4 Reasons I’ve Embraced My Mental Illness

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,

Signature

 

 

 

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

 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
21 comments
  1. […] addiction nor mental illness took her in the end. That may sound strange or even callous, but those of us with mental illness always wonder whether it will triumph; whether it will be the one holding our hand while we drift […]

  2. […] has broken me and that I’ll never be friends with her again. To set the record straight, a) I was broken WAY before the Time Traveler’s Wife, b) I am reading extremely smutty vampire books to make […]

  3. ” 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. ”

    Much love to you, for taking what could be self-pity filled resignation, and viewing it with self-compassion filled acceptance. Sometimes compassion for ourselves is so blasted difficult! I fluctuate between acceptance and resentment of being unwell, and being “not enough.”

    Being domestically, emotionally, and spiritually messy is hard work. Personally, I feel like I deserve a whole package of cookies to myself every time I manage to clear off The Laundry Couch… and who cares if it only stays clean for one day? 🙂

  4. I am also mentally ill, and have autism. TOTALLY get a weighted blanket. They are awesome!

  5. Your words, always so honest, always so emotional and heartfelt. When you have another writing weekend me as a would be, feel like I am but no one knows writer, must go. Your words are like wine. So needed, by you, by me, by this Tribe. An elixir. Keep it up Mama. We are here with you.

    “I crave something that will hold me down before I float away.”

    “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.”

    where it’s weak, where the storm is weak, so interesting and so true.
    Lovin’ on you.
    Megan

  6. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing this part of your journey. When I first read this, I couldn’t even comprehend your 4 reasons. I WAS stuck under the covers. Now, being properly medicated, I get it. I’m not alone and the storm does pass. Thanks for making me feel not quite so alone. Waving at you in the dark

  7. Been on meds for depression since college. I will be a “lifer,” it runs rampant in my family. The thing that has REALLY made a difference for me, was being diagnosed as ADD – and just 10 little milligrams of Adderall a day have tremendously improved how I feel, how much better I feel I am at my job.
    Thank you for sharing your struggles – it’s nice to not feel alone!
    *hugs*

  8. Do you have a hot water bottle? Even under comforting blankets, it’s nice to cuddle or move to your toes and back again, put against any achey joints. Maybe it’s a childhood association for me as a girl brought up with inadequate central heating, but I have a hot water bottle even though I only need a summer weight comforter.
    Glad you are feeling a tiny bit better. I try to remember that my depression makes me a more compassionate person. I would also like a miracle cure and leave the compassion to others….

  9. Medication has helped me tremendously, once I admitted after 15 plus years that I needed some help. My sweet husband bought me a 20 lb weighted blanket for Christmas. I have dubbed it “Gustav” just so that when I am in the thick of an anxiety attack or getting pulled under the water it is a little amusing to ask for Gustav. It’s also become a codeword that lets my husband know that I am on the edge, whatever edge that may be. (Anxiety, depression, sensory overload)
    When he sees Gustav or hears that word, he knows to tread lightly and gently, and he does what he can to support me in that moment.
    Thanks again, as always, for making a safe space to talk about our imperfections. I’m glad to be part of your Tribe.

  10. I used to see my depression as a short term thing. First, I fought taking meds. Then, I took various meds for various short periods. Finally, I accepted that I take meds. Every day. It doesn’t keep the depression away 100%, but when it returns those meds are my hope. They help me enjoy all that I can in this life and so I’m grateful for accepting my MI and for living in a time of good treatment options.

  11. Kristi is now eating Nutella with carrot sticks.

  12. SensaCalm is the best for weighted Blankets !!! Check them out online .

  13. “Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything…I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?”– Carrie Fisher

    We might as well embrace our mental illness. I keep trying to be the best neurotic I can be.

  14. ((hugs)) Beth. You made me cry. That’s all I’ve got for now.
    Regards from under the covers,
    Mary

  15. Hi Beth. Just wanted to let you know that I’m waving to you in the dark.

  16. I love your thoughts on how you wished for a SOLUTION, but then realized that there really isn’t ONE solution, but rather, many small fixes. I think the the saying that applies here is “the journey is the reward.” we wait and search to find the solution until we realize that there is no solution, only the search. I love to read your writing. Sending you best wishes on your journey out from under the covers….

  17. Yes yes and yes!!
    Currently under the covers here at some point every day. Longing for the daylight and tired of fighting the same monsters.
    I’m in a new city and my tribe is far away- thank you for reminding me of these truths and that I am not alone!!

  18. Beth, I’ve dealt with postpartum for a full year after the birth of each of my four kids. It was horrible, miserable, and very overwhelming. When my 4th was 10 months old I found this supplement that crazy changed my life. I told another friend about it and she’s gotten off of anti-depression meds, and her husband off of anti-anxiety meds. I have wanted to mention it before but hesitated…however if my friend who told me about the supplements hadn’t reached out to me I wouldn’t have moved past my problems. The supplements actually eat the yeast overgrowth in your gut that causes depression, anxiety, eczema, digestion issues, brain fog, autoimmune diseases…I will give more info if you want. I love helping other people finally feel better after so many months and years of feeling horrible.

  19. Beth – your post has hit home with me. I live a life that includes varying degrees of mental illness – in myself and several of my nearest and dearest. When It first entered our lives it was something to hide, to cover up, to push in the closet. With time, patience, a quality therapist, and that oh-so-important community you mention, It has become something I embrace. It is no different than any other affliction someone might suffer. It does not define us – it does not own us. I love that you are willing to bare it all so that maybe someone who is still in a dark and lonely place can see that they are not alone, they are not all that unique or special – they just – are – and BEING is such a great gift!

  20. So my doctor tells me that I need to stay on the anti-depressants for 9 months and see my psychologist for however long and then there is a much smaller chance that the depression will come back again. I’m willing to give that a go 🙂

  21. Once again, Beth, you’ve been able to nail down something I’ve found difficultly explaining. Would you consider following me around speaking for me for a few weeks?! Thank you for sharing your wisdom 🙂

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