Today I received a message which completely blindsided me. It was from someone in my past who I reconnected with just a few months ago. In it, the person shared that they thought of me as one of their heroes; a sentiment that came so far out of left field that I’m still having difficulty processing it.
The reason behind their view was an incident that happened when I was in my teens and involved a public and humiliating experience with a mentally ill parent. When I discuss mood disorders, and bipolar disorder in particular, it is from very personal experience, mainly handling my mom’s illness/episodes since my early teens. I had to grow up quickly to deal with her episodes, take care of family needs, and handle the details of admission, and the aftermath. Not to mention her episodes were frequently public, embarrassing, and witnessed by people I had to deal with afterward. If being a hero means quick thinking, handling difficult situations successfully, and keeping your head up when everyone either thinks you’re a freak or pities you, well so be it. I just called it survival.
What I learned from living with active mental illness for so long was that I didn’t want any part of it! So I spent years going to doctors making sure I hadn’t inherited anything. Unfortunately, my disorder was later onset – it hit me in my late 20’s. Thankfully it was type 2 not 1 bipolar disorder. Not so thankfully was that it’s med resistant, rapid cycling, and has a couple of other diagnosis thrown in. It’s been a bumpy road and I’ve only achieved any length of stability in the last few years. And that’s thanks to a spouse who never gave up on me, incredible doctors, and family and friends who stood by me, even during the worst times.
The biggest challenge since “the official diagnosis” has been letting go of the label and shame associated with it, the belief that I was somehow inferior and a failure with no future. As the cartoon and quote above say, misery and clinging go hand in hand. But being surrounded by people who knew me “before” and believed I would come back has given me the strength to keep working towards long term stability. People who challenged my view that my life was over, didn’t put up with my periods of self-pity, and provided healthy examples of how to live a fulfilling life. It’s thanks to them, and to things like the “blindsiding” message today, that are helping me let go of my outdated self image. To start to see myself as others see me – intelligent, capable, and a thriver instead of a survivor. This post is to acknowledge their contributions and how letting go actually frees you to live the life you are meant to. Not what you think you “deserve” or “only capable of”. U2’s Bono sings “It’s a beautiful day,” and you know, it really is.
Love yourself. Accept yourself. Forgive yourself and be good to yourself. Because without you, the rest of us are without a source of many good things. ~ Leonardo Buscaglia