When I was diagnosed with my first mental illness I was about fifteen years old.
It was explained to me like this…
…if you think of inherently happy people as being in the white and severely depressed people as being in the black…you live in the grey…
…and, to me, that made perfect sense. It truly resonated with how I was feeling and echoed how I had always felt. And that’s how I came to refer to my place in the world.
The space my mind inhabits: the grey zone.
And I am quite content there, to be honest.
But the thing about PDD is the potential for a shift. Many times those of us who exist in this grey zone will cross over the line and enter a different zone (so to speak). Though the shift, when it happens for me, is never ever in to the white. It is always a severe, and mostly unexpected, shift in to the black for an undetermined length of time.
And I am perfectly okay with that, to be honest.
You’re probably asking, “who the fuck would be okay with that?”
I would never ever want a dramatic shift in to the white. It is a place I have no trust in and the attempt to go there (again) terrifies me. But that doesn’t mean that I am never happy. Nor does it mean that I don’t want to be happy.
There is this notion that people with depression cannot experience happiness. That those of us with PDD and other disorders walk around sad and gloomy all the time.
The truth is, we can be happy. We do experience moments of joy.
In fact, it’s quite like people who are typically happy but feel like complete and utter fucking shit now and then? You know?
I have now lived with diagnosed mental illnesses for 23 years. More than half my life. And longer than any of my other chronic illnesses. The mess that is my mind is an oddly and awkwardly woven blanket that has come to bring me comfort.
Even though it has also brought me some of my darkest moments.
For the memory I have, I am grateful. But sometimes the scars it bears can make reflection quite difficult. If not an impossible task.
When we look back on things it isn’t always about exacting an image or attempting to conjure up proof. Sometimes we remember feelings.
Over the years there have been whispers about my grandmother. And her mental health struggles. But never anything concrete. She was eccentric and artistic. And I found her to be nothing short of magical.
She passed away several years ago, but I still miss her terribly.
I am fortunate to have her piano. I often times sit on the bench and drink in the memories of her, she played everything from simple nursery rhyme songs to classic rock to classical pieces with ease…fondly I remember her playing Teddy Bear’s Picnic when I was quite little, I remember her asking me to hold her cigarette as she played Elton John, I can taste the black licorice she kept near by…
My biological mother would taunt me with those whispers. I didn’t live with her after the age of eleven but visited (with less and less frequency) until some time just after my T1D diagnosis. And when we would argue she would always low blow with some remark about how I was nuts like my grandmother.
And those blows hit hard. Not only was that my beloved (paternal) grandmother she was speaking about but it felt like she was condemning me. Or cursing me.
For several years we didn’t speak. I was absent from an entire side of my family. And blamed for it even though, looking back on it, I was only a child. While all the other key players were adults.
An opportunity to reconnect came when I was in my mid-twenties. Under the advice of my then boyfriend (now husband), I allowed it. And for a time things seemed okay. Always somewhat superficial but pleasant enough to let that pass.
Until we announced our (successful) pregnancy. After that everything changed.
The whispers returned. Barely audible to start. Once our son arrived they became louder but only loud enough for my husband to hear. She would take advantage of their moments alone and attempt to sway him away from the idea that I could actually be a decent parent.
During what would be our last visit, she told my husband, while they were out walking the dogs, that she was putting her foot down and wanted us to move closer to them so she could help with child rearing…
…because you and I both know she will fail and fall apart. She can’t handle this. Do you want someone like that primarily responsible for raising your child? I can help…
By the end of the following month the relationship fell apart completely. And once again I was disconnected from step-siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins. And I was once again given singular responsibility for that. No one ever reached out, and I was firmly instructed by my step-father that I was not to either.
It’s funny. She was always convinced that I would turn out “nuts” like my beloved Grandma Margaret but that was never a fear of mine.
My greatest fear was (is) turning out to be like her.
Over the years many different strategies have been employed to treat my mental illnesses. MANY. And before anyone suggests exercise, a hobby, journaling, therapy or medication, please know that I’ve tried all of those.
And then some. Fuck. I have literally tried it all.
The thing is, it isn’t that easy. And the same thing doesn’t work for everyone.
I know folks with similar mental health struggles who exercise and find that to be a wonderful treatment. I know others who find talking to someone incredibly helpful. And I know some who find medication is the best way. While all diagnosed with the same mental illness the things that help them get through it are all quite different.
Just like Type 1 Diabetes.
Medication scares me. Which may seem odd because T1D dictates that I administer a drug (insulin) in order to survive. I specifically mean medication to help with mental illness. Well, anything in pill form makes me leary. Though I’m getting better about it.
Especially since I have prescriptions I need to take…
I had a significant mental breakdown about fifteen(ish) years ago. Not related to diabetes. It wasn’t burn out, but something much more encompassing. And it resulted in a really gnarly cocktail of pills that left me in a terrible state. I was completely unreachable. Constantly panicked. And unable to sleep.
I remember our friend coming to visit. He was a remarkably loving soul with similar mental illness struggles and a terrible drug addiction. He wanted to see what pills I had been taking and was shocked at the plentiful variety I laid out before him. His shock was startling to my husband but lost on me at the time.
Our friend Brandon had done every drug imaginable…twice. And was never sober for more than a couple of months during the last decade of his. He was a really lovely human. We lost him a few months after our son was born.
Whenever I told the doctor things didn’t appear to be working he would simply add another pill to the mix. Sometimes the quantity of one was increased. Sometimes it was a new addition entirely.
When I told him I still wasn’t sleeping he prescribed a rather strong antipsychotic that caused me to have horrific sleep hallucinations. I was now too afraid to sleep.
The doctor said everything was fine, these things take time, and I trusted him. Because he was a doctor. So I kept taking the pills.
I took those pills for two years. And rarely ever left my house.
When I was an early teenager things were difficult for me. The teasing and bullying of my pre-teen years followed me in to the first year or so of high school.
Girls didn’t like me. Boys taunted me. And all the teachers looked at me with a sort of pity.
I remember when I bought my discman. In fact, I still have it. Box and all. That device was my escape. Drop in a disc, pop in the head phones, and be whisked away to another place.
It brought me salvation.
And now it has aged me!
On bad days at school or work, or after an argument with my parents, I would often shuffle the contents at the bottom of my closet and sit on the floor. Door closed. And listen to music. It was like my own secret hideaway.
I know it drove my parents wild. And I know they thought it to be an odd thing to do.
In that small, dark space I felt at peace. Though often times I was self harming. Regardless, there was healing that occured. Or in the very least preservation. And sometimes that is all we are afforded. Because it is all we can do.
I love the dark.
I have no fear of it.
In some ways it levels the playing field. For even though we cannot see in it we can still feel in it. And, I would argue, in it we feel even more. Both the literal and figurative darkness offer the gift of perspective. Emotions we may have suppressed or been unaware of may suddenly surface and draw our attention to things that otherwise may have gone unnoticed.
The Silver Sovereign
Sometimes I have a hard time differentiating between my feelings.
Like am I feeling shitty because my blood sugars are elevated or are my blood sugars elevated because I feel shitty…am I feeling shitty because the grey zone is getting darker or is it darker because I feel shitty…am I emotional today because of hormones or are my moods shifting…are my moods shifting because of hormones or because my blood sugars are fucked?
There are times when how I feel mentally doesn’t manifest itself physically. And there are times that it does but I ignore it. While I’d like to be able to trust how I feel, my inability to rely on my own perception of self has led to misgivings.
What I have come to understand is that my days are no more difficult than the happy person over there, they’re just different. And my struggles need not be criticized nor corrected for comparison. Why compare at all?
The truth is I’m okay with not being okay.
And I think I have a right to be.
But I am the ruler of my own destiny.
Even if the final destination is a small safe zone in my own mind.