Welcome to Light Project Stories. Chasing Yarn had a good run but it’s time for a new adventure. This is a voice for you – for my survivors and strong souls who continue to persevere and manage their own mental health every day. This is for the families and the friends who want to find comfort or a new perspective when their efforts seem to be lost. This is a pathway to educate everyone who cares enough to question their own beliefs about mental health and those who are affected. I truly believe that storytelling with a dash of humour is the most powerful and effective process to navigate our way through the many fuzzy grey areas of mental health.
Two years ago today, in the wee hours of the night, I finally understood what it was like to be involuntarily admitted in a hospital. I was institutionalized for the first time. I was confined on a mental health unit and had no freedom to leave unless someone else accompanied me. Not to mention, there were so many other restrictions as well. Being a Taurus, I wasn’t too pleased. Even a glass jar of jellybeans was removed from my possession. It wasn’t like I found comfort in using glass. Blood wasn’t my thing. Instead, I attempted to commit suicide in what I thought was the most Hepburn way possible – overdosing with Seroquel and gin over some Miles Davis. But I won’t dive into this because that isn’t the focus today.
Two years have passed and I still feel a fire igniting from the pit of my stomach every time someone shares with me their unjustified opinions of mental illness. This all started when I returned to work from my sick leave around November of 2014. I remember the outpour of love that I received from a few close family, friends, and coworkers. I also remember sharing the more conservative highlights of my experience with these lovely individuals. I suppose that enough time had passed where it was acceptable for them to share their own opinions with me too. In their most absolute tone, many of them revealed that they didn’t feel I was bipolar because I didn’t look like someone who was bipolar. I swear a bee stung me in that moment. I had too much ego and too little strength. I pretended like it never happened by simply agreeing every time I heard the phrase, “People who are bipolar have something “off” about them”. And there was nothing off about me, at least not in public.
Writing today, I’m still unsure if I should take comfort in knowing that I conceal my mental illness so well, or mortified to learn that the vast majority still believes anyone who is ill needs to own a certain appearance and personality. Even when you say, “P.S. I’M BIPOLAR” they still don’t believe it.
This is the catch-22.
I also stigmatize myself. I still struggle to know what the truth is when I expend so much energy wrestling with my anxiety every day. I doubt my whole experience because no one except my husband and my dog see it. My friends and family don’t get the full surround sound experience because they are enclosed in the small intimate windows of my theatre. They don’t visually experience how my mind and body unravel when I interrogate myself to discover who I am and which parts of my life are real. I contemplate my life again, its worth, and if I was a drama queen who made this all up for attention. And when I run in circles asking myself, “Was I even ever depressed or anxious? How is this even possible when I have people who love me, a steady job and an income that supports my comfortable life?”
…I ask myself over and over again, “Am I making this up in my head?”
Mental illnesses can be silent and deadly. But stigma is silent and deadly.
Remember this the next time someone questions a person who says they’re depressed, anxious, bipolar… or anything else for that matter. I’ve been anything but silent in the last two years and yet I still echo the same stigma that society casts on everyone with mental illnesses. I am only beginning to embrace being bipolar now. I continue to learn how to manage the anxiety that boils inside me every waking hour and try to quiet the good and the bad voices from the friends inside my head. Yet these are only skills.
The most challenging concepts to practice are forgiveness and acceptance with stigma being its worst enemy. I’ve come to learn that many individuals still own such strong judgments about mental health, and I’m equally guilty too. I struggle to accept and forgive myself when the intense guilt seeps in for every social event I miss or every meal that I fail to make. This forgiveness and acceptance has to start from within but it also needs to receive affirmation from others. It’s easy to say, “I understand” when I apologize for being unable to attend or complete a task. However, the social discomfort the situation brings and the attempt to disguise their disappointment becomes transparent and feels disingenuous. Forgiveness and acceptance begins when a true understanding is met by including the words, “I know you’re trying.”
“I understand and I know you’re trying.”
That acknowledgment makes the disability real. It removes the doubt and blame from someone who is trying to cope and make it through another day. For example, this is my validation of the day: Never forget that every battle doesn’t have to end with a win and that will never minimize your efforts. Know that you have won because your strength and courage to do what was best for you kept you alive enough to read this. Please don’t let anyone else’s judgments about who you are and what you look like pacify your experiences. I’m not exempted from being disarmed by my own anxiety and forgotten by the friends inside my head just because there is nothing “off” about me. It doesn’t stop me from starving myself instead of making dinner because the thought of moving an inch off my couch immediately threatens my own safety and sanity. I’m still standing, alive and giving 100% whatever that appears to be.
I can’t speak on behalf of anyone else’s life, nor am I trying to. This blog is only a representation of my every day life. This is me, with a segment of my personality called bipolar disorder. I hope this can also be the hug that I can give to every survivor so they feel less alone because I’m there crossing every finish line with you. More importantly, this is the light that I cast on all the private and intimate moments of mental illness that others cannot see. This is Light Project Stories. Welcome to the beginning.