4 Reasons I’ve Embraced My Mental Illness

Jan 23 2016

The space under my covers is dark and a little humid and smells like the first rain after a dry spell, all musty and muddy and heavy air, except with a hint of smooshed Cheez-its and old dryer sheets, which I know because sometimes I put my head underneath and pull the covers tight around it and wonder how long it’s OK to stay there before I run out of oxygen.

I wonder how long it’s OK to stay there before I run out of oxygen, which is a strange thing to wonder since I’m only there when I already have. The space under my covers is my cave for retreating when I feel like I can’t catch a breath, and I need to escape, and I’m jittery and on edge and want to sleep for ever and ever. I wish I had a better sanctuary, but those are hard to find when what I’m really trying to escape is myself.

I’ve started to look at weighted blankets online because I hear they’re good for kids with autism and anxiety, so I suspect they’d be good for me, too, when life becomes too scritchy and uncertain, and I crave something that will hold me down before I float away.

This is what it’s like for me, sometimes, with depression and anxiety which take the helm every now and then. I never know quite where they’ll steer me — to rage or emptiness, worry or despair. I don’t know what the conditions will be of the sea or the storm or how long it will last or whether, this time, the ship will finally sink under the pressure of too much water against a hull that’s mostly strong except where it’s very, very weak. The best I can do these days is to try to recognize when I’ve left safe waters and fight the beasts for the slippery helm, pray for sun and hang on ’til daylight.

I’m easing back right now to calmer seas, and I’m peeking out from underneath my covers, sipping air that’s less stale and looking around to assess the damage, and I’ve found something I didn’t expect this time in the rubble.

I’ve found something I didn’t expect, blown here on the wind, I guess, or maybe it stowed away a while ago and is just now showing its face, and it’s this: I’m grateful for my mental illness.

Grateful for depression.

Grateful for anxiety.

I mean, it’s not that I don’t want depression and anxiety to go fuck themselves. They are, after all, fuckers. It’s just… they’ve brought me some gifts, too, and I’m glad to have those gifts, though the delivery mechanism bites. Kind of like having carrot sticks to scoop Nutella; I’d prefer graham crackers or Ritz, but if carrots are what I’ve got, I’m still going to scoop up all the Nutella I can get.

I see a lot of articles these days about erasing the stigma of mental illness, and folks bravely coming out of the closet to admit they have it, and what it means to talk frankly about being mental ill. I’m all for talking about All the Things, and for erasing stigmas, but, for me, disclosing my illness was never about bravery. It was about being free to be unapologetically me. I don’t know; maybe it’s easier for me to be mentally ill than it is for others. I grew up, after all, with scars on my face, and I’ve never known what it is to have a perfect facade to show the world. Either way, I find myself in a strange place of gratitude today.

The truth is, I’m grateful for my mental illness because it’s taught me these things:

  1. We’re not stuck under the covers. Or in the dark. Or on the ship floundering at sea. I’m under the covers sometimes, yes. And the dark comes as regularly as the dawn. And the storms brew and hit us every now and then with the full force of their fury. But while we live in these places for a little while, we’re not stuck there forever. There’s air. There’s light. There’s calm. And they’re coming soon.
  2. We don’t have to go it alone. We don’t. Which is such a relief. We don’t have to go it alone, and, in fact, we’re not supposed to. We’re not built for that, no matter what lies the Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps philosophies try to tell us. We are community creatures — “come, unity” creatures — which means we needn’t be strong all the time. We can take turns. Being strong and weak. And magical and messy. And wise and weird. And all of those things at once. Which brings me to…
  3. There are people with us in the dark. And they will wait with us for the dawn. And hold our hands in the mud. And lay down with us on life’s path when we can’t go on, watching the clouds make pictures in the sky while we lie on our backs, too tired to move.
  4. We will fall apart again. God, I am SUCH an All or Nothing person, friends. I want to be healthy; not living with a chronic illness. I want to be CURED; not treated. So I’ve spent a lot of time looking for a fix for this — a SOLUTION — rather than recognizing that life is an endless puzzle full of tiny pieces we assemble to make a beautiful picture with infinite cracks. But I’m learning that a life of something is a pretty darn good way to live, and that All or Nothing isn’t better. I’m no longer looking for the time I’ll have this all figured out, or for the time I’ll have it all together. It turns out I’ll be a mess FOREVER. So now I rejoice in each puzzle piece I find, but I recognize it for what it is — just a piece of a whole, and a step on a journey. I’ll fall apart again, and when I do, it won’t be a failure; it’ll just be a recognition of the cracks between the pieces. The texture of the puzzle. And I’ll be on the lookout for the next piece that fits.

With love on the journey,

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Other Things I’ve Written About Depression:

When Depression Comes in Disguise

A Determined Walk Toward Slow Hope

White Lights Lead to Red Lights, Red Lights Indicate the Exit: How to Find Forgiveness in the Dark

May the Fourth Be With You