Connecting with other human beings can be very difficult for me and for many living with mental illness. In my private life I rarely make a point to connect with people I don’t know. I live in a tiny house with four dogs and am an hour away from two of my children and many friends.
My very first anxiety attack occurred when I was eight years old. We were on a family vacation at Disney World. The pictures from that trip—now faded and worn—reside behind a sheet of plastic in an overstuffed photo album. My younger sister and I donned Mickey Mouse ears while squinting from the sun in front of each ride.
I’ve been thinking, on this blustery, wet day, what it is that makes us feel worthy. I have felt un-worthy for a good part of my life, the part that wrecked relationships and hurt my kids. I don’t wreck things anymore but feeling un-worthy still lingers. I think this feeling is attached to self-stigma and shame.
The role that family plays in the treatment process is crucial, beginning with education about their loved one’s illness. Research shows that proactive involvement by family and friends increases the odds for a positive outcome, resulting in better symptom management and fewer psychotic breaks or trips to the hospital. Establishing a sense of family and a network of friends is essential to recovery.
Does vacation conjure up all sorts of horrors for you? How about when you’re supposed to be having a great time but your mood didn’t get the message? A dear friend of mine, and fellow bipolar person, told me a story about having nine guests at her cottage for over a week. I shuddered.
When I am unaware of my symptoms because I’m living within them, my therapist picks up on the subtleties and we tether. It’s her job to pay attention to the rhythms. I have learned to let pride evanesce. This simple action gives me the courage to speak when I am lost in my illness. My clumsiness and flatness become clues for us both. We work together because I am worth it.
I’m aware that trauma can be treated. I see and read about success stories every day and I’m inspired by the triumphs made by complete strangers and close friends. My desire to get better is potent enough to overcome this struggle. Thankfully I have a terrific support system in place and plenty of people who truly care for my wellbeing.
Therapy set me on a course of cognition; a recovery program helped solve the drink problem. One evening our group topic was relationships. Most of the men were married or dating. Sobriety had helped them create meaningful connections. I shared about my awkwardness in talking with women, how the wild-pitch verbal aspect of my schizophrenia was tantamount to sneakers clunking away in the dryer.