The familiar sensation of being outside of my body is amplified by a lack of dimension typically assigned to my everyday surroundings. I am here, but I don’t know where “here” is. Significance is not. I am being interviewed by an anonymous psychiatrist who will determine my eligibility for financial assistance by asking a series of standardized questions – questions drafted by people who likely never sat in my chair …
I wrote this blog on September 11, 2013, a day when it was okay to be sad. Yesterday you were not judged for having outbursts of crying, or openly expressing anguish, grief, loss, anger or bewilderment. Yesterday, if you exhibited any of these normal human emotions, you’d have been hugged and supported with understanding and compassion. There was no stigma attached to feeling depressed and hopeless while walking the streets with a lost look on your face.
Physical illnesses are cruel. Witnessing the outward effects of a disabling injury, or the withering weakness from chemotherapy, we empathize. We don’t question what we see before us: our loved ones being ravaged by a lentivirus or malignant cellular growth. For a moment we consider our own mortality, but our brain immediately deletes that notion. Our going concerns become other-focused. We circle the wagons instinctually.
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.