personal growth / recovery

This is what my life with mental illness looks like

May is Mental Health Month. Mental Health America’s theme for 2016 is “Life with a Mental Illness.” My posts this month will cover personal experiences and opinions dealing with my own mental illness issues, which may be triggering to the reader. I am also simply a person in recovery- not a medical professional and my writing should not be taken instead of or in lieu of the advice of a health expert and/or professional. Feel free to join in on the conversation by posting in the comments below or sharing with the tag #mentalillnessfeelslike. Stop the stigma, start the conversation.

Secretly, I kind of love when someone throws out a blanket mental health term as a completely inappropriate adjective. We’ve all heard this, most often in the context of the “crazy” ex. Last summer, it was darkly amusing to hear a good friend call their ex not just “crazy” but “bipolar.” After reminding him that I am, in fact, bipolar, I proceeded to shut down the conversation by sharing my pre-medication experience and empathizing with this “crazy” stranger. And maybe his ex is bipolar and maybe that’s why she did some things that he found to be confusing, hurtful, heartbreaking, manipulative, and/or cruel. That’s often the context I hear the word “crazy” thrown around- when someone baffles us or hurts us or is maybe just inconvenient. Because “crazy” is a cultural term of convenience, one that so quickly strips the subject of logic and potential empathy.

Hopefully I don’t need to explain why mislabeling others or using disorders as figures of speech is not only ignorant but furthers the stigma of mental illness far more than we realize. While I don’t correct this every time I witness it (with how pervasive this in our culture, it would be exhausting) I or someone else touched by mental illness definitely hears it. Sometimes there’s just that perverse pleasure when I hear someone derisively call someone “crazy,” “bipolar,” “alcoholic” or any other term that actually applies to me (“ah yes, please tell me more about this mental illness that you have no idea I’ve experienced.”) Sometimes it just frustrates me to hear someone use “anorexic” to describe someone’s appearance or “OCD” to describe type-A tendencies. It depends on the context, I guess, though neither reaction is at all positive.

you-keep-using-that-word

And let’s be clear here. I 100% admit that I have used the descriptor “crazy” in the aforementioned way far more often than I should. It’s so much easier to see someone who is purposefully trying to hurt me and reduce them to this societally-accepted caricature of capital-C Crazy without a cause or a cure. Admittedly, I’m currently writing this haltingly, as I have my own unresolved situations and scenarios that are applicable to this topic. But I also know that there is someone (or more likely, quite a few someones) out there who has the same mixture of resentment, contempt, and disdain in their guts when thinking of me.

In previous years of active addiction and the Great Manic-Depressive Swing of 2014, my symptoms brought about a wide-range of casualties, whether I intended it or not. And so I know from a breadth of firsthand experience that hurt people hurt people. I know that very little of people’s actions and decisions are a reflection of me or my choices. In realizing this, it’s become natural to not react, which for me is a revolutionary act. Does my understanding make someone’s attempt to hurt me into an okay decision on their part? Hell no. Does that understanding make me okay? Yes, minus a few grumbles I can iron out on my own time. Does that attempt make the other person crazy? Well, that’s an entirely different topic. Someone choosing to be toxic or cruel is not automatically synonymous with someone who is also crazy.

What I mean to say is this: these crazy people we keep incorrectly referencing- these folks with mental illnesses- are… well, people. I’d be shocked to find someone whose life has not been touched by mental illness, whether it’s their own or a loved one’s. I have had such an extraordinary response to my posts on here, both in person and online. Opening up about my recovery has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in the past few years. However, it has produced a fear: am I accurately portraying the experience of life with a mental illness? Not to say that I’m the Lorax speaking for all the trees; mental illness is far too varying and subjective to be confined to a single narrative. But I have made a point to only write about topics that hold a certain resolution for me. At the beginning of WHSH, I decided this because hope is such a powerful tool but then again, so is my pride. So for the sake of humility and honesty, the material here may appear darker than usual. But I promise the hope is there. Just hear me out, okay?

It’s been a whirlwind couple of months, y’all. I not only got into graduate school to work on mental health advocacy but I’ll have some of my family close by again once the fall semester starts. After almost two years of tedious first and second dates- which, to be fair, has led to some great friendships and interesting stories- I met a very unexpected but wonderful person. I had an astonishingly positive yearly review at work, I attended a local music festival, I won tickets to another festival, I’m volunteering doing something I love at yet another major music festival, I had a job interview this past week, I’m planning an international 2017 trip with my boyfriend, I feel increasingly closer to my friends and family, I’m choosing every day to not practice toxic relationship habits I’ve had in the past, I’ve handled some strange and stressful situations with grace, humor, and a clean conscience, and it’s been over a month since my last depressive swing, which came and went without consequence. I am what most would consider stable, successful.

Everything in my life is eerily good right now. But that doesn’t make me any less crazy. It doesn’t cancel out my mental illness. Sure, it’s so much easier to cope with my set of mental health circumstances when things are going my way. I’m far less likely to have a severe flare-up of symptoms but that doesn’t mean it’s not a part of my daily life in some way, however minor. Good day or bad day, happy or sad, I still have a mental illness.

So while I really do appreciate when people tell me I’m strong for my recovery, I get this sinking pit in my stomach every time I hear one of those compliments. Because I feel that I’ve misled neurotypical folks who read this blog or interact with me or have just heard my story. This life I have isn’t an end product, a happy ending, or a finish line. It’s not about strength or perseverance. Whether I’m in calm waters or the middle of the storm, I’m just doing what I can to keep on keepin’ on. The people that we sensationalize, glamourize, or demonize with the word “crazy,” that’s all we’re doing. We’re just trying to do the best we can with what we have at our disposal. And a good amount of us are flying under the radar. That’s right, friends. The legendary crazy folks- we’re walking among y’all every damn day.

Each set of the above pictures was taken on the same day, sometimes within the span of a few hours. The left images show me in the midst of a depressive swing, some deep and some quickly passing. The right shows the image that I present to the public. In the first, I had just run to the store. In the second, I was in the car, about to start my car and drive to work. In the third, I was going to a party with some friends. They aren’t false or forced but they sure aren’t the whole picture. Can you guess which images I chose to post to social media and which I chose to omit?

Here’s the thing: both are a part of life with a mental illness.

Mid 2014 to early 2015 was quite honestly one of the hardest times in my recovery. I had to figure out how to talk to my parents about my severe depression because I was battling with suicidal ideation on no insurance. I was embroiled in the tail end of a toxic relationship with someone who was not a mental health professional and therefore not equipped to deal with all the shit I was heaping on him. Fellow recovering addicts and alcoholics were obviously baffled with how to handle my inexplicable crying jags in support group meetings, which was an extremely alienating feeling that I do not blame them for in the least. After finding a psychiatrist, it took about six months to adjust to my medication. Every time a depressive swing hit in that time, I felt like not only a failure but completely incurable, chronically hopeless. I considered it a victory when I felt up to wearing eyeliner, much less washing my hair. My days were spent trying not to cry too obviously at my desk during office hours and then coming home to collapse in bed. I often questioned if I was well enough to properly take care of my pet- yet knowing he needed me was sometimes the only thing that kept me going another night. There was this incredible physical weight that made it difficult, if not impossible, to walk at times. And of course, there was the bizarre juxtaposition turned awful cycle of extreme exhaustion and unrelenting insomnia. Can you guess how much of this time I shared about on my blog or social media channels?

Here’s the thing: it’s a part of my life with a mental illness. It’s not the entirety of my recovery, no, but an important part that I can’t afford to gloss over.

The following pictures were taken over the course of December 2014 to April 2015. I had hoped to one day write a post of this nature but didn’t actually commit until viewing a friend’s presentation this past Friday on selfies, the self we portray, the self we feel, and the self others see. It’s important to own all parts of our story, not just for others but for ourselves. Even if it’s not completely resolved, even if it’s ongoing and ugly and messy and nonlinear. That’s what life with mental illness looks like sometimes.

Successfully coping with a mental illness in the eyes of society doesn’t make that mental illness any less real, valid, or present. And flying under the radar, managing to hide an onslaught of relentless symptoms, that doesn’t make our recovery any less valid either. So often in the recovery community, not to mention social media as a whole, we only see the shiny, pretty parts of the process. Sharing these parts are so important because it gives others hope that we do recover, that we do lead some wonderful lives despite our brain chemistry.

But I personally feel that it also can suggest that my life with mental illness is all sunshine and cups of coffee, which isn’t entirely accurate. Recovery can be ugly and painful and embarrassing and uncomfortable. And I think it’s important to remember that despite that, it’s worth it ten times over. Recovery is feeling all of it- our perceived good and bad- and continuing onward despite. Recovery is a continuing, ever-evolving sum of all the parts, not just the ones people deem “crazy” and not just the ones that we consider pleasant enough to advertise. You are worth so much more than just your struggles or your victories. I’ve found they can end up being less mutually exclusive than we think.

 

— LD

Be kind. Live authentically. Practice gratitude. Hustle daily. Work hard. Stay humble.

DISCLAIMER:

This is a personal blog. As the creator, I may mention, discuss, and review products but I have not been paid or sponsored for any of my opinions. My opinions reflect only my personal feelings and experiences, unless otherwise specified. I do not claim copyright on any of the shown products. Any media, writing, or other website content published is created and owned by the author, unless otherwise specified.

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “This is what my life with mental illness looks like

  1. Didn’t mean to submit… Life with mental illness is something I think a lot of people don’t understand until they live with it or are close to someone suffering. This was a really great post to open the minds of people who don’t get it.

  2. Leah, I am continually amazed by your ability to express your thoughts and feelings. I feel a lot of people will benefit from reading and relating to your words. So proud of the grace and class you have used in your life fighting this. Understand it has not been easy and it is a life long battle,love you and God Bless

  3. You are so strong. Thank you for persevering. Your strength is so inspiring to everyone around you. Even if it doesn’t feel that way sometimes. Thank you for being alive.

  4. Love this… As a person who suffers from severe depression and has had so many bouts of sobriety and then relapse and then moments of feeling so put together while feeling so torn apart…. I understand this struggle so whole heartedly and appreciate your ability to give something so complex words. I think that’s why there’s not more awareness. People who suffer from mental illness do not even know how to describe their issues to their own loved ones, let alone coworkers or the public. I started accepting the capital C -Crazy word and still do just because it’s easier to just own it. However, just the same – extremely frustrating to feel so misunderstood. I love what you’re doing here. We’ve been in support groups together but I’ll remain Anonymous. I know that being told your strong may seem overwhelming and maybe inaccurate at times to someone dealing with mental illness, but you are strong and you will make a difference. You already have in my life by writing this blog. Thank you so much for making me feel less alone.

  5. thank you for writing this. i found your blog via pinterest randomly looking about growing out my shortened hair… and found a treasure. i have a mental “disorder”, so it is always interesting finding those who talk about who they are in general – because we bring up what people have said, what people assume, what people are going to take with them. and then there’s what WE think. what you have wrote is truly brave and a treasure. don’t stop. i hope more people happen to find you, not only looking for pixie cuts, but truly for what they need as well, and continue to follow you.
    -bryn.

  6. Dear Leah, I applaud you for your honesty and the way you’ve been able to describe such personal and difficult topic. You have my respect, wish you to stay true to yourself, and stay strength in recovery.
    PS: Discovered your blog totally randomly today, searching for a hair tutorial and here I am, finding this gem. I will totally read more.
    Greetings from the other side of globe 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s