If Mental Illness Ever Befalls You

March 7th will always be a big day for me, a second birthday in a way. On March 7th 2016, I was born again. It’s only fitting that my mother was the one who ushered me in again. I had been up all night, staring at the ceiling with a continuous stream of tears running from my tired eyes. I was tired, not only from the day or sleepless night, but the 5 years I had been crying, fighting, and wishing I was dead. For over the past 5 years, I had found myself in over 20 different countries, 5 different states, 5 different jobs, 11 relationships, 15 different medications, 1 previous treatment facility, enough tears to fill an ocean, enough booze to do the same, and countless pleas for death. Nothing could soothe the torment I felt. I was on the run all the time. I was running from my misery, greeting it in each new place, not knowing it was me I was running from.

I watched the clock and waited till a decent hour to call my mom. 5:30AM felt like the appropriate hour to scare the shit of one’s mom.

“Are you up?”

As I saw the three little dots enclosed in a bubble pop up on the screen, I was immediately filled with relief and tremendous anxiety.

“Here we go,” I thought. No turning back after this.

“Yes. Are you okay?”

“I need help.”

She immediately called, through gasps of air, I told her I that I couldn’t do it anymore and that I didn’t want to.

The next couple hours were a whirlwind of intense tears, apologies, pleas for peace and rescue.

I laid in my parent’s bed, sobbing, as my mom scrolled on her iPad for a refuge.

It was strange for me, for my mom to see me this way. I knew she knew I was sad, but I had never let her see the extent. I was her sunshine, her smile, she knew I had been gone for quite sometime, but no one knew how to help. Only I could save myself.

“I found a place,” she said. “Let’s go. You’re going to be okay, my Cait. I promise.”

I believed her.

I was in that treatment facility for 3 weeks, though I wanted to stay forever. It was my church, my haven. I was understood there. My demons were welcomed as keynote speakers. I was accepted, and I felt human for the first time in years. I felt like a somebody, a somebody with a story that maybe wasn’t tragic but possibly valuable. It was where I met myself again, and I actually liked her. Then before I knew it, it was time to leave and there I went, back into the world, back into my life, back to work, and back to myself.

To me, human strength is recreating yourself in the rubble of a life you once hoped or attempted to click your heels out of. One of the most difficult realizations of an experience such as this is that not much changes. You still have the depression, obsessions, mood swings, and unmanageable emotions. The same vices still beckon like a siren. People expect the same things of you, hold the same standard, and treat you as you were before. Everything is the same. You just gained a small toolbox of hope, tips, and tricks to lead a more stable, healthy, and sane lifestyle.

I went to AA. I bought and skimmed every book I could find. I tried to learn how to mediate, and I hid. I hid because I didn’t know how to be a part of the world and stay myself, this new okay self. The world out there threatened my sanity like a pack of vicious wolves.

My 25th birthday was the day I decided to rejoin the world. My best friend who had carried, dragged, sheltered, and stood by me everyday since we were 18, welcomed me back into the world with a cupcake, a single candle, a balloon, and other small items that stood as a welcoming banner. I must say that amidst these grisly years, there were so many beautiful gifts. Amidst all the darkness, there was always an equal amount of light to guide me forward. For me, this was most often in the form of other humans, who in my opinion are extensions of God.

When I left home for college, I met my best friend. Her nor I had any idea what would lie ahead, but something knew. Something knew that I needed the most special, loyal, true, and stable friend to walk alongside me. Callie dragged me around the world, picked me up when I fell, made me laugh when it was the last thing I wanted to do, gave me family when mine was far away, and reminded me who I was when I forgot. She showed me love when I thought it no longer existed. This is true of her, and also many others who crossed my path in these years.

Now the story from here kind of plays in reverse. I did so well. I was on my recovery game. I was sure that I had arrived. This is it. This is what normal people feel like. Then one day about three months after treatment, the darkness came knocking. Out of nowhere and for no reason.

“It’s time,” they said. “To swing low. Don’t you remember? You’re Bipolar.”

And like an abduction, I was returned to my cell.

“This isn’t fair,” I thought.

I was doing everything right. I sat analyzing where I could have gone wrong. “You did nothing wrong,” a voice said, “this is your destiny.”

“How do I get out?” I asked.

“That’s the purpose,” it said.

The year continued like this, highs and lows lasting weeks and months at a time.

At the thought of writing this anniversary letter, I wanted to say that I killed it. I wanted to say something like I landed my dream job, I found the love of my life, I reached tremendous goals, I became a better person, I tamed my vices, I found home, I succeeded, I kicked my addictions, or I finally built a life. I can’t. I can’t say any one of these things. And because of that, I feel like I failed.

I thought this year was going to be so different. I thought this would be the year I found happiness, love, peace, and myself. I experienced each of these things, but then I lost them. I lost each one over and over and I thought it was because I had done something wrong. The only thing I can say for myself this year is that I survived. I can say a year passed. I can say I’m still alive. I can say I fucked up too many times to count and I’m still standing. I can say I fell down over and over but I got back up. That’s all I can say and that’s okay. That is enough. That’s my badge for this year.

A year ago this time, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and I thought putting a name to my misery and destruction would solve it. I thought a diagnosis, medication, therapy, and books would fix it. A year later it festers more violently than ever.

Today, that’s what I celebrate. I celebrate 2 steps back and 3 steps forward. These steps might be small but they required everything I had.

If ever you find yourself, however many steps back or down for the count, please, stand back up. You’re here at this time for a reason. Something or someone here needs you. Even if you can’t see it and even if you never do, please have faith that this is true. One year ago today, I decided to call my mom instead of taking my life. Everyday since that day, I thank God that I did. Mental illness is not a death sentence. For some like myself, it is a life sentence but it is the spice that gives my life flavor, the grit that strengthens my bones, and a huge part of what makes me who I am.

I have tried many times over the year to deny my diagnosis. In the words of one of my favorite authors, “acceptance is a small waiting room.” Sit in that room as many times as life brings you to it. It is not easy, but I swear it’s worth it. It was by no mistake you were created this way. It was divine deliberation. Don’t take that from yourself. Let it feed you. Let it highlight the tapestry of your life. There is no playbook. There are no plays to run. There is just you in this world figuring it out. There is no pace or destination. There are no milestones but the ones you set. Please, don’t be so hard on yourself. If you have the honor of wearing the Bipolar Disorder or mental illness badge, please know that your life is not going to look like anyone else’s. Please don’t try to fit into that mold. You weren’t meant to. You were meant to fit into an infinitely more complex mold. Yours is a mold all in its own and you’re going to have to figure out what that looks like for you. Don’t look around, look within. When you look around you will be filled with doubt. Look forward or down at your own two feet and move forward. Shuffle, at first, if you have to. Your life is different and that doesn’t make it less. If anything, it makes it more. If your story is anything like mine, it’s going to be one of many falls but a recovery once more. Let yourself fall. Make it your dance or song and fucking own it. You are a masterpiece. Don’t let anyone tell you differently, especially yourself.

One thought on “If Mental Illness Ever Befalls You

  1. Pingback: The Back Story | Caitlin V McDowell

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