I write about mental illness, which means that most of my posts are about surviving a disease that causes a varied and almost cruel series of thoughts, actions, and words. I have said it once, and I will say it again, there is no good part of a mental illness. There are brief moments of joy or simplicity, and there are moments that are so dark that when you finally see the light you can get a sense of accomplishment or at least are able to take a deep breath. There are hours when you can disappear into someone else’s world and find a relaxation or happiness that can seem as perfect as the touch of the sun on a cold day. But those things are fleeting.
Mental illness is ugly. It is a nasty looking stain on our minds. It is a fight that you know you will lose but are compelled by nature itself to fight; we are born with an instinctive need to survive and it crashes against the waves of mental illness on a daily basis. Those of us who have had these diseases for longer than a day have figured out how to compartmentalize. We have learned how to smile with our eyes. We have learned how not to talk about the thoughts that plague us at the most ridiculous of times. We have learned how to function in society just long enough that no one can see what it really happening inside of ourselves. We have learned to fake it even to those who believe they know us best. We have learned what medications can mask our true selves from the public.
But our true, diseased, selves are still there. It doesn’t matter what medications you have chosen to take. It doesn’t matter how you smile or laugh. It doesn’t matter how many times you force yourself out the door to see friends or be around people. Our true, diseased selves are still there. It doesn’t matter if the weather has turned picture perfect or if Disney comes out with a film that is elegant and moving to you. Our true, diseased, selves are still there.
And to me that is one of the worst parts. You will just have to trust me when I tell you that I can fake happiness like an Oscar winner. You will have to take my word that those closest to me rarely get a glimpse of the world that I really live in; and when they do see a moment of it, they often are only seeing what I want them to see. I can go to a doctor, look her in the face, and convince her that all the symptoms that she sees aren’t bothering me; aren’t really there. I can pretend better than any three year old that I live in a world of shining armor and fairy tales. My friends, my family, even my husband can’t know what is going on in my life; because I would never allow them to see it.
I used to think I hid so much of myself because I didn’t want the judgement. Then I wondered if I hid myself so that those I love don’t suffer in empathy. Sometimes I wonder if I hid my world because no one can do anything for me. No drug can take away the real me; it can temporarily hide me, but when you have experienced mental illness for more than a day, you feel and know that the disease you wish to cure is only being masked. No doctor can give me a diagnosis that will provide me a surcease from the very real life that I can’t escape.
Most people believe that there are polars in mental illness – and I don’t mean only in bipolar patients like me. Most people believe that there is a high and there is a low. Most people look at the low times as dangerous or possibly destructive. Most people believe the high is simply when someone is happy and can find a way to function in this world. Most people imagine the darkness as something they see when they turn out the lights and go to bed. And they imagine the high as either a warm comfort, or a path to being normal. None of this is true.
I can’t describe to you high and lows because it changes each day. I can’t tell you which I prefer. I can’t tell you which one reacts to the medications better. I can’t tell you if the doctors get it right or wrong because sometimes they get close enough to touch and sometimes they are so far away I wonder if they are even in the same room as I am. I can’t describe to you why being in a high state is as simple for me as being in the darkness that most people would fear. I can’t write posts to try and help others through the darkness and the light, and I may even reach a person or two, but I can’t lead anyone to the promised land of a disease that has a cure.
But I truly have never minded the high and lows of my life. I think this has to do with the truth that I have been fighting mental illness my whole life; long before I was diagnosed. I know when the highs are approaching, there are times I can even anticipate when a high will come my way. I know when the lows have arrived, and despite the fear others have about the darkness that is pervasive, I find it comforting. The lowest points of my life are places that I visit frequently; it is like a bar where everyone knows your name. The darkness is comforting and the lightness doesn’t stay around long enough for me to care.
What I hate about mental illness is the in between. The times when you can’t blame your actions or your thoughts on a low period or a high period. In case you are the misconception that this post is about mixed episodes, it’s not; that is whole other bucket of horror. I am not attempting to define mixed episodes or to even help you through one; that’s for another chapter. What I am trying to describe isn’t easy to talk about because there aren’t simple words to paint a picture, or an official description from a textbook that makes sense to everyone. What I am trying to describe is not the in between but rather…well, I don’t know.
I had a bad night about a week ago. It was the kind of night where the darkness, the voices, the thoughts flow through your veins until you can’t feel pain. It was the kind of night where the world looks not what you see on your favorite media post but rather the time when the world looks like nothing at all. The world isn’t spinning, the world isn’t moving, the world is stuck inside of you screaming. A month ago, when I finally found a solution to some excruciating pain I was suffering disappeared, and I thought that my whole life was finally going to open up and allow me to be better, more present, more available to the beauty that is right where one can see it.
I am not talking about either of those times, or the millions like it here. I suppose I am talking about being lost. Not having direction. There is energy to do the things that must be taken care of and there is an ability to hide what I am feeling. I can see the sun and appreciate the clouds. I can pray. I can love. I can even sit down and write this post. But there is no reason for it. Maybe that’s how to describe it; there is no reason for me. I am not saying that this revelation is accompanied by the normal suicidal thoughts, but rather just a knowledge that I don’t have a reason.
I don’t have a reason to move forward but no need to move backwards. I don’t have a reason to sit with laziness or exercise to make myself feel better. There is nothing to correct or make better. There is nothing that needs to be fixed. I suppose I could call it the blahs, people tend to know what that is, but that would still make it a thing. And it isn’t a thing. It isn’t a feeling. There are no cravings, no need to do something, no need to be anything. No need to adjust my medications or make a special appointment with my therapist. It is almost like sitting still with very few thoughts, while the world, in all it’s color, still exists within my line of vision. It likes listening to a beautiful song but not responding to the words or the melody. It’s like being on the dance floor but not feeling the need to move.
The world and the people in it have a crucial element that should be celebrated; people have a purpose. People know why they should get up in the morning or simply stay in bed and hide. People can see what needs to be done, what needs to be said, what needs to be felt. Some people value lists and conformity. Some people value excitement, traveling, trying new things. Today, I don’t feel anything at all. And to me, these are the days that are the worst of them all.
I know that how I feel will change again; it’s the nature of the beast. I will go back down into the darkness and I will dance in the light. And while I wish that I could find comfort in a place where there is no rhyme for me to learn or rhythm for me beat my heart against, there is no comfort. There is no fear, no happiness, no desire, no need, no want, no hope, no sadness, no sound, no sight. It is a day when there is nothing at all. And for a woman who lives in the deepest darkness and the brightest light, the days when there is nothing to feel seem foreign and lonely. There is no comfort because there is nothing to feel bad about. There is no need to measure my steps or worry about how hard I am running, because I am barely moving at all. There are no highs today and there are no lows today. There is nothing today.
Maybe tomorrow that will all change again.