The kindest thing I ever heard my father say about me is that I was smart. Really smart. My father never spoke for the sake of being kind. If reality happened to be kind, then so be it. So, when I heard him tell his long-time friend that his daughter, who he scarcely seemed to notice, was smart, I was determined to be the most intelligent girl I could be.
My natural affinity for language and learning fueled my ambitions, making my scholastic endeavors an enjoyable and seemingly effortless foundation of my personality. My hand would shoot in the air to answer a question before the teacher was done asking as my mind flipped through piles of information and found the answer just in time.
Everything changed during my Junior year of high school. My brain short-circuited, or so it seemed, and I stopped paying attention in class. I started failing assignments or not turning them in at all. I slept through entire days and stopped washing my clothes. Where I once craved human interaction, I began to seek solitude. I frequently ate beyond the point of feeling full in a desperate attempt to gain the control I had lost. I gained twenty pounds, buried my confidence in a crater of embarrassment, and settled down for long-term residence under the overhang of “you-could-do-better-if-you-just-tried-harder.”
I limped along with a subsistence existence for the rest of high school and well into my twenties. When the darkness seemed about to overtake me, I would relent my unattainable expectations and call a professional for help. After I dropped off the newly prescribed medicine at the pharmacy, a massive burden was lifted off my shoulders. “Now’ I would tell myself, ‘now everything will be alright.”
Within a month, I would begin to return to a recognizable version of my former self. My eating patterns normalized, and I started to lose weight. I signed up for classes at the local University, exercised daily, and took great pains with my physical appearance. I sought out social interactions and dazzled everyone with charismatic storytelling. My reading comprehension returned, and I once again felt like I was smart, which meant I felt of value.
Stability was a splendid place to be. Unfortunately, as is common among so many, I quickly forgot how painful life off medication was. I convinced myself that psychiatric assistance was no longer necessary because there wasn’t anything wrong with me in the first place. Or, I would acknowledge that day-to-day living was a little bit difficult but that I could manage it with a regular sleep schedule, daily exercise, and proper nutrition. Inevitably I stopped showing up for scheduled appointments and stopped refilling my prescriptions. The cycle began again.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II fourteen years ago. For thirteen of those years, I put myself, and those I love, through a continuous revolution of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When I was not one or the other, I was embarrassed. I was unwilling to accept that I was ill. How smart could I really be if I could not manage my emotions? And, if I wasn’t smart, what did I have to offer? My expectations were akin to someone with a broken leg flogging themselves for not being able to walk. Irrational, futile, and a notion I would shudder to hang over anyone else.
The thirteen years were not all sorrow and anguish. I had many occasions to cross paths with pure joy. I married the love of my life, and together, we brought four tiny people into the world. About a year after our last child was born an experience with my oldest son, then 5, taught me about the healing powers of acceptance and grace.
He was an excitable little helper, always wanting to do what his dad was doing. I would often see him mimic his father with his best five-year-old attempt. One day they were bringing in the groceries, and my son tried to carry in a bag that was obviously too heavy for him. In a couple of seconds, the contents were rolling all over the driveway. My husband could have been angry. He could have scolded our son for making a mess. He did not. He knelt, looked our son in the eye, and told him how proud he was of him for trying to help. He handed him a couple loaves of bread to bring inside and praised him again for his efforts. My son proudly delivered the bread to me and declared, “The bag was too heavier for me. I am way much gooder at carrying bread.”
His words taught me two valuable lessons. The first lesson what that accepting limitation is something everyone must do in one way or another. For me, the limitation is managing my moods on my own. The evidence of the previous thirteen years proves it. Second, my disadvantage in no way diminishes my value. I am not loved less because I take medicine to stabilize my moods. I am no less intelligent and capable of helping, learning, and growing.
I am confident that my family tried to teach me these lessons countless times. Regrettably, I could not hear them because I was too invested in the narrative of worthlessness that I told myself.
Giving myself grace has given me freedom. I funnel my energy into the marvelous people and opportunities that surround me. When I have a particularly stressful day, I acknowledge it for what it is; one day. I can wake up the next morning without marinating in my perceived shortcomings.
I will have a mental illness for the duration of my life. Acceptance of my reality allows me to give myself the grace necessary to work with it instead of trying to work my way out of it. I have come to find that mental illness is not a judicial sentence for a lifetime of misery and grief. Sustainable happiness can be found.
Author Bio: Tessa Johnson is a mother of four and a wife of one. I create literature that reaches the heart of the reader at literarymarvel.com by writing in ways the intended audience will understand.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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