Of course, the first thing that comes into play is the stigma. The number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m so OCD!” the pop culture meme for explaining away control issues. At this point I’m aware of how social stigma functions, so I won’t be letting it get me down. Still, it’s out there in spades, pushing the self-stigma triggers ever more so, prompting mindful response over knee-jerk reaction. Dealing with another diagnosis is challenging enough without letting stigma derail my quality of life.
The staff on our wing had their work cut out for them, with twenty-four patients to attend to. Community therapy concentrated on setting and achieving goals. Occupational therapy focused on creatively integrating right- and left-brained processes. Twenty-four individual viewpoints on life; twenty-four souls needing to communicate, each in their own unique way. A microcosm of the very world we longed to be a part of, treating one another with respect when someone went off the rails, supporting one another when life’s lessons got too hard to shoulder alone.
I don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t pay attention when they ask me how I’m doing. If it turns out that they’re not listening, I chalk it up to experience and move on. It can be frustrating to be misunderstood, but it’s not the end of the world. I can always try again.
Science posits that the origins of my mental illness are in my DNA, inextricably woven into the fabric of my life. My personality exists separate yet equal to my diagnosis. I have a sense of control over my thoughts and actions, but I also have to recognize that this is an illusion, albeit one that I’m invested in for the sake of my mental health.
There are times when, even medicated, depression cuts through and I can’t muster the gumption to accomplish anything. I’ve read that this is common, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. For me, being depressed means waiting out the course of the symptoms. Talk therapy helps, but I’d still like some kind of merit badge for getting stuff done.
Today I live in gratitude for all of the help I’ve received, and especially for the gift of acceptance which I awarded myself. The perseverance of my therapist and trusted friends helped get me from my deluded thoughts to a place where truth helps me heal. My symptoms are more obvious to me now when they arise, and I’m vigilant about my mental health.
It feels like an admission of failure to say that I hear voices, like it’s a personal flaw in my character, that I somehow have a modicum of control over the experience. I don’t. It’s an involuntary response to stress. At least that’s what science claims. I actually have no idea, even with all the research I’ve done, but it makes sense.
I’m learning this, how to function within a new parameter, with new variables and familiar memories commingled. I will get through this because I want to. Because I need to if I’m going to stay healthy. I have something to prove to myself: that I can do this thing called Life.
I want to believe that by being transparent I am inviting people into my world, and that I’m breaking down stereotypes and allowing others to experience the real me, the person beyond the mental illness. Whether I can relate to the world around me or not is up to the day and my symptoms. When those symptoms are being managed, I can sense a way into the sea of people I watch in wonder.
I long to share myself with someone. I’ve grown tired of living a single’s life because of my mental illness. I want the intimacy and joy that come from communicating one-on-one with the right person. And that means I will have to talk about mental health, mine in particular. I have to be brave and not glance in the rearview mirror. There’s nothing back there worth looking at. I can only go forward. I have to believe that I’m worthy of love and that my mental illness won’t stand in the way.