I figured I'd share a few words on my personal journey with bipolar disorder because one of the great hallmarks of mental illness is the pervasive sense that one is alone in the struggle. That line of thinking still feels true to me to an extent (especially in darker moments), but at the same time I don't think any of us are truly ever alone. It may not always be in the most obvious or comforting way, but there has and will always be individuals with an informed sense of compassion that reaches past the constraints of time and space. Somewhere someone loves us.
Anyway, I experienced depression at an early age. I distinctly remember remarking to my parents at the ripe age of eight that I felt like something was missing in my life. I wanted to go to a doctor, convinced that I had a literal hole in my heart. That empty feeling would continue long after into my teens and young adulthood and I would try to fill it with all manner of delights. Be it drugs or sex, books, music, or a fantastical deity, my heart felt like a bottomless chalice. Filled to the brim, my cup would spilleth over and I'd be left with as little as when I started. There would never be enough wine, love, fiery sunrises, or pretty trinkets to keep me happy.
I was also plagued with self consciousness concerning my weight and an unsightly skin condition that kept me wrapped up in shapeless black to deceive any onlookers. I'm just like you, I would think in an attempt to convince myself. I am pretty and smooth and small. It wasn't true, but engineering a rich fantasy life was integral to my survival at a young age. I endured years of sexual abuse in silent horror and the best way I learned to take it was to simply think myself into an existence somewhere else. I had to be in another land, in another time, as another girl because being me in that moment was too much to bear. The gravity of terror and pain would have crushed me. In a strange way, I am grateful. My childhood dissociation informed my ability to give birth to new worlds rich with their own wonders and tragedies. I was always creative, but (as fucked up as it sounds) my mental acrobatics gave me an opportunity to flex my imaginative muscles, so to speak. Later on it became less of a coping mechanism and more of a leisurely activity, but that's where my story started. On a sagging couch in a dim room as my friend's older brother whispered in my ear.
Flunking out of school, drug addiction, and attempts at suicide soon followed (as they sadly often do for us sensitive folk) and at twenty years old I found myself inpatient at the behavioral unit of a city hospital. It wasnt the first time I had been institutionalized, but by god, I needed it to be the last. A young, kind eyed social worker by the name of Taylor took me on as a patient while my parents (locked in a codependent, alcohol fueled relationship) allowed me to recover in their basement. A dear friend helped me secure an administrative position at a big name financial service corporation and even opened up her home to me. Turned out some people, somewhere out there, did actually care.
Intensive therapy and kicking a prescription pill habit helped. Not that it was easy (detoxing is a miserable business) or fun (as though anyone likes admitting difficult truths about their past or themselves), but I can say it was worth it. I honestly never thought I would feel this well. It's a continual work in progress, learning to respect oneself and recognizing dangerous lines of thinking and counterproductive behavior, but it is possible. Honesty and accountability (with others and oneself) was integral to my personal recovery and I wish more would realize that. I wish I could say there was a magic pill that fixed all my problems, or some slick therapeutic trick that saved me, but it wasn't. It was just me doing "the work" and believing that just because there were people who didn't give a damn about me didn't mean I couldn't give a damn about myself.
I am a person, whole and imperfect, deserving of care and respect, at least as much as any other individual on this earth. Not that I'm cured or anything. I have bad days and sleepless nights and sometimes I see the world as filled with so much pain and exquisite beauty it feels like my heart will explode. Again, in a way, I am grateful. I can appreciate the bad (one isn't crazy for wanting to acknowledge all the fucked up shit people to do each other on a daily basis) and the good (one can't be accused of ignorance for wanting to bask in the warmth of the human experience, either) simultaneously. I don't believe either cancels another out, they exist equally in weight and importance.
So, there's my ramble, I hope it wasn't too meandering. I just want people to know there is hope and help and there's a million roads to that place we'd all like to be. Our society tends to label those struggling with the legitimate and very real consequences of mental illness as weak or lacking in will, but those who survive and thrive under the crushing weight of it are the strongest people I know! They're a credit to themselves and the capacity for human endurance. We are all stronger than we think. I'll end with this quote, one I read while I was in the hospital gazing out the wire mesh covered window out to the gentle snow blanketing the sleepy city:
"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer."
- Albert Camus