I hate dealing with mental illness. I hate feeling better, pushing myself, then falling down all over again. I hate that after almost two decades of dealing with this monster inside my mind, I still haven’t found an effective way to stabilize. I definitely hate that in some ways I stigmatize myself by feeling that I should be better.
The problem is I allow myself to fall in to the same trap that most people fall into. I don’t look like I’m dealing with an illness, so it must be some sort of falling short in who I am. Diabetics aren’t blamed for not being able to produce insulin. Amputees are not blamed for having a disability. So, why is it that illnesses of the brain are fair game? The brain is an organ, just like the pancreas, the heart, the lungs, or any other organ. So why is it that society and even mental health patients can blame themselves for what is obviously beyond their control?
I don’t know how to answer that question for myself, let alone anyone else. I do know that my moods cycle. I do know that at times my brain is a torrent where I can’t concentrate because I have what feels like a million voices in my mind all talking at the same time.
I also know that at other times I’m riding the wave up, my concentration is back, and I’m able to function fairly normally. The upswings are great. The downs feel like they never end. My energy is gone, and motivation is next to non-existent. I know I will rebound. I always do. But in the pits of despair I find myself questioning many things. My relationships. The harm I am causing to my wife, just for being me, and my faith. I feel like I am not good enough. I feel broken and faulty. I get down on myself for having mental health issues. Really though, why blame myself?
I spoke with my psychologist on Wednesday. He made the comment that yes, struggling sucks, but blaming myself for it is not going to help. He made note of a few positives in my life that are easy for anyone to lose sight of. Being diagnosed with a mental health condition seriously skews the odds against me, as far as addiction issues go. The diagnosis also skews the odds against me about finding and remaining in a committed long-term relationship. Despite the odds being stacked against me, I do find myself in that very situation. I haven’t drank to excess in in over a decade. I’ve never fallen into drug use. And I am married to a beautiful, stubborn, independent woman who has remained by me for over 12 years, and been my wife for almost ten.
We fight, we argue, and we butt heads regularly. She has her own struggles as well, but those I won’t get in to. Our fights are probably more frequent than average, if for no other reason than we are both strong willed people. My mental health diagnosis doesn’t help this matter either. But we MAKE IT WORK. We stand by each other. It’s never easy. However if we can last together for over a decade, there has to be something there. The love that we hold for each other has to run deep and strong.
I feel terrible about the hell I put her through. When I’m down I feel guilty for her standing by me. I feel guilty that I am wrecking her life by being part of it. I feel shameful that the last several years have been about looking after my mental health, and her needs have been pushed to the side. Unfortunately when I feel this way is when I need her in my corner the most, and to her credit, she has never buckled.
I guess the reason I am talking about this today is this. It is okay to not be okay. It is not shameful to have a mental illness. The brain is an organ like any other, and like any other, it can develop problems. The struggling sucks, but it doesn’t make me any less of a person. In fact it makes me stronger than most. Most people do not have to wage war with themselves. They don’t know of the fatigue, the low energy, the sheer willpower it takes to get up on days where I would like no more than to be no more.
Hold on to your family tightly. My family is the reason I am still here. The love of my wife wife. My cat. My dog. My parents. My in-laws. My friends. I know that I have put them all through hell over the years, but they continue to stand by me. To call me out when I need it. To support me. As depressed as I can feel, and have felt recently, when given a nudge to refocus I realize that despite my issues, I am richer beyond what I let myself see. I may have to remind myself of that fact a lot. But it is a fact, and it is what I hold on to.
I know that right I am struggling, even as I right this. I will make it through. And I will get good again, and the cycle will continue without much variation. I know that tomorrow may be a challenge. I know that more challenges will face me in the future. But like the saying that the SEAL’s have, “The only easy day was yesterday.”
As hard of a path as it can be, I am grateful that it is not one I walk alone.
With love to all my family and friends,