We have a wild streak in our family.
That is a nice way to put it; the truth is, a strain of mental illness has wrapped itself around my family for several generations. Depression, mania; maybe some schizophrenia. The more I learn about mental illness, the more I realize just how close so many of us are to the ragged edge of what we regard as ‘normal’. My daughter is living with a bipolar diagnosis; I’ve told some of her story here (and here; she blogs about her own journey here.) We continue to learn about depression and mania, and she continues to live with fierce courage.
But it’s not just my family.
I am no longer surprised by how many folks I talk to every week who are living with mental illness in themselves, or negotiating a relationship with a loved one who is unwell. Parents shaken to their core by a new diagnosis. Friends at a loss to help. All facing each challenge with courage.
I have friends who have seen the disease do its worst and end the life of someone they loved. Courage in its rawest, most primal incarnation somehow provides breath in their lungs and blood through their veins as they get through each day, each night, another day, another night…
It is a vicious, powerful entity; this thing we call mental illness, this chemical manipulation of the brain that distorts reality and changes the essence of who we are. We say we ‘battle’ and ‘struggle’ and ‘fight’, all the while entangled in the very definition of our self, our husband, our daughter. Our son. How do you ‘do battle’ with brain chemistry gone awry when all you see is the face of someone you love? How do you fight against yourself?
It is no easy task. And of all the things I know and can strive to fix or make better, living with mental illness involves a lot of gritting your teeth, crying, calling for help, talking through it all just to process, crying some more, apologizing, wondering what you should have done differently, and then crying again. And repeat.
Ultimately, you make peace with what life has dealt you, and you take a deep breath and summon up courage that you never suspected you’d need, let alone thought you might possess.
And you live.
NAMI does good work. bpHope offers excellent resources. I am thinking hard about what we can do in our own community to facilitate conversation, to offer opportunities for folks to perhaps just sit in a circle and acknowledge that this is the truth of our life, and this is hard, and to simply be present.
It’s not much, and it doesn’t really fix anything. But sometimes that’s all you can do; you show up, and you live.
My daughter is an artist, and she has designed a calendar this year. It is a tribute to those whose days are often as dark as their nights. It is dedicated to her friend who could not find rescue as he fought this disease.
It is for all of us who need to be reminded of the light.