Reflections on the challenges of living with a mental illness and personal barriers faced
|The Wall: My Survival, My Destruction|
Most people envision a wall and conjure up images of barriers made of bricks, stone, concrete or wood. The intention of a conventional wall is to keep things in, keep things out, or provide shelter.
My wall is not a physical wall, but its purpose is the same. My wall is psychological, comprised mainly from experiences, both good and bad. It's main function is to defend--to keep things out which would hurt. Unfortunately, for me, hurt has come from people and as such, they are not permitted within my refuge.
My wall also keeps things inside. It's what keeps my emotional life in check as long as possible. When the emotions get to be too many to hold, my crisis happens. My choice then becomes simple: to let some of the feelings and emotions out, I must either let a section of the wall down or allow someone within. To me, either of these options is too dangerous, so I usually set my explosive charges and try to self-destruct both the wall and myself. Yes, in plain language, I attempt to end my life.
The ultimate reason I would rather self-destruct than let someone in, is the third reason a wall is built - to provide shelter. Contained within this inner sanctuary of mine, I can find things which are not nice: my dark secrets, vulnerabilities, and regrets. Yet, just as importantly, I shelter my positives: my accomplishments, goals, and triumphs. Whether these things are pleasant or not, they form the very essence of me. Moreover, this essence is not something I wish to expose so that people can pick it apart and analyze it. There are some beliefs and inner core thoughts that no one need ever know. These are what make me what I am.
I suppose, as I grow more secure in myself, I will share more of what's within my wall. Someday my wall may be entirely down, but right now, it's both my survival and my destruction. The only thing I can and am trying to do is share in an effort to unravel the mess in there before I blow up again.
Twenty years later, I sit reflecting on this essay. It seems like a lifetime ago that I penned the original story, but I can still see myself sitting and writing - I remember the place, the time, and the feelings. The rawness of what I felt still reverberates within, and stirs the same intense emotions.
I have a mental picture of a young, naïve, vulnerable and hurting eighteen year old. The world was not my friend and I was no friend to the world. I was not talking with my parents. I had been in and out of hospital dozens of times with repeated attempts on my life. I had struggled to figure out who I was, where I was going and how I was going to get there. Life really did not seem to be something I wanted to be a participant in. I was seeking a way to explain to those around me that I was beyond all hope, and they should just accept that I was who I was and, I was not about to change. And, yes, that I just could not share with anybody what was going on inside.
Now life, maturity and providence have seen me through many of these difficult times. Yes, life is still a challenge, but I can now let others know of the benefits of lowering the wall.
When I started down the road of desperation and depression, I did not know I had a disease called Bipolar Disorder and this disease would influence every facet of my life. Upon learning that the illness, which was to become as much a part of my life as my heart beating, was the root cause of my suffering, I felt a great burden lifted from me. Life did not have to be filled with constant emotional pain. I learned feeling so horrible was not my fault, nor was it the fault of others around me.
Medication helps and continues to curb the chemical imbalance that swings my moods from extreme highs to extreme lows. Love and compassion smoothes my passage during the times when medications need adjusting because they are not working quite the way they should.
Patience and determination are words found in the vocabulary of many people with mental illness because this is just the way you have to be - very patient and extremely determined! In addition, for me, I have to add the word resilience. Bouncing back, repeatedly from difficult times, is often more depressing than the depression itself. I can see puzzled faces as people read this, so I take a moment and ponder, "How do I explain this one?" Nothing is easily explained when dealing with mental illness, but imagine for one moment you know you are sick and despite your best efforts, things have moved just a little beyond what you are able to control. What has happened is in no way intentional. Perhaps you have experienced an unexpected bump on your road. Further, you are now hurting those who you are most close to and love. Most people who have been through a major physical health issue can instantly relate, I'm sure. When I consider the times I have been ill, and the times I have hurt others, albeit unintentionally, I feel a searing sorrow in my heart. For, to hurt myself is one thing, but to hurt those around me feels unforgivable. I use this knowledge and sorrow to motivate me now. It is part of my driving force and my reason to stay well. I need to care for me, so I can care about others.
I am married now, ten years this year, to a man who struggles right along with me, in an effort to unravel this mysterious illness of mine. Twice, I have returned to the hospital in spite of my wholehearted efforts to avoid it. He has stood there beside me. I mention marriage, as there was a point in my life where I thought no one could ever love me because I was flawed. I used to look in the mirror and believe that I was what I had, and not who I was. My husband saw past the façade and reached in and touched the part of me that was waiting to be touched by someone who could care so much. I have learned so much from him including how to love myself - a priceless gift for which I cannot repay.
I am employed - another joy and unexpected development. When living with a mental illness that affects everything you do, sometimes it's easy to give up and decide that there are sacrifices in life you must make so that you may live. Employment was going to be one of those sacrifices. I found my niche doing advocacy for people with mental illnesses. I found an employer who would support me through my difficult times and valued my personal experience as an indispensable resource. Thirteen years have passed since those first baby steps to becoming employed were undertaken. It seems just like yesterday.
I have wonderful family relationships now--not perfect, but wonderful. This was not always the case as I experienced several bouts of not talking with family members. My illness and my pain got in the way of reaching out to them and them reaching out to me. The pain of mental illness and the effects that it has on the people close to you is insidious and evil.
Four things I never thought would be - that I would live, that I would marry, that I would work, and that I would have satisfying relationships with those around me. I have defied the odds and surprised even myself.
Happiness is not around the bend. Happiness is something I fight for and I treasure it each day. Sadness nips at my heels, but I refuse to let it determine my life's course.
To all people who might be considering constructing a wall to keep all people out, and themselves totally within, I suggest that they go ahead and build that wall, but also that they ensure that they have arranged to have access to the tools to dismantle that wall.
For those who have that wall already constructed, and so desperately want out, please reach out to those around and embrace the love and understanding they have, and ask them to help you dismantle your wall.
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