This blog entry may be a bit longer than what I normally write, but this subject matter is heavy on my heart and forefront on my mind this weekend. I state unequivocally that I am no expert when it come to Mental Illness, but I have been both a patient diagnosed with depression, and a human being directly affected by other’s diagnoses. I really don’t have the time to sit here at my desk right now, but I can’t afford not to share my heart right. Time is irrelevant at this precise moment, I’ll get done what I need to do later. Right now I have to share…
My heart hurts today for more than one reason. First, today is our 38th wedding anniversary and because of COVID-19, my husband and I are unable to be together. He has been hospitalized almost 7 months now, and I haven’t seen him in 7 weeks. Yes, it sucks, but it’s for the best. Not only for him, but for all the patients at the Richmond, Virginia VAMC. I understand with my head why I cannot see him in person, but the heart wants what the heart wants and I miss him. I would give anything to hold his hand, hug him and feel his warmth. I can’t. It’s just that simple. I also hurt because tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I am separated from my beloved younger daughter and her children. Mother’s Day is a stark reminder of all that I’ve lost because of someone else’s mental illness. Our oldest daughter threw us away right after Mother’s Day weekend of 2018. In fact, the last time I heard her voice was the day before. After two years I have learned to let go and not focus on the constancy of the pain I feel, but the sting is ever present. Losing our grandchildren is a much harder pill to swallow. I pray for our lost daughter every night, that she find peace of mind, and I let go. Every day, I let her go. She no longer exists as she has been replaced by a woman with a different name and an entirely different personality. Both my husband and I miss what was, and I can sleep at night knowing that we were good parents, we loved our daughter and we learned the hardest way possible what love really costs. We have lost our oldest though her body still lives. Our daughter has been ravaged by mental illness, and like any chronic condition, if you don’t, or won’t, treat your illness or disease, it will eventually become the driving force of your life. A negative driving force.
My heart hurts because I find myself struggling with the ghosts of my own mental illness. I had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder with homicidal tendencies because of events that transpired long ago. I sought help before I went through with the act of homicide and I have walked out the advice and guidance of my doctors, my therapist, and others who have helped me over these past 20+ years. The self-isolation I live in right now because of the Coronavirus pandemic has triggered many painful memories, but none of them so hurtful that I need to seek inpatient treatment. I would, and have considered it more than one since February, but I maintain the lines of communication with my therapist. She is my first line of defense against the dark thoughts that start to invade my mind. I have felt the suffocation of loneliness here in this tiny apartment, spent many nights tossing and turning because I can’t get my brain to shut off, and cried out to God for relief from the pain. I am not a religious person, but I do believe. Religion hurts so many people, spirituality is comforting to me. Most believers would call me a hypocrite, it’s okay. I love people with all their faults and demons and misgivings. It’s not for me to judge. Ever. If I’m to be judged at the pearly gates someday, I hope to be able to own all my faults like I do here on earth. Anyway, as for mental illness, I have struggled and know I will again. I believe my struggles help me feel empathy for others and those same struggles give me strength to dig deep within and keep going. I love my life in spite of all the heartaches I’ve experienced, and I am still determined to seek the smallest moments of joy. If I weren’t willing, what would be the point of moving forward?
My heart hurts for those around me I see struggle with issues of their own and there is nothing I can do to change their path. Life is hard, but beautiful, even when the hard things are all you can see. There is no shame in reaching out to others for help when you find yourself in situations that you can’t figure out on your own. I feel like there is more shame in denying that there is something amiss in your life. Educating yourself about whatever you are facing takes a great deal of strength. Shame is not healthy, we all know that. Pride is very often mistaken for shame, and pride can destroy not only you, but those around you. It’s not shameful to be mentally ill, just like it’s not shameful to have cancer, or kidney disease, or to be recovering from a catastrophic stroke. I left my pride back in Boston in November of 2017 and have been reminded many times over just how necessary that was. I am not weak. I have been hurt. I have hurt others. I’m learning every day that strength and fortitude come from the weakest and darkest moments of our lives. If we allow ourselves to let go of our pride and learn from the lessons experienced through the falls we take, we come back stronger, wiser and more apt to help others deal with their issues. Other people need to know that they can make it through whatever they’re facing because someone else has been there and done that. Sharing your experiences with someone that is struggling or hurting can be a balm to their broken spirit. If you know of someone that hurts for whatever reason, let them know they can reach for your hand and that you’ll help carry their burdens. Telling someone what to do isn’t helpful, in my experience, it automatically brings out defensiveness. Instead of telling someone what to do, ask questions instead. Ask what you can do to help. Ask if there is anything they need. Ask. Don’t tell. If you’re met with the automatic “no” that most of us give as an answer, don’t be discouraged. Just let them know they’re not alone, that you’re available to listen if they need to talk and give them space. I know the triggers that signify a depressive event may be coming on for me. I had to learn them through trial and error over many years time. I know I am loved. I know I can reach out to people. And I do. Not everyone has that knowledge, but everyone can learn.
My heart hurts when I think too much about the unknowns my future holds and I feel myself slipping into dark thought processes. I have carried enormous weight on my shoulders since my husband’s stroke, but I haven’t had to do it all alone. Nor do I have to face the future alone. I have had to seek help. I have had to realize that I am not alone. I have had to realize that while I may feel incompetent, I am not. Lately I have been feeling that I don’t have a purpose in this life anymore. I live alone. I eat alone. I sleep alone. Alone. Ugh… not my favorite word, though it is factual. It’s true that my purpose is not exactly clear to me at this moment in time, but I keep pushing through the darkness. I get vertical. I pray. I walk my dog. I call family and friends. I hear the sweet voices of my SC grand-kids and my heart melts. There is purpose in the melting. I give the shoulders that bear so much weight to my daughter and let her cry on them when she needs to. I am a mother. There’s another purpose. I hold the hands of another hurting mom I know and while we hold hands virtually, she knows I am there for her. There’s purpose showing up again. Not being able to care for my husband on a daily basis has wreaked havoc on my mind, and I’m strong enough in my weakness to admit that I’ve let that havoc wreaking happen. I know I am not banned from seeing him because of something I’ve done, but guilt and loneliness have found fertile ground in which to grow because of the ban on visitation. Something completely out of my control… Purposefulness is something we all need to feel, and when it hides from us for long periods of time, it’s hard to rediscover. Writing this blog entry today became a purpose and I’m glad I took time away from the things I NEED to do to do something I WANT to do. It helps me immensely to put the words in my heart out there and know that someone else may benefit from them. Encouraging others = purpose.
In closing I’d like to say thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I have much to be thankful for, and hope that you do as well. Yes, life is hard. Darkness and strife are all around us, but so is joy. If you’re feeling off, call a friend, or your mom, or anyone you trust and just say hello. Let the conversation flow naturally. Share your heart, laugh, cry and remember always to be kind. To others and especially to yourself… until next time…