I will let you in on a secret. I will tell you a secret about myself that I don’t talk about, that I don’t think about, but live with. I am sorry to say it isn’t a dirty little secret nor will anyone be that astonished. It may not be understood by anyone, but it is my reality. And the secret is…I like the darkness.
Let me back up a couple of steps so that you can understand. There are important steps to know when coming not only to terms with your own mental illness but when you have teach others about the diseases. Trying to entertain while still teaching about a subject I know like the back of my brain without scaring my family (and husband) out of their wits is difficult. There are certain truths that you have to lightly touch on and others that you simply have to avoid.
It is possible that understanding my preference, if not my need, for darkness is going to be one of those times my husband looks at me and complains that he doesn’t understand. It may be a time when I scare mothers around the world with my candor. Because the truth is that this preference, this need, counters all that we are told and all that we are warned we must strive for.
We are expected to go out and get a good job. We are expected to post cute little quotes and meaningful sayings around us so that we can succeed. Success is determined by our parents, our teachers and our own consciousness. It is given to us to learn and learn it we must; because if we go a different path than the life becomes mean and unfeeling and destroys the castle they already built.
But first, let’s figure out what darkness is. To be perfectly honest describing darkness to a layman or someone without a mental illness is like describing the sky to a blind person. You may get the concept right but the sheer majesty, the incredible poetry of the sky is simply inexpiable. You may try but you won’t get there.
If you don’t have a mental illness you will never experience darkness; there is no substitute and there is no easy answer to the questions mothers the world over have about their diseased children. It is out of most people’s reach. It is beyond most people’s ability to understand.
It is why we get the comments like, ‘why can’t you just think happy thoughts?’ or my absolute favorite, ‘just get over it’. People with mental illness are often told they are making the disease up in their mind for attention or the comments go the other way and we are told that we belong in some hospital with the key thrown away. The reason these comments are so prevalent in our times and in all the pasts that have ever lived is because a person without mental illness simply will never know. They will never know the tears that are never shed, the clouds of fear, the ability to assume shame, the reality of never knowing what exactly reality looks like. For 3 out of 4 people the idea of mental illness is foreign and there is no way to change that.
So in order to express my need for darkness I need to be able to describe the inexplicable. And even if I give you a clue, a small snippet of the vastness of these diseases, you will never know it. No matter how I describe my life you will never understand; my husband cannot, by children cannot, my doctors cannot. I wrote a book about the disease and still, I know you will never get it. You will never get it.
Darkness is, in my attempt to explain, not the lack of light. It is not the lack of love or the lack of compassion but rather the lack of hope. Darkness in my mind is a simple place without much adornment that allows me to feel not just sad, not just depressed, but allows me to fall deep into my own internal soul and put the world far away. It is a place that gives me permission to not have all the answers and it is a place that gives me permission to not have to be what all those I love hope for me to be.
Darkness is a place that destroys any sense of timing, or pleasure, or even satisfaction. It is why those with mental illness will often seek outside pleasures, in some attempt to feel beyond what the place they are in allows. Darkness is a place that uses language, feeling, and most of all knowledge against the very person who built it in an attempt to destroy and maim the life it represents. Unlike our hope or our faith darkness gives us a place to disappear. No one experiencing darkness will run for the US Presidency. No one experiencing darkness will chair a board or even be able to play as successfully on an Olympic team.
There are those with mental illness who are chairman of the board, who run for President, who play successfully on any Olympic team. But their best work will be when the darkness ebbs and makes room for a span of attention, education, and the energy to see outside their own forces. Mentally ill patients can do all that those without mental illness can do, but they will also experience the maddening and oftentimes dangerous other world of darkness. It isn’t how they handle darkness that makes the difference but rather how those they can trust handle the darkness they can’t see.
Saying all this and attempting to make some sense of this place inside those with mental illness most likely failed. And I can live with that. As long as the reader understands one salient fact: sometimes the darkness is the comfort.
We have comfort zones. All of us do. If some place like the darkness is where you find trust, than that becomes your comfort zone. When the darkness becomes the place you understand, the place that you feel the most like yourself, the place that holds not the temptation of life but the temptation of destruction, than this becomes your comfort zone. Comfort zones aren’t the places we visit the most but rather the place we wish we could visit more often.
I am currently leaving my darkness to once again be among the living. I am talking to people more, even strangers, and I am meeting other people’s eyes. I am much more worried about my complexion and what my husband is going through. I am more sympathetic and I am more empathetic. But there is a part of me that is deathly scared of the place I am going.
My movements between darkness and light is completely out of my control. It is not regulated by my medications and while it can be influenced by the world around me mostly it is a crap shoot only determined in a place that I can’t reach.
The place beyond the darkness that I live in, what most would incorrectly term my norm, is happy. It is kind and full of energy. There is an intelligence and the ability to make my children laugh. But there is also a loss. A loss of my ability to write in a certain way, a loss of my ability to escape whenever I want to, and a loss of silence that is rarely found in life. There are gains but there are losses.
I am comfortable in the darkness. In many ways I am not aware of what either my brain or my body is doing when I travel there. In many ways I don’t allow myself self-illusion or even the energy to build. In my darkness there may be voices, loud voices, and there may be the need to hide and disappear into nothing, but it is my place. It is not a place I have to share and it is not a place I have to explain. Not because I can’t but because I simply don’t want to.
My darkness which makes bottle of pills very attractive also blocks out much of the world. There is no expectations in this darkness but rather the need to be nothing.
When I am in the light, a vastly different place, I am energetic, approachable and often talkative. I am capable of taking care of my children, my home and the dinner each night. In the light I am capable; in the darkness I am not. I unconsciously choose instead to fall away than to bask in the world most people live in.
This is my reality. Being mentally ill means I have to acknowledge the hard things about myself if I ever hope to survive to my children’s graduation. My darkness is not a beautiful place but it is my home. And today that will be my secret to share.