October 10, 2018
I am still here. I consider that an accomplishment. For most people, just waking up in the morning and putting a bra on doesn’t merit a celebration. But for me, depending on the day, it at least requires a modest amount of confetti. Living with a mental health disorder means there will be good days and there will be bad. On the days when feeling so deeply seems like a burden, I try and remember that breathing, moving within my skin, simply being- these are stripes I have earned.
I’ve talked about my journey living with bipolar disorder in articles, on social media, in speeches on stage, and within 280 pages of a book- but there are still some words I keep to myself. The words that explain how a mental health journey doesn’t stop when the last page of a memoir is turned. The words that tell monotonous stories of daily work and gradual improvement. The words that are the reality of the path to mental health care and recovery. Slow. Steady. Tough. Worthwhile. But maybe the hardest to give voice to is what is really meant by ‘tough’: nonlinear.
The road to recovery is rarely straightforward. It winds. Some days it is freshly, smoothly paved, and others it is steep and rocky. There have been days when I travel mostly in reverse. Even though I get treatment, even though I advocate for mental health awareness and education, even though I get to do fun work and have a full life- I still experience depression. My bipolar disorder-induced low cycles have no rhyme or reason, other than keeping me on my toes and guaranteeing I always have under-eye bags. During these setbacks, hope and light are hard to find. As if the strength in my printed and spoken words is a world away. But I have to remind myself that this is not a quick trip with a simple fix, it is a journey. Slow. Steady. Tough. Worthwhile. I still have to fight for my stripes.
On those days, when it feels like the path is obstructed, I must rejoice every single inch I can tread along. And so the streamers are hung for the full removal of my pajamas in the morning. Confetti is thrown while a brush runs through the bird’s nest I call hair. A parade is in order if I can start the shower. I know I must fight to get to tomorrow. And so breathing, moving, being- I celebrate those feats. Because I remember a time when they were not guaranteed. And slowly, steadily, those triumphs restore the light.
We need to talk about the journey more. We need to explain what happens after someone is brave enough to get treatment or go to therapy. We need to lose the shame and find pride in the fact that we get challenged, we get tired, but we keep moving. Everyday, we earn our tomorrows. We need to say the words aloud.
Depression, anxiety, low cycling, panic attacks- they can seem like boulders blocking your road. They might appear insurmountable and sometimes their intimidating scale can set you back. But when you find a way to fight on throughout those days, celebrate how impressive that is. Celebrate how much strength is in your legs when you choose to step forward. How much heart it must take to feel so deeply. How tough the skin that has bled and scarred over must be. Celebrate being a survivor. Because surviving means you get the chance to change your tomorrow. You will attack it head on with sharpened wisdom and strengthened armor.
Remember that tomorrow needs you. Tomorrow needs your enlightened mind, your veteran heart, the colors only you can paint, the stories only you can write. The words only you can speak. So when the morning comes, and you open your eyes, say the words. Celebrate it and consider it an accomplishment. You are still here.