It was a holiday. Everyone was happy and spending time with their family. I was at home, alone, in my exercise clothes battling against my mental disorder. I had passed a rough patch that week.
Family life was acting up. The negativity of the forthcoming issue in my life was bubbling to the surface. The issue? Moving in with my partner. I knew it would be coming up and even though I was excited about it, my parents were having none of it. They’re Christians so moving in with someone before marriage is just sin city (and still as bad as the movie). To me it meant support and a sense of home. Regardless of what I felt, my parents were going at it the worst way possible.
My work life was also acting up. I had been working during the summer in a great company but it was becoming a hassle. I felt like I did so much for the company but not enough for me. Not just that, I felt so alone in that maze of friendly faces. All my coworkers were helpful, were present and great. The problem was that they were of different worlds; they belonged in their lives and not in mine. They were in their culture, in their language, with their people. And here I was in my emotion-filled island, with my aboriginal language, writing SOS on the sand.
I don’t know how much information ya’ll have about mental disorders but here’s some important things to remember. Some short psychoeducation about mental disorders:
- Anxiety exacerbates symptoms of mental disorders
- The lack of family support can make a person with a mental disorder feel abandoned and attacked.
- Mental disorders, even when medicated, can come back.
- Mental disorders are not a thought or a feeling; they’re a chemical imbalance in the brain and genetic wiring.
- People with mental disorders fear stigma due to their illness.
- People with mental disorders are people.
In this point in time, on this day of family, love and joy, I had none of those things. My world seemed like it was burning down and fast. I was gasping for help but not wanting to scream it out. ‘But, have you considered telling someone?’ Yes, but let me tell you why I didn’t do it. When people hear that you’re not feeling well they tend to brush you off unless you let them know that your life is in peril. Having a mental illness is being in peril. However, I have not disclosed to anyone of my problem. I was fearful of being judged but I feared the most, being pitied. There is nothing worse than pitying someone. And I was not to be pitied or be accompanied by people who pitied me. Hence, I set myself straight. I kept my mouth shut and I silently suffered.
Suffering, however, does not like being quiet. Suffering likes spreading out, poisoning all that’s good, and bringing me down. This time, I fell down hard and I felt that I could not get up.
After finishing my 5th fight of the day (it was till morning) with my mother I quit my life. I gave into the vortex and let the pain flow through my pores. I cried, thrashed and then I took out a tiny knife. I had not cut myself for over 6 years, until today. I made mean streaks of pain and relief over my temple (my body). I had no regret but I did feel defeated. I sat there, less anguished, less whole, more monster, more broken. I internalized my relapse and thought of my next step. In this vicious cycle, the next step is thoughts of suicide but I refused to go there.
Something in me snapped. I was running out of air and I needed to go outside. That was safety and these four walls were caving on me. Once dressed and well equipped (book in hand, watercolor pencils and notebook) I was off to an adventure of strength and self-compassion.
I found myself sitting under a tree near a duck pond. I sat there watching those duckies swim. The way they softly glided on the water, and the whisper of their feathers ruffling. I wondered what the sea looked like back home.
I then turned my attention to a tree. The tree looked like it wanted to be in my notebook. I worked my way through watercolor and inspiration. I found myself enthralled by the branches, leaves and sway. My process was interrupted by my friend. She invited me to help her walk dogs (she has the coolest job). Afraid that I was going to be consumed in my loneliness I let her know that I would love to help her.
Walking dogs down by a lake. Soft breeze playing with the trees. It was a good decentering process. My friend’s warm personality, her genuine smile and her witty comments seemed to sooth the raw wounds that I had, a couple of hours before, inflicted on myself.
The day was coming to an end and my fear was becoming more tangible. Being alone, back in my home, was not where I wanted to be. However, everyone needs to be alone at some point and I needed to face this monster. As I walked towards my door I heard in the distance ‘Hey! We got burgers and free beer! Come and celebrate freedom!’ I did not know these neighbors but they didn’t care. They had family and they wanted to share it with me. I struggled and wondered if I was comfortable enough to go out and mingle. I heard a voice say I shouldn’t but a voiceless statement said I should; and it was the best thing I’ve ever done.
Even though I did not know these people, they showed me how much one can get with the small intentions, such as free beer and burgers. I met so many personalities, so many faces that I’ll probably never see again; yet, I’ll always carry with me. I joked with friends how I always wanted a ‘Real American’4th of July, where there would be barbecue food, beer, fireworks, freedom, and an eagle; and I got something like that. Free food, good company, the chance to meet new people, illegal fireworks and some drunk guy yelling ‘FREEDOM!’ as he ran across the parking lot with those firefly stick things. Even I was offered a ‘freedom stick.’
I walked home at 2 am, still a little fearful of the echo of my silence. Yet, when I walked into my home I heard vibrations of joy. Soft soothing giggles of having had such a great day. As I jumped into my pajamas I replayed all the event from my day, including my self-harm incident and was surprised at the turn out of everything.
In that day I was reminded that yes, I will always have those days. I will have my fall from grace; but if I have the courage to re-direct myself and to cut myself some slack (no pun intended), I can gain great things from it. I may not have my family here. My family may drive me crazy sometimes. And things will always be a little jagged. But if I can be calm during the storm, I can learn how to navigate it. I mean, it’s got to stop raining sometime. No pain, no matter how raw or deep, will last forever.
Having a mental illness is a life struggle but it doesn’t mean that it has to be a constant battle. Knowing myself, my weaknesses and strengths have helped me through many dark times. Sometimes my help was simply having a good-natured soul to guide me through my path. And as long as I have my wits about me, and there’s good people in the world willing to share free beer and burgers, I think I’ll be okay.
Signing off, TWS