To kick off Mental Illness Awareness Week 2016, we asked our community to share their stories with our hashtag: #isharemystory on social media to tell the world that we're everyday people living inspiring lives. Mental illness doesn't define us. It's just a part of us.
Here's Lisa's story:
Part of living with a mental illness is to accept the way that it interacts with your life. At times I find myself in a place where depression and anxiety sweep into every room. Other times, depression and anxiety end up in the attic, barely background noise in the house of my life. Whether things change dramatically or minutely I know that they will and do. I have felt things change by the minute, the hour, the day, the season and the year. This lets me glimpse a wider and longer view and I am learning to respect the patterns that emerge, while at the same time doing what I know keeps me grounded, healthy and best able to deal with the changes that will come. The following describes my current season. None of us know what the future might hold, but I’m happy to finally be able to believe know that I have one.
I recently purchased a beautiful book that I am calling my planning journal. The cover is white with a delicate pattern embossed on the front. Its pages are unnumbered so the invitation is to begin whenever you choose. I looked at the book for several weeks, paging through its suggestions and questions, all designed to help someone look at where they are and to move towards where they would like to be in one-year, three-years, ten-years and beyond. The possibility of making mistakes in permanent ink, that it wouldn’t look beautiful (i.e. Pinterest-worthy) fought against my wanting to begin. I actually considered refining my thoughts through several drafts that I would then carefully copy, in my very best handwriting onto the pages.
Fortunately, my wanting to begin won out and I finally opened the book, pen in hand. Unrefined thoughts and words fell onto the pages and I didn’t stop until I felt like my answers were approaching my truth, my world, myself. The white pages are now full of the “possibility of making mistakes” that initially kept the pages blank. There are crossed out words, crooked arrows, overly-enthusiastic underlining, the SHOUTING OF ALL CAPS, a fair amount of profanity (sorry, Mom), and many starting-overs.
Starting-over seems to describe where I find myself today. After more than five years of weekly therapy, hospitalization, residential treatment, and the gamble of prescription medication roulette, I’ve had lots of starting-overs. But today is different. My thoughts swim in a river of analogies - see what I did there - and my best effort has me perched on the edge of a nest. A fledgling bird afraid to fly. I’m ready, so says the mama bird who promises to always have my back. My wings are strong, I know because I have been practicing a lot. I’ve outgrown the nest, I can barely move, and in quiet moments I can hear the world calling. Perched here on the edge though, the fear is real, the fact is that I’ve fallen out of the nest many times before, thinking that I was ready. I’m not sure how I got back in the nest – perhaps the red-headed woman in the nearby house kept finding me, saving me from the jaws of a ferocious cat and put me back. But then doesn’t the mama bird abandon the baby if someone touches it? Is that even true?
Truth-be-told my mama bird is a man and he’s my husband, not my mother. Perhaps this is where the analogy begins to fall apart, as they always do. The problem is I’ve never been here before and by here I mean here-here. Ready, capable and wanting to fly. I’ve spent a lifetime believing I couldn’t, shouldn’t, didn’t deserve to, or would never have the chance.
So what’s a bird, I mean a person, to do when they didn’t know they would have a real-life future of their very own? That the struggle to survive the decades-long storm of suicidal thoughts has receded and now I see days, days, and days ahead, not just day-to-day days. Days to live out, not just get through. Days that are spacious enough to hold both joy and sorrow. Days that challenge. Days bathed in happiness and light. Days to be open to all that life has to offer.
I think I’ll look back in the nest to see what supported me while I was growing. I’ll whisper a prayer of thanks in the breeze to the woman who kept putting me back in the nest so that I could heal. With great love I will think of my mama bird and all of the birds that are part of my life. And as I leave the nest, I’ll remember that birds do more than fly. They sing.