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Coming out of the mental illness closet

Bits and pieces of my self come floating back to me. Each day I usually feel a little more whole, a little more composed. How odd. I definitely don’t recognize myself.

One day, I even woke up not feeling bipolar. Not feeling “different,” or “apart from” or like an alien on my own planet and a stranger among my own species. It’s been two steps forward, one step back. It hasn’t always been that way, though. For years it was one big landslide straight to hell.

The battle has been won for now, but the war rages on. I am still trying to recover my inner world. I broke into a million pieces, and no broom will ever sweep up all of them. I will forever be without some pieces, and I am not yet ready to say goodbye. Part of me still can’t believe this happened.

I didn’t just go to the edge and back: I pitched a tent and stayed there. I languished and rotted on the sidelines, and no one would let me back in the game. I gave up on myself. My life did not belong to me; it was not mine. I think I visited no man’s land while I was away.

Loneliness and pain were my only friends. Everyone else had deserted me. Death was never far – sometimes I could feel him breathing on my cheek. I even wrote a poem about his wanting reach through the darkness to make me his bride. At night I could almost feel my organs shutting down. I thought I would die of toxic levels of sadness. Humiliation and degradation were my captors. Loneliness engulfed me. I think I breathed it instead of air, sometimes.

I’m like a stroke victim learning to walk and talk again. The sunlight feels strange on my face, and I’m surprised when I experience joy. These are my old friends; I remember them now. I miss my old self, though.

What would have happened if Rosa Parks had never refused to sit at the back of the bus? She sparked a revolution. That is courage, and that is what makes an ordinary life extraordinary.

That is all I have the power to do: tell my story; tell the truth. I have nothing else. I am a beggar, otherwise, as the illness took my worldly goods along with my self. Every last remnant of the person I was is gone. I have memories, though, and my heart breaks anew each day. At least I have a heart. I didn’t for so long. That went with the illness too. Sometimes I swear it wasn’t beating, but then, I wouldn’t know, since I left my body because it hurt too much. I could not bear to stand by and watch what was happening to me.

My life is moving forward now. I want access to my inner self again. Without it, I am without a compass or map. Who am I now? My life has been shortened. Ten years were surgically removed without anesthesia. I don’t know how to begin to heal. I feel the need to live in fast-forward.

Winston Churchill said that he had nothing to offer but “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” I have nothing to offer but my story. Tears are coming; they’re on their way. I miss being able to cry. I miss being alive.

This is what bipolar disorder looks like. This is its ugly face. It is a disease of the self, a corrosive acid that disfigured me beyond recognition for 10 years.

Psychiatry is not a pseudoscience. Mental illness isn’t funny, and there is nothing romantic about “madness.” Psychosis might be fun to joke about, but only if it’s never happened to you. I don’t ever want to hear anyone refer to the weather as “schizophrenic” ever again. I have a permanent grudge against a local TV weatherman for that. Ignorance is a luxury no one can afford.

I am “coming out” of the medicine closet and flying into the face of the stigma. I will do whatever it takes. I will not participate in my own marginalization by remaining silent. The illness and the stigma must be exposed for what they are. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but the stigma is.

Courage, people. Don’t sit at the back of the bus anymore.