In therapy today, my wonderful therapist inquired, quite innocently, how I was handling the amazing amount of pressure that fills my life these days. The answer wasn’t a good one. She went on to question my support network, the people I can talk to and gain if not insight at least a little relief from the daily life that I live. I admitted to her that I did not have anyone to talk to seriously about the daily grind of my own mind; my mother isn’t the type to feel great emotions so it is difficult for her to understand me, my father is egocentric and literally doesn’t care, and the rest of the circle around me has their own problems, their own issues. I admitted to her that there hadn’t been anyone for me to turn to for constructive help and that elusive comfort we all seek since my Grandmother passed a year ago.
My Grandmother was mentally ill. She had been prescribed alcohol and Valium as cures, spent months in the grotesque wards of various hospitals, and spent most of her life in a state of either confusion or horror. She was as normal as most of those with mental illness; but developed her own set of coping skills to deal with the realities of her life. She was obstinate, determined, temperamental, easily confused, argumentative, and often not easy to be around.
My Grandmother drank cream sodas for every meal, mostly because she suffered so much from dry mouth. She wore stripes that she swore made her look skinnier and she hated having her hair cut. She was as happy sitting in a parked car watching the people go by as she was sitting at her window watching the neighbors live their lives. She was an artist of extraordinary talent and she read Nicholas Sparks like it was the Bible. She hated being an inconvenience and knew within a second if you were uncomfortable around her. She hardly ever laughed and found the most joy in innocence. She was devoted to a man that wasn’t always devoted to her, and she raised her children knowing that she would never be the kind of mother that they deserved. But to me she was, and always will be, the miracle that this universe gave me.
She recognized in me something that few are capable of; she understood the world in which I, who had inherited her disease, lived in. She knew the rules. She knew the shortcuts, and she knew the lies that abound in such a world. And long before I recognized in myself that there was something different, she began the teachings that would allow me to survive. She earnestly and honestly taught me the one thing no one else could; she taught me the truth.
My Grandmother did not sugar coat anything. She didn’t dress things up in pretty paper. Her advice was often caustic and harsh; but if you followed it, you would do the one thing she could not. You would avoid the pitfalls and the mistakes that come with a brain such as mine. A brain that she knew.
Maybe the key to my Grandmother is that she knew. She knew what I looked like deep inside where no one could see. She knew what ugly thoughts permeated throughout the course of my treatments. She knew the reality of this world and what it would do to a person who didn’t see with the same eyes as those millions around the world. My Grandmother knew that hope would always be a part of my lexicon but that it would disappoint me as many times as the people in my life often do. She knew there were voices that would convince me that suicide was an option in my life and she taught me that I had to accept this as part of the parcel rather than ignore it and believe it would go away. She taught me that my dreams would be crushed by the reality of who I really was.
This may seem counter-intuitive to what most people learn as life lessons. But for me, and I believe for many others the truth, while difficult, should be embraced and not ignored. Mental illness is not pretty. It will never grow into something that is pretty. It is ugly and dark, and most often, destructive. But it is the reality we face.
My mother, my father, nor those closest to me have the ability to understand this negativity as truth. They believe, almost desperately, that God exists and will save them, that wishes are meant to be granted and that sitting on Santa’s lap will somehow make the Christmas better. Those closest to me honestly believe that hard work leads to success and that finding something new is as shiny an experience as a day on the beach. Those around me live in a world full of naivete, because that is not only what we are taught, but because it is easier than facing any truth. My Grandmother knew different and she taught me the same lessons.
I have written of my Grandmother in the past and I imagine I will again in the future. She is that important to me. She is that important to the success of my life and the daily triumph of this disease. Each day I get up and look in the mirror is a triumph and expecting more or less does a disservice to the incredible battle it takes to survive. And survival, according to my Grandmother, is more important to living. Living is a luxury, surviving is a curse. And accepting that as a truth will allow those with mental illness to begin to find the healing and ignore the pristine world of rainbows.
Is it depressing realizing that this world is hard, difficult, and oftentimes terrifying? Is it hard to understand that this illness brings little joy and instead large quantities of darkness? Does it suck to know that tomorrow I will fight another battle, and more times than others, lose? Does it hurt to know my own mother will never understand me?
Not at all. Because I found someone who understand all those truths deeply. I found someone, or she found me, that could explain the beauty in the survival, and the acceptance of the darkness. I found someone who could explain to me that life, and its myriad disappointments were my constant companions and I needed to learn to love them in the same ways others loved hope.
I miss my Grandmother. More than I thought I could ever miss another soul. I miss what she gave me unconditionally and I miss the sheer knowledge that there was another soul who knew what mine looked like. I miss not the answers, but the understandings. And on bad days, I miss the unguarded truth that I will forever be a species that this world has never seen.
My therapist believes that I should write letters to my deceased Grandmother. I won’t do this. Not because I can’t, but mostly because I have this true hope that my Grandmother has finally found the joy that this universe took from her at such an early age. Why, after all she has given me, would I ever want to bother her while she is finally enjoying a new reality?