Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Slippery Slope of Mental Illness

I wrote this post many, many months ago but did not post it. My thoughts upon waking this morning led me back to reread this. Something is compelling me to post it today. 

I have always identified very closely with those who suffer with mental illness. I honestly thought that I was crazy during my growing up years so why wouldn't I find myself drawn to the many facets of my personality that I didn't understand?

When I was a teen, I felt a dissociation between my body and mind that unnerved me to my core. I would look down at my hand or my arm and not feel the connection. I can remember digging my nails into my skin to feel the association between the action that my brain told my fingertips to do and the pain that my body felt. I was 'one' but I felt like two. Why would I not believe that I had a dissociative disorder? Except back then, there was no way to put a name to my feelings. I had no idea that I was not alone. In fact, I just-this-moment googled my teenage symptoms to find a name for what I had experienced.

I remember wondering if there were cameras in my room watching me. I felt an ominous presence of a Big Brother figure looming over me at all times. I remember a friend of our family speaking  her truth about those-inside-the-television-set that were watching her. I listened closely because I related so well with what she felt. She was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Did I have what she had, my teen-self wondered? There was consolation to the fact that I knew that I was not alone. This would be the first time I experienced that feeling when it came to matters-of-the-mind.

I never thought that there was a thing wrong with being compulsive in the way that I organized my world. Each and every item at my work station or desk at work had to be where I put it. Day after day after day. My home was modelled after this work of perfection. It is a little bit harder when you live in a house with many but my compulsion for a place for everything and everything in its place was a game that my children learned to play. Was I over the top about it? I am not sure (but I still can't walk by the towel that hangs on the oven door without straightening it and wondering why others don't see what I see). This need for order in my world. Obsessive compulsive? Or just 'me'?

I have been known to let myself sink into the murky waters of depression. I teeter on the edge of it and peek in, knowing that it would simply be easiest to let myself free fall. But something always, always saves me. Is it an inner strength? A power greater than myself? Or is it the knowledge of the high that follows the low that shakes me out of the low points and points me in a direction of euphoria? My lows used to be lower. My highs used to be higher. But it shook my foundation when different members of my family told me that they can see the precursors of my fall before it happens. You mean it isn't just me that sees/feels this within me? Maybe I'm sicker than I think!

When I listen to the symptoms of mental illness in its vast variety of forms, I can always identify with some facet of everything that I hear. Is it because I am human and we all feel these things to some degree or am I bordering on a diagnosis of all-of-the-above?

Heavens! I just googled mental disorders and I think that I have a watered down version of every anxiety, mood and personality disorder out there! Or do all of us fall somewhere on the spectrum of these psychological disorders?

The difference between me-as-a-child feeling fear and isolation and me-as-an-adult seeking sense and answers is the knowledge that I am not alone. There is a diagnosis, a word and assistance for what I feel.

I could slap a label on one particular part of my personality. It may take me on a voyage of self discovery, it may take me down a road of healing, it may make me recoil and back-track for a while, it may just take me wherever my next forward (or backward) step goes.

This is not a plea for help. I am absolutely no different than I was yesterday or last week. Yesterday was a great day. Last week was hard. That is 'life'. It bends and curves, it is steep and hilly, it can change in a New York minute.

I think that my multi-faceted self is better prepared to handle whatever life doles out because I expect the highs and the lows. I know that I am equipped to handle both sides of the spectrum.

I can disassociate myself from intense emotion when I need to keep my footing to deal with life's harshest blows. The emotions follow. But they come when I feel safe enough to deal with them.

I still feel the power of 'someone watching over me'. This is not all bad. I feel safe and protected at times, conscious of how I am acting from the outside-looking-in, at others. I call it my conscience. I also call them my guardian angels.

When my world feels chaotic, I know that I can go to a kitchen cupboard or closet or a room and put it in order. It is good to have something to ground a person when so many other things feel like they are spiralling out of control.

Do I think that I am any different than anyone else? Of course I do. We are as individual and unique as snowflakes. It is when we open ourselves up and expose a piece of us that is 'real', that we become more human, more reachable, a better friend, and a non-judgemental ally.

I look within and I see all of the broken pieces within myself that have pieced themselves together within my body and mind. The way I feel it, I have created a broken glass mosaic from all that is not in perfect running order. I think that my passion stems from my brokenness. I feel a connection to people because I find bits and pieces of myself within those that I get to know. I feel compassion for those who are not perfect. Because none of us are perfect. We are perfect in our imperfection.

I feel all of this. I see the world through my twisted version of reality. Yet I still function. I am very fortunate. In my opinion I work well (enough) within the spectrum of mental illness diagnoses that I see, hear, read and relate to. I know that if I felt any one of the above acutely, that I would need to reach out and find the answers that I need to help me function within my world. Or would I??

What do others see when they look at a person from the outside, looking in? A person's internal reality could be light years away from what another person sees when they look at them.

Sitting inside my own body, I 'know' that I am perfectly fine. Yet ... I have a friend who is seeking help for her child who (in her opinion) suffers from mental illness and she cannot force her adult child to reach out and get help.

Mental illness is a slippery slope. The plea for help must come from the one who is suffering, yet the mere fact that they are experiencing life in a way that they have come to know as their own state of normal, makes it seem that another person is defining their reality and dictating their definition of the right answer upon another. So who is to say what defines 'normal'?

**Note to my family: Do not read too much into this! I am fine. I am better than fine. I just woke up feeling that gratitude today. Others are not so lucky...**

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