The Joy Of Recovery: Minnie In The Barn
I wrote last week about my experience with mental illness, and I thank the many people who wrote me in response to it, and thanked me for writing. I want to write about it again today, in a slightly different way. I want to write about the many fringe benefits of being mentally ill, including the joy of recovering, which is a constant and very meaningful part of suffering from this disease.
Of all of the things I learned about mental illness, and of all of the things I did to recover and learn to live with this chronic and common disease, the most important thing I learned was to come out of hiding and speak about it. For me, that was the path to healing. I not only talked about it, I started a blog in response to it. Come out, come out. The worst part of mental illness is the awful and lonely experience of hiding, of feeling ashamed and helpless.
The best thing about being mentally ill is that you get to recover again and again, and in so doing, you learn so much about yourself and about other people. The surprise about the mentally ill, say therapists and psychologists, is that they are not the crazy and angry people you keep hearing about, they tend to be gentle and compassionate.
When I finally faced up to the degree of my illness, after decades of struggling to hide it and avoid from and frighten and disturb the people close to me, I realized that there was no reason to be lonely. According to social scientists, 42.5 million Americans, about 18.2 per cent of the population, suffer from mental illness at some point every year.
If we voted, we could change the world.
For me, the wonder of mental illness is the constant experience of recovery. Sunday, I slipped into a dark place, a funk, the Black Dog came to sit with me, as they like to say. By Tuesday, I was fine, blogging, writing, taking photos, working on my book.
How did this happen?
The truth is, I have recovered a million times in my life. My whole life is a recovery. It is almost second nature to me, and that is something of a miracle. And I have had a lot of help, and it always helped. Now, I can help myself.
Mental illness can be devastating and incurable. Some people never recover. The doctors say the overwhelming majority do.
Once I understand what had happened to me in my life, and what I suffered from, then I began to understand myself in ways I never imagined. Once I stopped hiding from the fact that I suffered from chronic anxiety disorder and some depression, I began to learn how to be honest, more authentic. I began with small recoveries, a day at a time, an hour at a time. And they grew and grew.
My recoveries grow longer all the time, sometimes months, even years now.
There were many gifts. I had to learn who I was and what I was about. I had no choice. Most illnesses don't require that of people.
This understanding, this work and openness led directly to my writing more authentically, more intuitively, and to taking photos almost accidentally that were full of emotion. Because I was full of emotion, and I was learning to love it rather than hate it and fear it.
The mentally ill have much to write about and learn, they are very open to themselves, they have to experiment and change, and thus they grow stronger and more honest and knowing.
Mental illness opened me up and demanded that I work hard to regain my life. Almost immediately, I found love, it was right across the street. My illness gave me that gift and the ability to connect with someone in a healthy and powerful way.
Mental illness – depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder is a great teacher. We learn how to be empathetic, to stand in another's shoes. We know how to read people and strategize. We learn to be around healthy people, we learn that you cannot have a healthy relationship with an unhealthy person. Sooner or later, it must fail.
Because of my illness, I learned to deal with the anxiety and anger of the outside world, I have lived with it inside and outside of myself my whole life.
Politics and Facebook and President Trump are familiar to me, in all kinds of different ways, I have learned how to ground myself and calm myself and move in a positive way, and I have dealt with narcissistic and angry people all of my life, they are as familiar to me as my own hands. I have learned not to argue, but to do. I have gained great confidence in my ability to navigate the world, because I could take nothing about myself for granted.
When I realized I was slipping on Sunday – Maria was away for a week – I knew what to do. First, I wrote about it. Once you come out and admit you are crazy, then you have nothing to lose, nothing to hide, you liberated, free from hiding and shame and fear. Being authentic is a glorious feeling.
I get the chance to do that again and again, it moves me forward every time. Many chronic illnesses don't offer that opportunity. Mental illness gives me the chance to recover day after day, countless times. Each time is a victory, a boost. If you can't beat it, you can certainly live with it. It is the ghost in the room, present but not often dangerous.
On Sunday I wrote about it, then I stepped back. I meditated and took a peek inside of my head. I listened to Alison Krauss for an hour or two, it is sometimes good to have someone to brood with. Being sad is okay once in awhile, I deserve it once in awhile. I talked to Maria, who is nourishing and grounding for me. Talking to nourishing and grounding people – especially those who love you – is essential for people with mental illness, they are the miracle cure.
I didn't require help Sunday night, mostly because I knew it was there if I needed it, and I had needed it. And it helped. I realized this funk was an almost inevitable by-product of a week of turmoil, challenge and change. My world was upended when Maria left and my computer crashed, almost on the same day. Why wouldn't I crash too?
The curious truth is that it was no big deal. By Monday afternoon, I was fine, back to normal, the Black Dog ran off to find some another of the 42.5 million fellow travelers, he didn't have to go too far, I am sure. He seems to always have a place to sleep.
I smile when I think of Sunday. Somehow, I needed it. I have learned to live with triggers and to recognize them.
I am here to tell you that recovery is always a gift, and an affirmation, a rebirth and redemption. There is something rich and exhilarating about it.
I had a hospice patient who became a close friend who passed away a year ago after being stricken with a virulent cancer. Before he died, he took my hand and said he envied me my chronic illness of the mind. "You get to recover all the time."
I wanted to cry. I did