I went to the therapy sessions with a new determination. I allowed myself to let the feeling of shame that was buried deep, bubble up the surface, and fully experience it. I recalled the people and early experiences that had impacted my self-perception. The therapist compared mental health issues to having diabetes, when I thought of it like that, it didn’t seem as life-defining.
When I’m in my hospital togs I feel connected to those days when I stayed in the wing with ten other patients, each battling their own demons, each stronger because of it. For many of us, the common denominator was suicide. So much sorrow in one room could prove cathartic once the sharing began. The stories would start and the faces would change from withdrawn and sullen to hopeful and brave.
Love has kept me alive, on some level, surviving. The kind words and warm hugs and genuine concern from people that love me has kept me holding on by a string all these years. I can imagine that without multiple interjections at just the right moment, I wouldn’t be here. But unfortunately, love from others hasn’t been a strong enough power to make me want to thrive. It wasn’t until I had tools that I could master and manipulate that I began to want to try a little bit harder to do more than survive. Before, I just stuck around for the people that love me, feeling obligated to stay alive to thank them for their unwavering love. I figured I didn’t want to disappoint them anymore, so I would try each day to continue. But now, I get up for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t love and live for my family and loved ones too. But for once, I live for me as well.
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.
I am not ashamed of my past journeys with mental illness or the paths it took me on. I am grateful to those who stood by me and believed in me. To those I brought pain and pushed away, I am sorry. In the end, we are all on this journey through life together. Let us start holding hands and learning from one another. Let us stop the stigma.
I think, in part, that I was hoping for a miracle cure, that I would eat these magic beans and become a Normal Person, but I know how unlikely that is. Still, it’s the dream of almost every person living with a mental illness that they will somehow attain balance and stability and lead a normal life, and I’m no different.
With bipolar disorder, it’s a given that I will crash into deep depressions out of thin air for days or weeks at a time. Or that I will inevitably snap into manic episodes for no reason for long stretches as well. Or the worst. A mixed state. Thinking about those unbearable bouts terrifies me. Since I am so sure these unpredictable periods of my life will come into play every single year, I spend all of the time when I’m not “in” one of those three states worrying about when they will hit.
You and me. Us. It isn’t easy. We both bring our own set of challenges to the relationship, but somehow they are what has made are love stronger. It is in the difficult times that love is seen most clearly and I know without a shadow of a doubt that you love me exactly as I am.