When you tell someone new that you live with a mental illness, there’s always the risk that they’ll get “that look!” I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. It’s a smile that begins and ends on the lips. Everything else about their face says they’re afraid, and also a little embarrassed.
When I consider my life, it is usually divided into two parts: Before and After. Before – before a proper diagnosis. After – after a proper diagnosis. This distinction isn’t some fleeting thought I have when I open a scrap book. It’s the way I tell my story, to myself and to others.
Last Tuesday, I sat on my psychiatrist’s couch and explained everything. I told him all there is to tell and he said what he has said so many times before, “Begin again.” That’s the exciting, daunting, stupid, fantastic news. When this happens, no matter how you got here, the only thing to do is begin again. This treatment plan, Begin Again, can feel insultingly oversimplified, but it is the truest thing I’ve learned about my illness.
In reality, being unwell may not be hard, but it can be incredibly painful. It can be isolating. It can be complicated. Juggling the day to day tasks of living can be an effort. There is too much or not enough of everything. Things are too bright or too dim. Things are too big or too small.
After years with my previous therapist, it is strange navigating a new therapeutic relationship. Firstly, it stings a little, breaking up with an old therapist. My internalized shame told me that I hadn’t tried hard enough. My shame told me I was unfixable. My shame told me my trauma was too ugly to be examined. I know, intellectually, that these things aren’t true, but trauma loves shame. Secondly, working with someone new comes with its own set of baggage. It is always a little bit unnerving, unzipping yourself and showing a relative stranger all your complicated clockwork parts: your past, your broken pieces, your hurts and bruises.
Often, I treat the bed as if it were a life raft, and the floor an ocean, teaming with sharks. It is laughable how safe the world I create really is. My little life raft. I line up my meds, my remote control, my phone, my laptop and my coffee on the night side table. This way, I am only an arm’s reach away from my survival gear. This is not the way I always live, but it is my default-mode when depression is particularly strong.