Pretending the Bed is a Raft
By Suzanne Lea
A good bit of my life is lived online. After years of isolation, I find that much of my human contact doesn’t involve human contact at all. Social media offers me the opportunity to stay in touch with family and friends during the best parts of my day. In this way, I am able to offer, in small doses, the best parts of myself. It’s easiest to seem like you’re ok if you only give those around you a pinhole view into your world. I can’t imagine how I would even begin to describe my day to someone who doesn’t live with mental illness. Sometimes, I am lucky to make it from the bed to the couch, and then back to the bed. There have been times when I didn’t get out of bed for weeks. I didn’t shower. I didn’t brush my teeth or hair. I didn’t eat a single meal that wasn’t a cold plate of leftovers consumed while standing over the kitchen sink at midnight. Once, I sprayed Febreze on myself so my husband wouldn’t know I hadn’t changed pajamas in six days. This was ridiculous, of course. He knew. How could he not know?
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.
Apparently, I am experiencing a minor crash after a manic episode. I anticipate that this will only be a “minor crash” because even after all these years, I am still a bit of an optimist. Today, I got out of bed, made coffee and started a load of laundry. This feels like the beginning of a successful day. Laundry may be the sum total of what I can accomplish today. Even if this is true, I’m fine with that. In my world, SOMETHING is always better than NOTHING.
All this brings me back to social media. Some days, I can’t answer the telephone and the thought of going online makes me want to poke myself in the eye with a chop stick. Other days, social media is my salvation. Those are the days when connections are important and I reach out to those I love. This is the up-side of social media – contact without having to change out of my pajamas. There is a down-side. Since I have become more vocal about my diagnosis, friends and family have begun to post inspirational quotes and images on my social media pages. They are well-meaning but they are often ridiculously wrong. I find that I am conflicted, in many cases, as to how to respond. Should I say thank you for the kind gesture or should I point out that the quotes make me feel awful? Here are three actual quotes sent to me by well-intentioned friends:
You can have excuses or you can have results
If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.
We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.
I wonder: Do I need to break down all the things wrong with these quotes? Can you see the blame/shame thing? If you’re not happy, you must not be trying hard enough. After all, in the time it takes to come up with an excuse, you could have simply pulled yourself up by your bootstraps and found your joy. These kinds of posts create a real lack of trust between me and the person who has posted it. These kinds of posts confirm for me that there is still so much stigma and misunderstanding about mental illness. I appreciate that everyone will not “get” it. I have made peace with that. Although I hope that my candor will inform some people, I know that it is not my job to change the entire world; only to effect change in MY world. Still, when I see these kinds of posts, I want to explain that although I can make healthy choices, I am not able to change my diagnosis. I live with bipolar disorder. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes talking with me is like interacting with a hummingbird. Some days, I am more like a sloth. I say all of these things so that I can say this: I will not let the expectations of others color my progress. In the end, we are all simply making our way through the world the very best way we know how. For those of you who love someone who is living with a mental illness, here is what you should say: There will be times when you are going to want to give up. Don’t! Trust me, that will be exactly what they need to hear. Don’t give up! Speaking from experience, sometimes simply expressing compassion and love is exactly enough.