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ikkyuEach and everyone of us has buttons; those strange and untouchable thoughts, opinions, events that can begin a train of utter confusion, excitement, and anger towards whatever it is that affects us most. Some of these buttons are randomly sewn into the fabric of our beings and other buttons are sewn right there on our chests where everyone can see them. It is a universal concept; and other than the Buddha himself there isn’t much we can do when someone tries to unbutton the things we have sewn on tightly.

I have various buttons. I wish I could tell you I was simply a passionate woman about the things I believe in; but buttons don’t seem to work that way. The unlatching of buttons can be as random as a raindrop on a cloudless sky.  While there are some buttons I can feel coming undone and know the rhythm and reason for it, there are other times it seems like the ghosts of my haunted past have done the deed for me.

I write about buttons today because I am currently in a fight with my own self to sit down and shut up on a topic that I simply don’t handle well. In my family we have a young lady who is trying to malign and destroy (reputation, legally, etc.) one of my aunts and cousins. Why this young lady is set out to try and anger my family is up to interpretation, and really it doesn’t matter. What matters is the audacity and the sheer nerve in which she is trying to accomplish this. I may not know the whole story, but I do know her side seems to be rather contradictory. The button, however, that is being pushed is this idea that she can come after my family and I have to be so silent about it and let the lawyers deal with it. I may be old but I am not so old that I don’t have the energy or the guts to take this little piece down where she belongs. *Sigh* But I can’t do anything.

This got me thinking about buttons today when this whole situation really got heated and I found myself wondering if the button being unraveled is something I fight because I was born to, or taught to, or is it a simply a symptom of the mental health issues I must battle. In other words, what is real? The button or the sentiment behind it. Am I chomping at the bit to take this girl out because I honestly want to defend my family or am I this passionate about something that admittedly is a couple of leaps removed from me because this disease is ready to come flying out of the depression it has been in and is now ready to go?

I know absolutely that when it comes to my family, whether it is the nuclear family or the wider clan, I am staunchly defensive about them individually and as a whole. I get personally upset when someone tries and hurts them, or even when a simple observation which may be correct, but is unflattering, is said. I have been this way for as long as I remember. It is a lesson my parents taught me;  you defend and preserve family. Period. No question mark in sight.

But what about the level of upset that I feel today over this drama that isn’t mine? I have learned to question what is the disease and what is the natural self that I was born with. And to date, I have no clear answer for any of it.

The problem with mental illnesses is they are so pervasive they become a part of you. There is no curing of it; the diseases are there whether we pray, go under the scalpel, or jump off a bridge. There is no lessening of the diseases if we decide to stop taking the medications – the disease and whatever causes it is still active. Who we are under the influence of our medicines and the person we are when we stop taking them is the same; that one is irrefutable. But who are we under these diseases?

It is a question I struggle with because it is a question that I would love to know. The simplest things like my intelligence, my desires, even my cravings, where do they come from? Me or the disease? And what of other things like my inability to find comfort in the touch of another or the selfish desire to live and thrive in a world that has four walls but no other soul in it? What about my relationships, my enemies, my dreams, my fears? What about me is real and what about me is a disease that I inherited completely against my will?

I don’t know if there is an answer. Or if there is an answer I don’t know if it something that I, or anyone with these mental health issues, will ever find. Until we can eradicate the disease how is it possible to figure out what is the soul and what is the brain? Maybe it seems strange to those who don’t have mental health problems that one could worry about who and what they are. Maybe it seems strange to not know even the most basic of facts about oneself because there is a disease that literally takes over and distorts the ability to answer these questions. For instance, I don’t even know if I am prone to acne or not; I have a ton of it, but is that my hormones or the side effects from the drugs that I take?

Imagine your whole life without a single piece of truth that you can rely on as truth. Imagine living your life not knowing who you were born to be versus who you must be because some doctor has decided that you need the nine pills you have to take each day. Imagine not knowing if the laughter that bursts from your gut because of a great joke is because you find something funny or because you are in a high that makes the world seem brighter, clearer, and so less defined. Imagine not knowing who you really are and knowing you will never know that person.

I can tell you that one of my buttons is when someone tells me that who and what I am is not defined by the disease or the drugs that I take – although I don’t know where my reaction comes from. I hate when a doctor, a family member, someone who has never felt the cold, wispy fingers of a disease reach deep inside of you and tear you apart again and again, tries to tell me that I am who I am. I am not good at listening to people who don’t have a mental illness try to placate my desperation by telling me that I am exactly who and what I am supposed to be. Because the truth is, if I didn’t have this set of diseases would I be who I am today?

There is no answer to that question because there is no cure to these diseases. Until you take away the layers and honestly take a look at the depth beyond the curtain you can’t definitely state who or what I am. Until you eliminate the fog that shadows my every move, the fog that lives and breathes inside of me, you can’t see who and what I am. There is too much obstructing the view; even from my own self.

I have always been complimented on my ability to understand where I am on the spectrum of this disease and even what would work best for me in order to find a way to heal. But that is the disease that I am proficient at; not the true person underneath it.

I like to dream that I am, underneath this shield of disease, a kind and inquisitive person. I hope that I am decent, or at least try to be so. I need to believe that I am kind, supportive, and a protector for my children. I need to believe that the light that I feel is as real as the darkness that I often rest within. And I need to desperately believe that one day I will know who and what I really am.

But I don’t know right now. I can’t know. And so tonight I will go to sleep once more and dream dreams that may not be mine and rise with the sun believing that the person this disease has made me is enough. I will spend each day of my life, until I can finally learn the truth, trying to be the person I imagine rather than the disease that is all too real. Because the awesome truth is I have no other choice.