The awful thing about mental illness is that there are no hard and fast rules. A tactic that might work for one person could make things worse for someone else. And worse yet, a tried and true plan of attack that has nearly always been successful for an individual might inexplicably stop doing the trick out of the blue. The only thing you can know for sure is that you must keep fighting. When one strategy fails you, remember that you are not the one who failed, and you must search for a new way to win the battle. With that being said, there is one thing that has a brilliant track record of being helpful.
The people who care about you are your greatest asset in this war. They can’t cure you – it’s unhealthy for anyone in the equation to assume that they can. But they can help carry you through the darkest parts of your journey until you are once again capable of standing on your own.
I have been incredibly blessed, but it took me awhile to recognize true loving attention and caretaking instead of toxic attachments.
My friends are a good example of this. When my estranged mother’s health took a turn for the worst, many friends offered me their sympathy. But one friend, this true gem of a human being, offered to drop absolutely everything and make the two hour drive to say goodbye to a woman I who had abandoned me ten years previous. This girl is a hero, and I will never forget her compassion.
BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER
One of my favorites phrases is “blood is thicker than water,” though for reasons one might not expect. The saying today has been shortened over time, and in so doing has come to mean the opposite of its intended definition. The original cliché goes, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” Translation: the relationships you forge yourself through love and hard work are often more genuine and valuable than those with your own blood relatives. Those who choose to love you usually have your best interests at heart more so than those who may feel obligated to care about you.
I had a mental breakdown at work a short time ago. My medication just did not seem to be helping anymore and it was getting harder and harder to function every day until finally I just couldn’t anymore. The doctor took me off work, doubled my dose, set me up with a therapist, and prescribed me some extra anxiety medications. Most people didn’t even ask what was wrong with me; some had caught wind of the rumors and could hardly meet my eye, too embarrassed to look at me. A few said I could call any time I needed to, not understanding that I couldn’t make myself do that even if I wanted to. And then there were my fiance’s parents. I’d worked with his mother for nearly a year before I’d even met and began dating my man, and she has since been one of my closest confidants. And practically the moment he and I were official, his entire family all but legally adopted me. So when the monster inside my head began to violently rear its ugly mug again, they didn’t sit by and watch me suffer. They took me in whenever my fiancé couldn’t get off work and not only watched me, but made sure I felt like my company was actually valued. My future mother-in-law even went so far as to take me out to get both of our noses pierced during a day on the town. They didn’t expect me to just snap out of it, I didn’t feel forced to fake being happy or excited. I was accepted by this surrogate family of mine so wholly, it made the entire miserable, black experience that much easier to bear.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
I am a divorcee. This has created a slew of emotional issues in and of itself. One thing I had to learn coming out of it was that the emotional abuse was not something I deserved. My fiancé shows me this every single day. He fights an uphill battle against my disease, but he never complains, never wavers. He unbegrudgingly supports me no matter how exhausted he is. Case in point, I had a panic attack a couple of weeks ago. Usually they are more or less confined to public scenes such as work or social gatherings, but I was at home during this one working on an assignment for college. Once the attack was over, I was so drained I couldn’t speak and could hardly force myself to move. So he took me and guided me out to the front porch where I like to smoke my cigarettes and sat me down. He disappeared for a moment while I began to settle, and when he returned he massaged my shoulders until I was finished, then led me to the bathroom where he had drawn me a bubble bath and had soothing music from my favorite childhood video game playing. I didn’t have to do a thing – nor am I confident I would have been able to – as he stripped me down, helped me into the bath, and began washing me like a blood-soaked war survivor. He didn’t say a word as he took care of me, gentle as if I were a newborn, and he looked at me with such love in his eyes he seemed almost overwhelmed. And it finally broke through my reverie; I found my voice, and though still worn, I began to feel “normal” again. The beautiful thing is, it wasn’t just one bold act of love. He does these things for me all. The. Time. Never expecting me to “just get better” or “grow out of it”. He understands it’s a disease and I can’t control it and he never makes me feel belittled or hopeless for being this way. He treats me like a survivor, with the greatest compassion and utmost respect. He is my rock and I am forever grateful.
IT IS WHAT IT IS
I come from an incredibly conservative and straight-laced family. Don’t get me wrong, they are amazing people and I adore them. But my insecurities and own self-imposed feelings of failure tended to blur the lines between a healthy respect for my parents and being intimidated by their strict standards. For as long as I can remember, I have been concerned that my father’s stoic nature meant he wasn’t really proud of me. And you know what? I convinced myself that I was okay with never really knowing the answer. I hadn’t been disowned for the “mistakes” I’d made as an adult. I was still invited to all the family functions. I could be happy with that… Right?
Something happened recently, that to me feels like a miracle. A few tiny interactions that would seem normal and mundane to anyone else made me break down in tears. My father, who is a reserved, quiet-tempered homebody, asked me out. We hadn’t had a father-daughter “date” in years; I was beginning to believe he really only spent time with me out of obligation. But he made a point of making sure I felt loved and wanted. Still insecure, though, I decided to test him a bit. I curled my oil-slick-colored hair so the bright purple and turquoise underneath the black stood out. I put in my nose ring, drew on the thickest eye-liner I could manage, and wore all black – all things that I was too terrified to try in high school for fear of his disapproval, things I only recently began to realize I love doing as an adult. And the craziest thing happened! He didn’t bat an eye, and proceeded to tell me I looked beautiful. The only comment that was made about my unorthodox appearance was that the bluish-green in my hair matched his shirt – the one he’d worn specifically because I had bought it for him at Christmas. Afterward, I invited him to go to a museum exhibit. In the car, I lit up a cigarette and played my favorite pop punk music, laced with curses that before would have made me blush in his presence and scramble for the off button. When I asked him if he minded, he smiled and said no to both the smoke and the music, and then began discussing some of my favorite bands and named off some of the songs he liked that he’d heard me listen to growing up when I thought he couldn’t hear. And to top it off, once we arrived at the museum, he didn’t storm out when he noticed the racy nature of the paintings, but instead studied each one with me and listened to my commentary on the political undertones I picked up on. Something broke that day, something that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath for, waiting for it to crumble. This invisible barrier of authority figure versus child; I was no longer my father’s charge, but an equal as a person and an adult. And just when I thought the day couldn’t have been more therapeutic and wonderful, he pulled me in for the tightest hug he’d ever given me, like he never wanted to let me go, and whispered an old little song we used to sing to each other that we’d made up when I was young.
“Who’s my pumpkin (his favorite pet name for me when I was a kid)?”
With a lump in my throat and my heart leaping, I chanted back, “I am, I am.”
“And what’s the best part of you?”
“Hugs and kisses, hugs and kisses.” I paused, struggling in vain not to cry. “Who’s my daddy?”
His voice was thick and warm and he seemed to be fighting tears too as I clung to his chest. “I am, I am.”
“And what’s the best part of you?”
“Hugs and kisses, hugs and kisses.”
It might seem odd, this tiny little quirk of ours, but it meant so much to me that he’d remembered. Like the scene in What a Girl Wants when Amanda Bynes’ mother tells her she loves her a million Swedish Fish, and she responds with, “I love you a million red M&Ms.” This was our thing, and he remembered, and he wanted to make sure I knew it.
Sometimes it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. And while anyone can confidently assure you that there is, it takes the best people to actually help you through the tunnel until you can see it yourself. Surround yourself with these people. Be honest with them. Cherish them. And always remember, even if you only have a handful of people you can really count on, if you have even a few of these precious angels in your corner you are never alone.