I met a young lady the other day that is just beginning the journey into her own mental illness story. It is a time for this young lady when the manic and largely dangerous depressive times have begun to be controlled. The time when having a day, that if not normal, at least makes sense and becomes more and more the truth of the life she will lead.
Every living person with mental issues comes to this point. It is the point when you are far away from realizing that you have much more control and even acceptance of your fate than you thought possible. It is a time when the days slowly fall into night and the coarseness of life is buried in the mundane you are just beginning to find possible. It is the point in this journey when you realize that devastation is around every corner, every moment’s breath, but you find in yourself the ability to try and come through it. It is a time that will define the success or failure you will forever know.
I don’t remember the first days of being diagnosed mentally ill. I don’t know what I felt, have no idea how I told those that had to be told, and recently realized have no idea how I managed life despite my own world turning a particular shade of black that stains the soul for all time. I don’t remember if I drank or did drugs. I don’t remember what my reaction was to the actions I had just learned to control. I don’t remember the moment that I began to slowly find ways to take back the life I wanted.
The hardest part of mental illness, at least in my opinion, is not the diagnosis but rather the few years that follow that initial determination. Anyone, anywhere could have told you that I was unstable during those days…it wasn’t exactly news. Just as many of us can see the signs of mental illness, at least the physical signs, in others rather easily, the world can see it in us. Our first reactions to that diagnosis is different, but the years after that diagnosis are very much alike for all of us.
Just as there are stages of grief, there are stages of accepting that you are mentally ill. And the acceptance doesn’t come on your timetable, nor your parent’s or doctor’s; it comes only on your soul’s own time. Accepting a disease like bi-polar or schizophrenia doesn’t come because one wishes it to be there. Accepting a disease labeled a mental illness will never be easily seen, heard or felt. And even if you wake up one day and decide that you are okay being mentally ill (Ha!) there is no guarantee that the next day you will feel the same. The only guarantee with mental illness is that you will fight everyday a battle that very few will be able to know; and you will do so with strength you don’t have and courage you long ago lost. You will fight a battle that lives in your sleep and destroys the very things you promised yourself those million years ago when you could stare at the stars and believe in wishes. Acceptance is a step that doesn’t finally exist until you are long dead and have finally forgiven yourself for all the things you never did.
There are other guaranteed stages of the journey in accepting mental illness. One of the most universal stages, especially those of the female hormones that have been taught about life in a way boys were born to ignore, is the heartfelt desire to be normal. There are few of us that want to be different and there are few that can convince the world when they say the words, “I am okay different.”
There are few times in any life when one is able to look around and say that everything is exactly as it should be. It was Darwin’s sociology that persuaded us from the earliest of years to better ourselves. We had to survive and we had to survive to a greater degree than those we have left behind. And the survival couldn’t be based on being different but rather finding a synergy with the world that would give us the abilities to make those star wishes come true. But no matter how much survival depended on our assimilation, there are many of us that are just different and will never be normal.
I am different than anyone in my family. I take more medications than anyone in my family; I have to concentrate on my mental and physical health to the extent that there are priorities left by the wayside. I do not have the confidence or the ability to believe that one day I will be better; I don’t even have the breath to hold that the next minute will be better than any I have known. I can’t be like those girls that drink and party with consequences that usually look just like hangovers. I can’t be those girls because I can’t be assimilated no matter how much I wish it were otherwise.
I can’t promise a friend that I will be a certain place because the truth is, I may not be able to be at that place. I can’t stay out late very often or the toll it takes on my mental health is visible even to the blind. I can’t join a gym because while I may start out going each day, the truth is I will quit for no other reason than I can’t leave my house one single day. I can’t buy the clothes that are cute because I have to spend all the extra money in my life on doctors and medications. My life is completely about accepting that I am different than most; my life is understanding that no matter how much I wish to be anyone else, I don’t have the ability nor the strength to actually do so. I don’t have the courage to be normal.
It is an amazing let down, even as I sit here, to be reminded that I can’t be like all the others. I can’t be like the people on TV anymore than I can be like my friend who lives so close to me. It is an amazing low to be reminded each and every day that my accomplishments while pale in comparison to even the most destructive of souls, will never be acknowledged for the incredible price it took to undertake those simple tasks. No one will ever know that sheer battle it takes to do one thing, much less a life of things. No one can; no matter how I explain it, no matter how I try and tell it. Partly this is the truth because we are conditioned to accept that everyone can do certain things and partly because the expectation was created the moment we were born.
I had to accept somewhere along the line that I am not the girl my parent’s can brag about. I had to accept the loneliness in life because I couldn’t be counted on to hold a relationship together. I had to accept the defeat because it was much more common than a win. I had to learn to let go of those wishes I once made on the stars and live in the reality that I am something Darwin didn’t take in account during his many travels. I am something that no one else can be because life has taught me no other way. And I have to accept that and understand that even as the tears once again flow so deeply in my heart.
I can’t help the girl I met. I wouldn’t give her my stories even if she asked. The stories she lives will define her and will make her who and what she is supposed to be. And she may get lucky enough to live a life that is similar to all the dreams she held onto in her youth. But whatever happens, she will find acceptance and lose the ability to believe that normal is possible.