July 19, 2014
Although I have barely touched the surface in revealing what I consider to be my dark days, mental illness has been the subject in which I have received the most feedback. All feedback has been positive and encouraging. However, several of my Readers expressed disbelief that I had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness.
“You seem ok, now,” one Reader wrote. “…but you look and act so normal,” was another response I received. And my personal favorite, “[if you are doing so well, now] you couldn’t have been that bad.”
Unfortunately, many people believe that you can “tell” a person has a mental illness by the way s/he looks. Additionally, many people also believe that there is no way back to normal (whatever that means) once you’ve been mentally ill. That is a misconception. Unfortunately, it is because of such misconceptions that people are reluctant to seek the help they need. I am no professional, I merely speak from personal experience, and my experience has been better than some and worse than others. I tell my story in the hopes that someone, somewhere may feel less alone and more willing to seek help.
The youngest of my children left home in 2011. It was a very difficult transition for me, as I had come to depend on always having one or more of my children around to help me combat my craziness. (Before I continue, I would like to apologize to those of you dear Readers who may be offended by use of the word crazy. I am in no way making fun of or minimizing mental illness, I just happen to take creative license in my writing to include a different array of words.) When I found myself alone for the first time in 14 years, I was lost. However, the darkness enveloped me so slowly and silently, I never saw it coming.
During their senior year in high school, my daughter and her now husband spent almost all of their spare time at our house. When they were not in school, they were at our house. We would watch movies together, go to the store together and eat meals together I became more and more dependent on them, and without realizing it, they had become my lifeline.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had begun to lose my grip on reality. I was edgy, sulky, brooding, anxious and overbearing. I tried desperately to keep from turning to past bad habits. I was successful for quite some time, thanks in big part to my two wonderful lifelines. But all of that was about to change.
By May of 2011, my four children were grown, out on their own, or soon to be, and ready to start their own lives. Meanwhile, I was stalled in mine. I have suffered from depression several times in my adult life, so I was certainly predisposed to having a breakdown. However, I never thought I would take my children leaving home so hard. It is the natural course of life that once we raise our children and they become adults, they leave home and lead their own lives. At least that had always been my aim. So what happened next took me completely by surprise.
I was battling my demons, and in my mind, what was left of it, irrationally discovered how I could keep them at bay. I became obsessive and compulsive. I just knew that if I could do everything the right way, I would be able to keep it together. If I could walk right, sit right, climb the stairs right, I would be ok. If I could focus my mind on doing things the right way, I was convinced that I would not fall victim to depression. Of course, I didn’t know what “right” was, and even so, it was that very thinking that was a sign of me slipping into darkness.
During those dark days when I was living alone, I rationalized that my routines would keep me safe, if only I could do them correctly. Subsequently, I would climb the stairs in my home 10, 12, even 20 times before I was satisfied that I had gotten it right. I would reach the first landing and turn around and go right back down because I hadn’t climbed the stairs the right way. Some nights, it took me an hour or so of climbing the say seven steps before I finally convinced myself that I really didn’t want to go upstairs in the first place. Besides, after an hour of concentrating so hard on the stairs, I would inevitably forget what I had needed to go upstairs to begin with. Eventually, I gave up climbing the stairs altogether. This did not bode well for me, as my washer and dryer were upstairs. Thus, I began washing my laundry in the sink.
Washing my laundry made perfect sense to me, I couldn’t climb the stairs, so I did my laundry in the sink. Not exactly the thoughts of a sane, rational person, I get that. But at the time, it seemed perfectly logical. I applied this same irrational thinking to almost everything, which of course, led to my irrational behavior. For example, I would walk out my front door at 3:30 in the morning to be to work by 7:30am. Although normally, the drive to work would take me 60 minutes at the most, I left 4 hours early because it would sometimes take me that long to get from my front door to my car door. I oftentimes would stand outside my front door locking and unlocking the door until I locked it just right. And sometimes I would have to go back into the house and start from the inside. Allowing myself 4 hours to get to work eventually became routine, natural to my irrational self. Needless to say, I could not continue indefinitely in such a manner. It was just a matter of time before I snapped.
I am unable to pinpoint just where I began slipping away from reality. Heck, I can’t even tell you the month or the year the darkness began to take over. And that has been my savior and my demon. Not being able to remember when I began to lose myself, has made it easier to work my way back. I am sure that my not remembering is my mind’s way of protecting me. I mean really, if I can remember things like climbing my stairs 20 times and washing my laundry in the sink, can you just imagine what I can’t remember? I shudder to think. So for that, I am thankful; nothing like having to relive your most embarrassing moments over and over and over again. On the other hand, because I cannot say for certain when and how it all began, this time, I am afraid that demon can manifest itself when I least expect it and I will not be able to recognize it. However, I cannot focus on that. I have done the hard work to get myself back to the land of the living. No more having to relive the past and no more worrying about the what-ifs of the future. I am finally living in the present and it feels good, it feels right.
Now that I am out of my dark days, I accept that I may never be what society considers normal. I also accept the fact that some people will keep their distance from me, so as to not catch my illness. That is the price I must pay for speaking out. That is also the price I am willing to pay to let others know that they are not alone. Trust me, dear Readers, someone, somewhere, and at sometime will read this and recognize themselves in these sentences. Someone, somewhere, and at sometime will read this and know that there is hope. I may not be able to save the world, but maybe, just maybe, I can save someone. Peace, ~v.