either. It marks an important milestone in our lives and should be treated as such.
I’m thrifty by nature and crafty at heart. I love to save wherever I can, whether by hitting sales or doing things myself. I even find all these bridal giveaways fun in their own “probably never going to happen but it’s nice to dream” sort of way. However, the field ahead of me is largely unexplored and I fear it may be full of landmines I am not expecting.
I fear cutting corners like George Castanza in Seinfeld, opting for cheaper envelopes with toxic glue.
I fear taking on a project that turns out to be more than I can handle, of wasting time, resources and money that would have been better spent somewhere else or done by a professional.
I fear forgetting something critical to the ceremony, or even worse, someone important.
I even fear having everyone object at the ceremony, telling him to run while he still can.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of planning this wedding. I still have over 9 months to go and an entire wedding to plan. Yet in my head I have failed miserably at it many times over in a thousand different ways.
I know deep down that it is just my anxiety and not reality.
My anxiety has a knack for making mountains out of mole hills, of making even the simplest of tasks feel overwhelmingly impossible. My anxiety holds me on the verge of sheer panic, racing through my mind everything and anything that could possibly go wrong. And that is on an average day. Throw a once in a lifetime milestone like marrying the love of my life into the mix and my anxiety goes into permanent overdrive. I only have one shot at this and I cannot let my anxiety get the better of me, pushing me to give up before I have even begun.
I know I am capable of doing this. I’m more than competent at planning and organization, even meticulous when I need to be. I am creative and artistic. I have a good eye. I am overly sentimental, bordering on downright sappiness, so I would never intentionally leave anything or anyone meaningful out. Most importantly, I know Marty as well as I know myself so I know better than anyone else how to create a day that would mean the world to both of us on multiple levels.
Yet my anxiety rages on.
My plan at this point is simple.
I have to take things one step at a time, one task at a time.
Focus on what matters.
I am not striving for perfection. I don’t need everything to be perfect. I just need more than a rushed wedding in a living room with a generic sheet cake so my new spouse can ship off to basic training.
I need a wedding that will mean something to both Marty and to me.
I know I can do this if I set my mind to it, take my time and work it out one piece at a time.
The problem is that I honestly have no idea how to do it quite yet. And not knowing where to even begin is probably the scariest feeling of all.
Except perhaps letting him down.
That scares me even more.
But that’s when I hear his voice, calming me, soothing me. Telling me whatever I do will be perfect. That he will love me no matter what. That all he wants is for me to be happy. That all he wants is to spend the rest of his life with me. He has that miraculous power over me to bring me back from that edge, to lull me back to reality, to give me the peace of mind I so desperately need.
I know in my heart that no matter what happens on our wedding day, what truly matters is that it marks the first day of the rest of our lives together. I know that no matter what happens, it will be perfect because we will be together. Everything else is just details that I will iron out along the way.
I just wish my anxiety would stop trying to convince me otherwise.
This Piece Was Originally Written For The Anxious Bride on 8/11/18.
Everywhere you look nowadays, you see stories about Ariana Grande’s whirlwind romance with Pete Davidson. And almost everyone seems to want to put in their two cents on the matter, claiming everything from the fact that they’re too young to they’re moving too fast. So many opinions abound.
More than anything, though, I keep seeing people chiming in about the fact that they both have mental illnesses that they have spoken publicly about, as if their illnesses play a large part in their relationship in some negative way. Ariana Grande has spoken out about her struggles with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Pete Davidson has shared his experiences with borderline personality disorder. Yes, they both have mental illnesses but they also have found love. And two people loving each other is not a bad thing.
There are many people that buy into the stigma surrounding mental illness, assuming that everyone struggling with one is crazy, unbalanced or even dangerous. Some assume that nobody can have a healthy relationship while they have an unhealthy mind and that two mentally ill people coming together is a recipe for disaster.
I once even had a friend tell me specifically that “two unhealthy people cannot have a healthy relationship”. Based on their premise, because I have a lifelong mental illness diagnosis that has its roots in my genetics, I have no hope of having a healthy relationship, especially if I fall in love with someone else who is struggling with an illness, as well. If he were to be believed, I was destined to be alone.
As someone who struggles with mental illness who is in a relationship with someone else who is mentally ill, as well, I can tell you from my own personal experience that is not the case.
I have depression, anxiety and PTSD. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD. We have both struggled with our illnesses for years, even being hospitalized for breakdowns at different points in our lives. Yet, in each other we have found a love unlike anything either of us had ever experienced before.
We knew each other years ago as children. He was my older brother’s best friend for a time and my first crush. In our teens, life sent us in different directions and we lost touch for many years. We found each other again a year and a half ago, after twenty five years apart, and sparks flew.
Like Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, we’ve had people look at our relationship with judgment because we moved so fast. He found me online again, listed as a friend of a friend he might know and we reconnected. For two days, we talked non-stop whenever we had a moment to spare. On the third day, we arranged to get together in person. We’ve been together ever since. As they often say “the rest is history”.
A month and a half later, we found ourselves living together. We hadn’t planned it that way honestly. His father had inoperable end-stage cancer and was placed in hospice. There was no way I was going to leave his side for even a moment and make him endure that alone. I had lost my own father to cancer a few years earlier, following his own brief stay in hospice. Going through that together brought us even closer.
All the people from the outside looking in saw were two people who jumped ridiculously fast into a relationship. They don’t realize that we knew each other as children and had a pre-existing familiarity and closeness that was brought back to the surface again. The don’t accept that facing hardships together as we had done brings people closer. They don’t consider that we have physically spent more time together in the last year and a half together than some couples have after dating for years. They don’t see how we are with each other behind closed doors and how close we’ve continued to grow with each passing day. Some people come directly from a place of judgment and automatically think it’s irrational to be so serious after such a short time. Or worse, they label our choices as “crazy”, as if our love was just another way our mental illnesses have presented themselves.
Because of our mental illnesses, we’ve both always felt different, broken, damaged. We both never felt we quite fit in or that anyone else could truly understand what we’re going through. We’ve both felt so lost and that life should not be this hard. We both have struggled for years to stay positive when it felt like our world was spiraling down into a dark abyss. We both had numerous people in our lives who just couldn’t understand, who told us it was all in our heads, that we just needed to get over it and suck it up.
The difference now is that we both have someone we can talk to about everything we’ve been through. Someone who truly gets it because they have been there themselves. Someone who listens without judgment because they understand all too well how much that judgment hurts. Someone who sees us not as damaged and broken, but for the big hearts and beautiful souls we have inside.
With that level of love and acceptance comes an incredibly strong bond.
We’re able to open up to one another and talk on a level that we never had before, to share experiences and traumas we’ve kept to ourselves for years. In each other, we’ve found the one person we can completely be ourselves with, say anything to, without fear of rejection.
We both have a portion of our mental illness that is unique to us. I have a generalized anxiety disorder and he has bipolar disorder. Though I have not struggled with his disorder myself, my mother had bipolar disorder so I had some experience with his illness, at least from the outside looking in. We have patiently explained to one another everything the other didn’t understand and offered tips to one another for how to support us when we are struggling. We listen intently to each other and are supportive to each other because we both know very well how it feels to have nobody there who understands.
The depression side of his disorder I understand all too well. The manic side not so much, though I had learned early on in life to spot the shifts in my mother because she shared his diagnosis. When he has a manic episode, I am always there to offer support and encouragement. He often becomes hyper-focused on one task or another and I intervene to make sure he does not lose himself, putting off self-care and disregarding his basic needs like eating. On the rare occasion that his mania presents itself as rage, I do my best to deescalate the situation in a non-confrontational way. No matter how his mania presents itself, I offer a calming presence to soothe him and bring him back down again, often rubbing his back, head and shoulders to help him relax.
When my anxiety makes me think irrationally, he is there to talk me down, to help me see reason. Following anxiety attacks, when I desperately just need the quiet presence of someone else, he holds me closely without judgment and reassures me everything is okay.
Depression hits us both pretty hard. In the past, we’ve both dealt with people who never understood and who insisted it was all in our heads. But we both know the signs. We can see in each other when our depression is raging strong. And we are both there for each other how we always wished someone would have been there for us for all those years. We are gentle, kind and compassionate with each other because we’ve been there ourselves and we understand how hard it can be.
We both are plagued by PTSD, as well. Nightmares of past trauma are especially hard for us both. When either of us is battling the demons of our past, the other can see the signs, intervene and offer comfort and support. When our pasts are haunting us, we can talk openly about it on a level that we never were able to with anyone else.
On days either or both of us are struggling particularly hard, we have learned to lean on each other without judgment. We each pick up where the other leaves off. We have developed an ever-shifting balance in our relationship. On days we both are struggling, we curl up together and lean on each other for comfort.
We cheer each other on for our successes and support each other in our struggles. We encourage each other to stay strong, to keep fighting and to get the treatment we each need. Neither one of us judges the other for the ways our illnesses present themselves because we understand all too well and empathize with each other on every level. We not only offer each other support but we’ve become proactive in each other’s treatment, as well. We’ve attended doctors appointments with each other and helped bring up concerns the other may not have noticed or may have been too uncomfortable to discuss. We love and support each other in every way.
Yes, we jumped into a relationship that became serious relatively quickly. But it was not because our mental illnesses had us thinking irrationally. In each other, we saw someone who finally understood everything we had been battling our entire lives. In each other, we found that one person who could accept us completely for who we were, loving us not despite our mental illnesses but because of every single thing, mental illnesses included, that made us who we were. In each other, we discovered what we had been needing, what we had been missing, our entire lives. Pure unconditional love.
When you find something like that you don’t question it. You don’t hold back, think on it or weigh options. You thank the heavens for placing someone in your life and in your path that makes you finally feel not just that it’s okay to be you but that there’s not a single other person in this world you’d rather be. You run with it and you love them back completely because life is short. We have to make the most of it. And a love like this is too good to pass up.
Yes, we may lean on each other more than others do because of our conditions, but that doesn’t make our relationship unhealthy. We give each other exactly what we each need. We might both have mental illnesses, but we both are so much more than our diagnosis. And now we are both blessed to have found someone who can truly see that.
After all, mental illness is just another medical diagnosis and one that is largely treatable. The only thing that makes mental illness different from other illnesses is that it presents itself in the brain instead of the body so it’s not as easily visible. People with different medical conditions live their lives and find love every single day. Those with a mental illness are no different. People who have a mental illness are just as worthy and deserving of love as anyone else.
So please don’t judge others, or their relationships, based on the fact that one or both of them have a mental illness. Don’t let the overwhelming stigma surrounding mental illness turn you into a naysayer that pronounces doom and gloom on two people in love just because they both happen to share a similar medical condition. Instead, celebrate that, despite the fact that there are millions of people walking this earth, they were able to find that one person who loves them completely for who they are.
Republished on The Mighty on 6/28/18.
Republished on Yahoo Lifestyle on 6/28/18.
Republished on Yahoo News – Canada on 6/28/18.
Republished on Yahoo News – India on 6/28/18.
Some people preach forgiveness and giving second, third, fourth, even unlimited chances. They claim forgiving others is more about your own peace of mind than theirs and that the heart should always be open to it. Some even claim that you should never remove anyone from your life because everyone is there for a reason. They emphasize blood relationships and length of friendships as the sole reason you should forgive and forget.
I am not one of those people.
I believe that you should surround yourself with people who are good for your heart and soul, not based on dna links or length of familiarity. I believe we must not only be kind to ourselves but surround ourselves with kindness, as well. You cannot heal and work towards being healthier again if you continue to reside in the sick ward, continuously being bombarded by things that contributed to your illness in the first place.
Some people hold tightly to friendships or relationships for no other reason than “they’ve known them forever” or “things used to be different, used to be great”. You can have a drinking glass that has served you well for years and has even played an important part in your life for some time. But if that glass shatters, it fundamentally changes so drastically that it can never go back to what it once was, you do not keep that glass. You do not leave those shattered shards on the ground where they fell so that every time you come in close proximity to it, you risk cutting yourself open again, creating new wounds and reopening old. You accept that it no longer has any place or purpose in your life, you clean up the remnants of the glass and you discard them, protecting yourself from any further harm. No matter how long you’ve had that glass or how much it previously fit into your life or daily routine, once it has shattered beyond repair, we accept it cannot be fixed and we discard it for our own safety.
If we are willing to do this to protect our body from being hurt, why wouldn’t we do the same for our heart and our mind? If a relationship has broken down and deteriorated so badly that the only remaining possibility is the infliction of more pain, why would we subject ourselves to that continued hurt?
I also believe there are some people who no longer fit into our life or belong on our path. It is akin to a recovering alcoholic no longer spending time with his old drinking buddies, people whose only connection to his life was encouraging his continued drinking. If you are trying to live a healthier, more positive life, you cannot surround yourself with negative people. If you are working towards trying to love yourself, you cannot surround yourself with people who make you feel worthless and broken. If you are trying to get treatment and take care of yourself, you cannot surround yourself with people who minimize or trivialize your struggle and your efforts, who tell you to “suck it up”, “just get over it” and treat you poorly instead of offering encouragement and support. You cannot change your mindset and your situation if you remain in the same environment that allowed that negativity to flourish in the first place. The urge to relapse is too strong. Recovering alcoholics don’t spend every night sitting on their old bar stools, surrounded by everyone who kept pushing for them to have one more drink, sliding shot after shot their way. They accept that is not healthy for them, that it no longer has a place in their life and they find other, more positive people and places to occupy their time.
Why wouldn’t we do the same thing when it comes to poisonous people in our lives?
Removing toxic people from our lives is not about hating them or punishing them. It honestly isn’t about them at all. It is about taking care of ourselves and loving ourselves. It is about identifying everything that is unhealthy in our lives and removing whatever is detrimental to our health. Removing someone who is toxic does not mean you don’t love them or that they never meant anything to you. It means you love yourself more. A newly diagnosed diabetic might absolutely love cupcakes, but they know that those cupcakes no longer fit in their life. Having those cupcakes around will only continue to make them sick and slowly kill them. They might have loved those cupcakes for years, but no cupcake is worth losing your life over. They will miss those cupcakes for the place they once held in their past but deep down, they know now that they are no longer healthy for them and they need to go.
Why wouldn’t we remove people from our lives, as well, that are no longer healthy for us and are slowly breaking our heart and our spirit, killing a vital part of ourselves?
One of the best things I ever did for myself was to remove toxic people from my life, the ones who treated my mental illness like a joke and responded with judgment instead of compassion. It is hard enough to battle those voices in my own head telling me I am broken, worthless and unlovable, without those sentiments being echoed by people I had allowed into my life. It was difficult letting go of some of those relationships, especially when it was all I had known for years, but it was honestly for the best. In the end, I had to put myself and my health first and remove anything that stood as a roadblock to my wellness.
I also had to accept that some people never had my best interest at heart. There were some people in my life that found some strange sort of pleasure in my pain, people that raised themselves up higher by systematically knocking down those around them. There were people that kept others around solely because seeing others struggle made them feel better about their own lives. People like that were so threatened by the happiness or success of others that they minimized or sabotaged the successes of others so that they could maintain their air of superiority. I had to accept that some relationships in my life were dysfunctional at their core, that they had never been and never would be healthy for me.
These days, I’ve surrounded myself with people who generally care about my health and well-being, people who cheer on my successes and offer comfort when I am struggling. I’ve chosen to surround myself with people who celebrate my strengths instead of highlighting my weaknesses, who encourage me to keep fighting and to never give up. I’ve surrounded myself with people who see my beauty and my strength and who make me feel better about myself even on days I am struggling to see that light shining from within.
I have found that it is easier, as well, to give freely of myself when I feel cherished and appreciated in return. It is easier to extend myself to those who I know would be there for me if ever I needed. My own capacity for kindness and compassion has grown exponentially because it is being continuously replenished by others. There is an old saying that you cannot pour from an empty pot, suggesting that you must take time to care for yourself before you can extend yourself to others. By surrounding myself with only love and acceptance, kindness and compassion, it is always flowing between us and no pot seems to ever run empty.
Flowers need the warm glow of sunlight, water to quench their thirst and the nutrients in the soil to feed them in order to flourish and grow. You cannot leave a flower in the darkness, starving them of nourishment and expect them to thrive. Much like that flower, we need that light and nourishment if we have any hope of blossoming into a healthier version of ourselves. We need love and acceptance to warm our hearts, kindness and compassion to nourish our souls. If we allow toxic people to hold us in the darkness, to deny us what we need, our hearts and souls will slowly wither and die. By removing people who are toxic from our life and replacing them with others who truly care about us and our well-being, we are pulling ourselves out of the darkness and giving ourselves a very real fighting chance to flourish and grow, to truly live.
I believe forgiving others is more about making them feel better than it is about our own well-being. I think not everyone deserves multiple chances, especially if they have proven time and again that they do not have your best interest at heart. If I am going to forgive anyone, I am going to forgive myself for letting some people abuse my trust and repeatedly injure my heart. In the end, it isn’t my job to console those who have repeatedly hurt me, offering them the kindness they have never shown me. I have a greater obligation to myself and to my own well-being. If I have to choose someone to show kindness and compassion to, it will be myself and those who have shown me kindness and compassion in return.
As Mother’s Day came and went this past year, I once again found myself with conflicting feelings. Part of me wanted desperately to join in with friends who were fondly honoring their moms or mourning the mothers they had lost over the years. Another part of me, however, felt numb and empty, because I never had that type of cherished bond with my mother. I honestly never knew her.
No, my mother didn’t die when I was born. She passed away 8 years ago this Thanksgiving Day. No, she didn’t give me up for adoption nor did she abandon me. The truth is that my mother was there throughout the majority of my childhood and sporadically at best throughout my adult years. I just never really knew her because the woman she truly was was buried deep beneath often untreated, always undertreated, mental illness.
Growing up, my mother was one of my biggest abusers, both mentally and physically. She was prone to severe mood swings that would shift into bouts of rage at the drop of a dime. She had bipolar disorder.
We were estranged for the last few years of her life. I could no longer handle the abuse nor did I want my children subjected to it. It seemed that her medication was never quite balanced nor were her moods. It always felt like what little treatment she did receive was not helping, was not working, and she was doing very little to proactively work towards correcting anything. She felt to me like a ticking time bomb, one I was afraid would go off at any moment and I did not want my children caught in the crossfire.
Over the years as I have struggled with my own mental illnesses, I have come to deeply regret those feelings. I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD, labelled treatment resistant for years. No medication ever seemed to work. It wasn’t until the last year or two that I discovered via genetic testing that my resistance was caused in great part to a genetic mutation. I’ve often wondered since then if my mother suffered from the same mutation.
The truth is that mental illness changes a person, or perhaps more appropriately it snuffs that person out, dimming their light and dulling their soul. The person that you are is trapped underneath, desperately needing to come out, wanting to shine. But there is this dark hopelessness that oozes over everything, making it impossible to fully be the person you truly are.
I think about my own children and how my diagnosis has affected them. They have only seen glimpses of the real me over the years. The creative me who would spend half the day drawing huge murals with sidewalk chalk on the tennis courts at the park with them on summer days. The silly me who would make paper pirate hats and eye patches, transforming our dining room chairs into a pirate ship to celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day with them. The nurturing and educational me who would catch tadpoles in buckets with them to show them how they turned into frogs.
More than anything, though, they saw my mental illness. They saw the mom who was too exhausted just from going through the daily motions of life to do anything fun. They saw the mom who opted for quiet family days indoors watching movies or playing board games because I was physically and mentally unable to do anything more. They saw the mom who often emerged from the bathroom drying my eyes as I attempted to hide the tears I could never seem to stop from flowing.
They were vaguely aware of the person I truly was but they knew my mental illness well.
I remember when I first started taking the medication I needed for my genetic mutation and I had my first truly happy moment. It was the first time in my life I ever felt that sludge of mental illness be lifted off of me, albeit for a short period of time. The medication is not a panacea. It in no way cures or stops my mental illness. However, it does give my mind the ability to fight back in a way that it never could before.
That moment of happiness was beyond blissful. I laughed, cried and hugged my boys, asking them again and again if that was truly what happiness felt like. I had never experienced anything else like it. That sludge continues to lift here and there sporadically and I have a genuine hope for the future now, that there might be a day when there’s more periods of happiness than illness. But for now, more days than not, I still struggle.
I have heard from people that knew my mother at the end of her life, in those last couple years, that she had finally gotten the treatment she needed. Her medication was finally balanced. She was happy and more herself than she had ever been before. She was doing crafts with the neighborhood children and even developed a fondness for Harry Potter.
Part of me envies them because I never knew that woman. I never had the pleasure of meeting her. All I ever knew was the sludge and taint of her illness. On Mother’s Day, I mourned the ghost of a woman I never even met, a woman I would have loved more than anything to know.
Please keep in mind that when you’re dealing with people who are struggling with mental illness that they are not completely themselves. The person they truly are is in there somewhere, beneath their diagnosis, fighting to get out. Please don’t ever assume that we’re just not trying hard enough, that we’ve already given up or that we’ve lost who we are along the way. It is a daily battle, a constant fight, against your own mind. It is a never-ending struggle to push your way through a thick layer of darkness just to come up for air.
Looking back, I truly regret becoming estranged with my mother. I had done what I thought was best at the time, trying to shield my children and myself from an illness that was not her fault. She had no more control over her bipolar disorder than I do over my own mental illness. I am sure she was trying harder, fighting more, than I ever realized.
To the mother I never knew – I’m sorry I was not there when you needed me. I’m sorry that I allowed my fear to dictate my actions and choices and that I abandoned you when you needed me most. I’m sorry I was not more compassionate and understanding of all that you were going through. Most importantly, I am sorry I never had the pleasure to truly meet you. Happy belated Mother’s Day.
Republished on The Mighty on 9/14/18.
Republished on MSN on 9/14/18.
Republished on Yahoo on 9/14/18.
Republished on Yahoo Lifestyle on 9/14/18.