Michele R

Witness

As early as the age of three years, my only life witness was a demon who held me down as it mocked quietly in my ear, “You’re nothing. You’re nobody. You don’t count.”

I count. I know this now. And I am my only witness. At age forty-four, something shifted in me. It was my unbound scream, after the same nightmare in which I knew something bad was close. It paralyzed me with my mouth open, without sound. I broke free that night. I still don’t know why then, only that I was ready. I could not fake my life for anyone anymore.

Who am I, this witness? I am fiercely loyal, protective, creative, sensitive, perceptive, an animal lover, and I have a wonderful sense of color. At times, I am easily distracted and discouraged. I am unforgivingly hard on myself. I do not trust many, as I believe this is earned. I am not proud of this, but life is a work in progress. I denied my rage for years. Now I own it. I see what happens when I become what I thought others wanted to see; what I thought would make me count.

The truth is, I have mental illness. Depression. Anxiety. Both led to a suicide attempt when I was thirty-six. In remission. Out of remission. I don’t care how the insurance companies or the DSM V defines it. All I know is that mental illness does not define me. It is a part of my mind, body and soul. It is both a stain and badge, but I prefer to think of it as my compass for living authentically.

My extreme anxiety lasted through childhood into young adulthood, only I couldn’t identify it. I marvel at how I functioned with so much anxiety. I grew up believing I was the burden. I learned much later in life that the mental illness was the burden.

A shroud masked this truth. I couldn’t see it for what it was while I was in the middle of it. I can blame it on childhood abuse, genetic disposition, or culture’s regard of mental illness at that time. All I know is that the message I received was that I was not normal. If I wanted acceptance, I better get my act together and be normal. Do as normal people do. Stay silent. Don’t make anyone else uncomfortable with the slightest glimpse of my pain.

My creed did nothing but practically murder me. Eleven years ago, the intense anxiety with which I functioned quite well during childhood returned. Only this time, I simply did not have the energy to cope. I remember at that time, I was tired, alone and isolated. My anger and despair crushed me. Faith and hope were absent as the bottom fell out.

I wrote a long note instructing my father on what to do about the animals I was leaving behind. That in itself made me feel like a failure. I dared not mention how I felt deeply saddened, abandoned and worthless. I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted it all to stop.

The medication overdose would do this. I didn’t remember much after drinking the bottle of seltzer water that washed them down.

The day after my thirty-sixth birthday, I woke up in ICU. I remember the clock hands pointed to just after eleven o’ clock. Was I alive? I felt no sadness and no joy. Just relief. A gentle voice whispered, “Begin again.”

Things were not instantly better. The long crawl back was like declaring bankruptcy on my life as I restructured my soul’s debt. I felt betrayed for a long time. I never caused my illness. I never asked for my robbed childhood or blighted young adulthood. No one would clean up the collapsed skeleton of my former life except me. It took a while. Years, really. The road was bumpy and filled with pits, potholes and a few sinkholes. I left them there to remember. –So I won’t drive over them again. I left them there for others to see the real me. To pave over them would not repair the damage, but simply mask the pain.

Just last year, I was aware of gratitude for the first time. And joy.

You know, if I were to meet myself in a time warp, I would take us on a drive on our newly paved road. I’d show her the sights, and I would want to tell her our story, even if it made time collapse. I would want her to know that she can find gratitude and joy. I would say to her, “Miss Roberts, you count. You always did. And I should know. I’m your witness.”

15 responses to “Michele R”

  1. Paul says:

    Good for you Ms. Roberts for sharing your journey, your words resonate quite strongly for me – swap out a few specifics and they would be my own. “May the road rise to meet you… “

  2. Ailsa says:

    Lovely honest and raw piece. Thank you for sharing

  3. Donna says:

    I only wish I could “come out of the closet” and shout that I have bipolar and how hard I struggle daily trying to keep it a secret. I did tell my so called “Mother” at one point and she said to “get over it….it’s all in my mind!” Well, duhhhhh…..I’ve been on Social Security Disability for 25 years now because of it. My “Mother” states I’m just being lazy. The idealization of suicide has crossed my mind just to end the internal mental pain but I haven’t reached a point that I would do that thankfully. I have no support system and if I told those closest to me they would shun me I’m sure. I’m glad that someone has been able to break out of this shell and is able to feel more valuable to our society. God Bless you…..may you have continued relief. I truly hope one day I can feel as you do.

  4. Nancy P says:

    You are so brave, wise and strong! I’m so relieved the attempt to end it all wasn’t successful. Mental illness for me is like cancer or at least I treat it that way. It’s a chronic illness that I take care of with vigilant eye. With Bi-polar, I don’t want anymore mint jubilee surprises! 2 episodes is enough. You wrote your experience beautifully. Thanks so much for sharing it. My best to you always.
    Nancy

  5. Holly says:

    Great message, it also resonates with me. I was always “unforgivingly hard on myself.” Wondering what’s wrong with me, I supposedly had so many things going for me, yet I felt suicidal. I’m doing much better now, but it’s taken a lot of time to figure out that treating me with medications for Bi-polar II was the solution. Hooray! Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Monica says:

    This brought a tear to my eyes of feeling your pain and feeling your joy!!! Written with such clarity—I love that YOU are your own witness—that speaks volumes and is quite powerful!!!!
    Be blessed,
    Monica

  7. Carol says:

    Your story is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing. I have been hospitalized so many times I can’t even remember the number of times. My main problem is that I have no support! None of my children try to understand my mental illness. I’m 68 and if it wouldn’t be for my two dogs, I would be dead already. Only then will I have peace!

  8. Robin says:

    Thank you for sharing your true self.

  9. Jim K says:

    Beautifully written, describing a torturous jitney with such humanness and so self-aware. God bless you.

  10. Sheri says:

    WOW! It’s like your telling my story! Never feeling like I’m enough, feeling scared with major anxiety most of the time, never having a “real” conversation about my feelings. And, as a result feeling anger reaching the level of rage!

    • Carol says:

      Hi Sheri,
      I have been at the point for about maybe 6 months where I went from having fear to now having anger which I feel was pushed down not intentionally but I don’t know which is worse the fear or the anger. I have been looking at all of these stories and I found yours which seems close to mine right now. I have had the fear probably since I was 12, depression, and most recently bad anxiety. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 30 and then started medications. Not too common then or not a good support system then. Can you tell me are you dealing with the rage and lashing out or are you taking baby steps as I feel I am when I have to try to just deal with someone or something head on when they try to say something nasty or try to get one over on me. I too at some point was not always in a conversation. But now I am having a lot of trouble and crying spells realizing that I didn’t speak my mind in the past and lived in fear which stopped me from living a very good life. How are you handling everything now. I would love to hear from you.

  11. Tina B says:

    This is so beautifully written and so honest. Thank you for sharing your story. I can relate to it, and when any of us share our stories and someone relates to it, it shows that we are not alone.

  12. Esther says:

    Free at last!
    Empowering, words ThankYou!

  13. Mary says:

    Wow! Your message allows me to have somewhat of an idea of what those with mental illness deal with throughout their lives. This essay has given me some more insight into what my daughter who has mental illness deals with daily. She is doing the best she can and working towards a better life, which I have observed her growth in developing good life strategies. I will continue to support her and find ways to tell her that her life has worth. Thanks for reminding me of my role as one who supports someone with mental illness.

  14. not your average Jo says:

    TO DONNA responding to Ms. Roberts: I have called the stigma I live under “My mental health closet” too, wanted to shout “I’m bipolar deal with it because I am as best as I can,” and I want to come out of the closet and live well. That is why I am grateful for BC2M and stories like Michele’s. Allow me to say to you, that you are not alone. Love & light from a fellow traveler on the bumpy BP road.

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