I have a mental illness.
I live with mental illness.
We aren’t supposed to talk about it I know. Just recently, I was told that I tend to exaggerate my fears and make things out to be much worse than they really are.
Yes, yes I do.
This is called anxiety and is a very real thing.
I’m writing this – well, mostly because I have to write to maintain some semblance of sanity – because I’d also like to think that there are many people who suffer debilitating anxiety and it is important that they know they aren’t alone.
Carrie Fisher spoke about her mental illness, and by doing so she gave enormous hope to those suffer in a similar way.
Sadly, I didn’t really follow her – I don’t follow celebrities really – but reading the condolence messages that have been pouring out for her, I am struck by how many people with mental illness she touched. Her advocacy and willingness to talk about her mental illness gave so many people strength. So many are devastated by her loss because she gave them a voice, she became a beacon of how possible it is to have a mental illness (she had bipolar) and function amongst the living with it.
As the year draws to an end, this fucking awful year, I am reflecting on my own mental illness.
I have tried to hide it for so long, tried to band-aid over it and pretend it is really not all that bad.
I have ignored it. I have stacked rocks on top of it in an effort to keep it contained.
I have been kidding myself.
It is bad.
Like a blob with many tendrals, it eeks out, wraps itself around the neurones in my brain and squeezes the light out.
It has become dysfunctional and life has become increasingly difficult to live.
I have spoken a lot about how I have skirted with the idea of death but the truth is it is much worse than that.
I could never kill myself because I could never do that to my children. Instead, I live with an emptiness inside of me that feels like a gaping void. I stand on a precipice of a chasm. Ahead is a dark void and behind me is a distant light I have long since forgotten.
I experience no joy, no laughter, no interest in anything.
By default, my eyes, and my heart, only rest on the darkness in this world. Any positivity, any joy, any achievement by another person serves only to amplify my own place of darkness and so I avoid it at all costs. My brain actively seeks out the darkness. I reside in constant high alert.
It is an awful place to be.
It is cold, lonely, exhausting, terrifying.
To not feel any connection to another human being and to believe that you will never do so, is horrifying.
To truly believe that the world is a dark, cruel place and that those who experience joy and happiness are victims of delusion is debilitating.
And then to be told that you are defective as a human being for being unable to make those connections, for not being able to see the joy in living at all times, only serves to add to that debilitation.
It is the groundwork of seduction to suicide.
Life on these terms is unbearable. Death seems like a sweet prize to evade the pain of living.
This is not normal.
It is mental illness.
I used to believe that every human being is precious. I used to believe that every soul contributes to the fabric of humanity, each one of us like a patch on a patchwork quilt – different but important, and beautiful in our own right.
My faith in that has been fading for most of this year.
There was a time when I had hope – hope in humanity, hope in living a joyful life, hope for so many things.
My hope has been fading for most of this year.
We have bought a beautiful new home with the promise of renewing its vigour and building on its potential. Normally, this would excite me, invigorate me, inspire me.
Instead, I am empty.
I am fearful of this emptiness.
I am fearful of taking this emptiness with me, finding no place that offers respite, solace, peace.
I am fearful of getting to the end of my life and still feeling empty.
This is the very definition of mental illness.
My mental illness.
It is a void, an emptiness.
I am a carcass wandering through the corridors of life, entering no room, simply wondering, and wandering. Wondering if this is it. Wandering without a map.
The weight of all this emptiness is unbearable.
Like Atlas condemned to hold up the sky for eternity.
I cannot breathe.
I am the only one awake in the house and I cannot breathe.
The stillness belies the raging torrent going on inside my head.
Why am I writing this again? Why am I exposing myself like this?
Because I have to know that I exist. I have to leave something of myself behind.
This is my legacy.
Such as it is.
When I was 8, I read a book called Famous Women. It was not full of stories of celebrities to whom we place so much stock these days, but stories of women who were clever and smart and had made a mark on the world in some way that had made the world better for it. Women like Marie Curie – she is the only one I can remember – women of science, medicine, law. Women who most people are not aware of or know.
I wanted to be like those women. Even back then, forty years ago, I knew I wanted to make the world a better place, and I wanted to leave some mark on it that said I was here.
Except I had no belief in myself, or in the world.
I had no idea how best to serve the world. For this is what these women did. They served the world.
I had no idea that I had to serve the world.
For this is what mental illness is – it is indulgent and selfish, and forces you inward, to only see the darkness in your world. It does not allow you to create light, or be the light in anyone else’s world. It tells you that you are not worthy to be anyone’s light, that the world does not need or want your light, it convinces you that your soul is an anomaly, an abomination, a mutation, and must be snuffed out. It is the reason we withdraw, retreat, remain alone.
But I don’t want to listen. I want to fight Mental Illness, find some way to cohabit with her, so that we can find some way together. Carrie Fisher did that. She did not conquer mental illness, she cohabited with it. Learned to live with it, learned to function with it.
So I am trying to serve the world.
But the only way I know how to serve the world, and myself, is to put my thoughts down on paper and hope that somehow by writing about my pain, by shining a light, however dim, on my mental illness, it will help someone else to know that they are not alone.
There is a saying that says that a person experiences three deaths:
The first is when their soul leaves their body – when they exhale their last breath – when they die.
The second is when their human remains are either put into the ground, or incinerated.
And the third is when their name is uttered for the last time.
When you write, I believe, you never truly die, for someone somewhere, when they read your words, will utter your name. Surely?
I am obsessed with death. I am obsessed with the notion of dying before I have truly experienced contentment or joy.
I think about death a lot.
I have a mental illness.
I have decided to seek help.
Until next time,