I want my family, friends, colleagues, strangers on the street who I pass by and say “excuse me” to, doctors, bosses, government officials, indigenous tribes and golden retrievers to know what living with mental illness is like, is because you can’t see it. But I do, it’s like a filter, distorting the picture in a different way than how the next fella may see the world. Go ahead, it looks way better in Valencia than it does #nofilter.
I can’t just, “get over it” Mr. Porter. I’m nearly 30 years old now. It’s a familiar recommendation, but the reality is, I’m likely going to be hard on myself over a mistake the size of a speck of sand on a beach off the coast.
Here are my 13 reasons why my behavior is so shy, and awkward and shaky. Why I’m great at writing and terrible at talking. These are the reasons why I skip showers sometimes and avoid phone calls always. Why I doubt on a daily basis the people that love me really care. These are my 13 reasons why I need your empathy when I’m at my lowest points. Because it’s not something you can take on by yourself.
1 – Just as we discussed, mental illness often takes the form of an invisible disability. I’m not in a wheelchair nor do I have a cast on my skull or stitches on my chest to heal up the everyday heartbreaks. Take note the power of invisibility is real.
2 – My feelings affect my decisions. And in turn, some of my shittiest decisions sparked and reflected my feelings. Guilt hunts me with a sharper eye than death. Oh how there are moments I greatly regret the past. Including today, and likely tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
3 – I do CBT, I see a therapist, a psychiatrist, I journal and cheer people on in online support groups. And no, it’s not a cure all cocktail. Pay your dues, work with all your heart, proactively adjust your thinking strategies. But it’s still alive inside of me. It never leaves.
4 – Stigma is real. Even self stigma. I spent two years doing empirical research on stigma about mental illness in a university environment. All of us affected think, “change needs to be made” but Paul Revere is out for the season and we’ve run out of tea bags filled with Prozac to toss into the water.
5 – It’s not JUST bipolar disorder, or OCD or ADD. I’ve had Lyme Disease for 13 years, I never went into remission. I don’t take antibiotics anymore. I don’t remember what it feels like to be pain or irritation free, to not have a double dose of brain fog. I don’t talk about it, so no one knows or remembers. I’m no longer a vegetable shipped between hospitals with a PICC line. So who cares? There is no support for me here, about this, anymore. And I swallow the bitter taste of it.
6 – I dropped out of business school and joined the field to help people. Not just people with invisible disabilities, but people with visible ones as well. And strangers. And animals. Not Zombie’s though, I’m on the first responder team for a Zombie outbreak. I get bit and kicked by autistic children on a daily basis. I’ve been spit on by an older woman with an IQ of 6 while changing her diaper. I can tell you how stressful it is to take 4 women with moderate to high degrees of mental retardation to the supermarket to find food for the home I used to run before I became a RBT. I can tell you how great it is to hear a little austistic girl you’ve been working with for a year say, “yay!” as a replacement behavior for a shrill squeal stimm. I’m glad with all my heart I became a therapist.
7 – And as a therapist, who’s been promoted and recognized for my quality direct work, I in particular now than ever take feedback poorly. I’m told to take it and swallow, no speaking up for things I did or didn’t do no matter how minor, just move on, don’t take it personally. We all make mistakes to grow my boss tells me. Make sure you do more yoga with your aggressive client. The fact I didn’t during that overlap cut me with knives made of cursed bones for months. Self hatred flourishes when feedback is given and anticipatory anxiety spins fierce uncuttable webs through my chest and stomach where my anxiety manifests.
8 – I ache missing the people I’ve lost in the storm cloud of knicked and cut up relationships I couldn’t save. I miss a girl I haven’t spoken to now for 10 years, she’s like a sad picture in my mind I can’t manage to set fire to as opposed to store in the attic. I miss a boy who was a breath of fresh air just a few months ago, just to turn around and suck the air from my chest without explanation. I fear a falling out before I’ve finished parking in the top lot.
9 – I am chronically fatigued.
10 – I have difficulty concentrating.
11 – I’m angry I can’t control what you think about me. And how you act toward me. All of you, silent readers, neighbors and best friends alike.
12 – I am a living rock. Every experience good or bad on my daily adventures chips away at the marble. You may be a sculptor and not know it, the way you chip harshly or buff smoothly at my curves. God only knows how deeply I wish the artists who made the boldest dents in the softest parts would look back to see I was not the same hunk of rock they left me as. My carved eyes long to have another chance at those few.
13 – And lastly, I thirst. It’s a deep thirst that wants someone I look up to, to tell me I need to be writing. A woman I admired planted seeds in me 12 years ago. As the Lyme pains became bearable and the manic pre-diagnosed bipolar full fledged obsessive compulsive disorder rose to power I lost track of something that had always been important to me, and that woman and I also parted as life goes between teachers and students. Complications in invisibility have laid bed for a dust storm that has dried the land. I lap up puddles for blog posts. I walk endlessly toward the ocean.
I am more than my faults. It’s just that my faults, are more or less very visible, they’re easy to interact with, and thick enough to mask the marble. Easy enough to walk away from.
Those are my 13 reasons why. What are yours?