I doubt anyone with a mental illness can actually claim any sort of normalcy in life. It just is one of those things that don’t really mesh. We may get glimpses of it, we may even have moments of it; but for the most part normalcy is a wish, a dream, a present that the universe gives to everyone else.
My life certainly isn’t normal. I have too many feelings that course through my body as quickly as the blood that I need to live on can. I have too many ups and downs that don’t follow patterns, that are unpredictable, and even so out of my control to ever claim a life of normal. Most would ask what it is that defines normal; I would answer those things in my life that are just crazy enough to be extraordinarily sane.
It was brought to my attention, this extraordinary sanity, when I was doing my bills this afternoon. I, like most people, have more bills than I have money. The balance isn’t even close. Yet, I sat there in the misery of personal failure and listened to my children laugh. While I was agonizing with the money we have and don’t have, my children were literally laughing and dancing out loud. They had no idea what it was I suffering; and that is probably about as normal as I can try to make it.
Sitting in front of me is an old tennis ball, probably left over from the days that we had a dog. It is probably dirty, covered in germs, and not fit for any racket in the world. But it sits in one of my very favorite, and rather expensive, pieces of pottery. The ugly resting peacefully in the beauty of a riot of colors only fire can truly bring.
I suppose, although it may not hold the same weight, I could speak of the amazing dichotomy in the way I feel and the way I live. For instance, as I type this my hands are not only shaking from the drugs I take, but from the brutal cold that is literally flowing down my neck. Because my family simply can’t be comfortable outside of sixty degree weather, I suffer praying that somehow I can find a place that is closer to ninety degrees to hide in. It is the opposites in my life that make my life.
Maybe the fact that I live in such discord makes me normal. Maybe the fact that there is not one facet of my life, either public or private, that isn’t balanced that makes it bearable. Maybe the father versus the mother, the fear versus the courage, the ups versus the downs that make me not only who what I am, but all that I can be. I can find joy in the opposite, the things that don’t belong in the bottles that we place them, the juxtaposition of the perfection against all the reality that will allow me to successfully understand the disease that I am required to battle each day.
Maybe if I didn’t have those crazy things, the tennis ball and the pottery, I couldn’t understand the very universal reality of a disease that is in fact simply that tennis ball in the pottery. The sense that things are not supposed to always work the way that makes sense. The laughter while I am crying trying to decide who doesn’t get paid this month is the same push and pull that happens in my own brain.
I wish that I was simply that piece of pottery. I wish I could only hear the laughter of my children in times of stress. I wish that I could only find a pillow each time I am forced to bend in my head in shame. I wish that I could fall and learn once and for all how to fly.
But I am not that piece of pottery, I am the tennis ball that rests within it. I am the thing that while usable in its own way, is not the perfection of those beautiful fire felt blues mixing with the greens gathering around the sides of my beautiful bowl. I will never be the laughter I hear, but the one striving so hard to capture those sounds and hold them during the worst of times. And the worst of times is so common that its hard to hear the laughter of angels. And the worst of times is so common that I can understand why a tennis ball was laid in a piece of art.
I am the first one to admit that life, all life, must balance. We must have evil in order to understand goodness. We must have light in order to cover darkness. We must have that laughter to counter the pain. We must have these things in order to live, in order to breathe, in order to survive. We must have that stupid flower in the snow drifts because it is the only way we can hold on when life isn’t just a work of art. We have to have balance in order to get beyond the horror to the promise that is vacant yet whispering so strongly through the trees around us.
I guess that stupid ball in that piece of art is today’s way for me to explain the person that I am. Goodness knows, I try to find parallels everywhere to what I am and what those I love can see. Sometimes my parallels aren’t worthy of Faulkner or Dickinson, but are rather useless presentations of the symbolism I see. There is no doubt in my mind that I could simply walk over and move that ball, but then how would I tell you about the world in which I live? How could I convince you of the dichotomy of my mentally ill life without showing you the dirt that surrounds the smallest of diamonds? How can I help if you can’t understand that the pull and push of life is the reality of life, and oftentimes, the savior of it as well.