As I pushed my loaded shopping cart into lane 12 of my local grocery store I found myself behind a man with a cart full of items. I was in for a wait, so I leaned against the cart and began surveying the candy. Deciding against the sweets, I began to skim the magazines to my left: Oprah, Good Housekeeping, and People. I turned to the right and read a few covers of more magazines placed in the rack: Soap Opera Digest, Star, and Healthy Living.
It was the latter cover that caught my attention. Catherine Zeta-Jones, with her smiling face, but her eyes lined in shadow, seemed empty and…lost. The headline reads: “Living with Bi-Polar (Mental Illness),” at this moment I think, “Yes. I understand. Myself and so many I know. Yes. We understand.”
You see, for me, mental illness has become a place where compassion and real life have collided. Although this has not always been the case. I used to harbor anger and bitter resentment.
You may be able to think of a number of people in your life, people with mental illness or mental disorders who have greatly affected and continue to affect your life. For me this is my mom.
Living with someone who has a mental illness creates a myriad of situations. Somedays are the best days of your lives while others seem to come from a terrifying nightmare of a horror movie. That’s how I viewed it, that’s how I lived it. I embraced the amazing moments and dismissed the oddities as if they were not part of my story, not part of my life.
This created confusion for me as I began to venture out in the world on my own. I was incredibly sensitive to others “thinking” I was weird. I did not want to turn into my mom. As if that’s how it works, you magically turn into someone who is labeled as a person with Mental Illness.
I did not address any of the emotions until much later in life. The way I had chosen to deal with them allowed me to be identified as a happy person. After all, I choose to only identify with the happy moments. This served me well through the bulk of my life; it kept my energetic vibration high and really wonderful people were drawn to me. However, there came a time that I could no longer keep all of it hidden. It was as if some unseen force was pushing me to address how I felt about the circumstances that I was put in.
There are many instances that I can share with you but I’ll just share a couple here so you can get the idea of some of the situations I experienced. I was 9 years old and my mom called the police and told them that “people” where coming into our apartment, living in our attic and rearranging the dust all the while switching out my designer clothes for potato sack clothes.
It was just the two of us, where could I turn? There was no one to help, this was my “normal”. It did not feel right, but it was what I knew. Once I began to address my feelings; it took me years of feeling through the experiences that I had, but eventually I got to a place that not only had I found forgiveness for what I went through, but more importantly I found immense compassion.
After truly making an effort to spend time with my mom and having some really open conversations about what her life experience was like, from her perspective…I came to the realization of how terrifying it must be for her. She expressed to me that she hears voices, telling her ugly things about herself and others. Now I imagine these “voices” are not like what I hear from my ego with ugly self-talk, I imagine them to be a much more dominant force. I contemplated how scary it must be to walk through life with your own head consistently “whispering horrible statements”. This allowed me to soften, forgive and really find so much compassion for my mom.
Today my mom is medicated and does not experience the episodes that she once used to, but that has changed her as well. I notice now that she is medicated, that she does not have the capacity to feel the depth of life that I have the privilege of. Please know that each of us has our own battles and love and compassion can overcome any perceived obstacle. If you have a loved one with mental illness, one of the most important things you can do is to invest the time to understand the dynamics so you can learn to forgive what they may have done to you and learn how to best deal with it move forward.