Caution: Me.

Caution: Me.

“Why do you stay in prison when the door is wide open?” – Rumi

I have been out of hospital one week. One week of ‘freedom’… or so I’m told.

What I do have, is a new appreciation for anyone who has ever been held in any kind of institution for any length of time. Whilst you are locked away, the world does not wait for you. It doesn’t stop. And now that you’re out, it isn’t halting for that either. It isn’t waiting for you to find your feet or readjust.

Thrown in.

Swim.

…Or don’t… Either way.

I remember the day that I was downgraded to Category One whilst in hospital. For those of you unfamiliar with what that means – I was given the freedom to leave the ward for short times, whenever I wanted. I could venture out on my own. Go for walks. Get a coffee. Nip to the shops. And I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to step outside, not have to have someone with me constantly. Be alone – what a novel experience that was going to be.

Novel.

And terrifying.

I literally took two steps out the doors, before turning back and walking inside, where my nurse was waiting with words of encouragement. It is amazing how institutionalised you can become in such a small span of time. The world was foreign, and frightening. I was not confident of my capacity to navigate it anymore. Everything was so overwhelming. So bright. So loud.

Nevertheless, I built up some courage, and eventually my two steps turned into three steps, into four steps… into small outings on my own. But every time… every. single, time… I could scurry back to the safety of the of the unit. The walls of my room. Quiet. Dull. Calm.

Out here, in the real world… It is anything but.

Every sense is heightened. Colours are so bright. Movements are exaggerated. Noises are deafening. It is a sensory overload 100% of the time. It is both breathtakingly beautiful, and tremendously overpowering. And there is no ward to scurry back to. There is no quiet, dull, or calm hospital room.

There is just me; me against the big wide world.

Since discharge, I feel like my lack of hospitalisation has resulted in a perceived lack of illness. It is as if as soon as I walked out those doors… it was now up to me to prove I was sick. Or alternatively, to ‘pull myself together’ and ‘decide’ not to be.

It is heartbreaking to know that anything you do hurts the feelings of another – particularly someone close to you, like family, or friends.

But for some reason – when you have a mental health condition… people feel the need to let you know just how badly your illness affects your loved ones.

I do not know of any other illness, where the sufferer is held responsible for the heartbreak their illness inflicts on others; as if, somehow, they are able to control this. If someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer, for example, they would never ever be told that, because of their condition, they were ‘hard to deal with’, that it ‘wasn’t all about them’, that they needed to recognise that they were causing ‘heartache’ and ‘sleepless nights’ for others. They would never be left to feel like they needed to repay a debt, when they were offered support during their treatment or recovery.

I have been out of hospital one week… and I am still wearing my hospital identification arm band. I can’t bring myself to cut it off. I feel like I need it… I need it to prove that this was real for me. That I needed real help. That it is an actual condition… and I am not responsible for it. That I am recovering. That I need support… and that is OK.

And that support has come in waves, from so many people, in so many ways… and it has been amazing. I am so thankful for the people in my life. And I am so sorry that my illness has caused them heartache and pain. But I think it is so important for me, and for anyone who is suffering a mental health illness, to remember that it is not you causing that pain. You are not your illness. You do not need to constantly try and remould your shape to ensure that other people are not impacted by the fact that you are unwell. People do not need protecting from you.

“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” – Anonymous

I think there is a big void, between us, as a society, being aware of mental health conditions… and understanding and accepting mental conditions, as legitimate medical conditions.  I do not think the stigma associated with mental illness can be reduced until we are able to recognise that distinction.

I am not my Depression.

I am not my Anxiety.

I am not my illness. And neither are you.

 

 

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Beautiful. Brilliant. Crazy.

When I asked my husband to describe me in three words… That was his response.

Beautiful.

Brilliant.

Crazy.

I think mental health awareness is often focused so heavily on the sufferer, that the people around them, the ones who are watching someone they love fall to pieces… they get somewhat bypassed in the chaos. They are the ones who are there to dry the tears. They envelope you in hugs. They carry you when you can no longer walk. They literally pick you up when you fall… but where are they, when we want to raise our voices and create awareness? Why are they not on the front page – the champions of mental health. Literally… saving the lives of the ones that they love. Helping them choose recovery. Again and again and again.

I went on a date tonight. A date with my champion. The man who has picked me up off the floor of the shower, and carried me in his arms. Dripping. Crying. Lost. The man who has held me until I have fallen asleep, after I’ve woken up at 2:00am kicking and screaming with night terrors. The man who has caught me more times than I can count, when my head gives up and I pass out from anxiety.

I asked him tonight what it is like living with me. What it is like living with Him. What it is like living with us – my depression… my anxiety… and me.

“Most of the time,” he responded, “I’m just worried.” He described that as the overwhelming emotion associated with loving someone who suffers from mental illness.

This was closely followed by “lonely”.

Physically, I am there with him. I cuddle and kiss him. I laugh with him. I cry with him. But my head is chaos. It is too full and busy trying to silence the storm, that he often feels I struggle to be by his side mentally. He has supported me every step of the way in my journey. I feel like he is so proud of how far I have come… But I know that there are elements of what I have been through that are hard for him to share. Embarrassing. Overwhelming. Complicated.

I asked him what he thought of my mind.

“It’s fucked,” was his first response.

I found that a rather amusing addition to the otherwise orthodox conversation.

“Your mind is absolutely lacking in reason and logic in the face of small tasks… but at the same time… it’s brilliant. Complicated… but brilliant.”

Struggling.

Striving.

Learning.

About me. About you. About life.

Those were the words that he used to describe himself, in his role as someone in love with me, and my crazy. I disagree. I see him very differently – I see him as a rock that keeps showing me patience, love, and kindness – even when I am at my most trying, unlovable, and mean.

To adapt a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert, he is here. He loves me. He does not care if I need to stay up crying all night long, he will stay with me. If I need the medication again, he will help me take it – he will love me through that, as well. If I don’t need the medication, he will love me, too. There is nothing I can do to lose his love. He will protect me until I die, and after my death he will still protect me. He is stronger than Depression and he is braver than Loneliness and nothing will exhaust him.

“Because you don’t want someone to save you, not really. You want someone who will plant kisses on your scars, and cover your bruised body with their own, and hold you at 2:00am when your world has fallen apart, and you have cried yourself into a coma. What you really want is someone who will help you save yourself.” – E.G.

I can not imagine the strength that it requires to love us. To keep loving us. To fight this battle with us. I do not think  I would have what it takes to be a champion of mental health. And for those of you who are; who are there every day. Struggling. Striving. Learning….

Thank you.

With everything I have… And on behalf of everyone who is suffering through this chaos… On behalf of all of us… For your patience. For your love. But most of all, for your kindness. Thank you.

I for one, would not be here without it.