In my initiative with We Are Alive, I was prepared to share my story with the world. Granted, I was scared -- terrified really -- at laying myself bare. But the feedback was strong. Fortifying. And that's the reason I write today.
I fear that in my original post and the ones written by subsequently, I have given the impression that life becomes easier for those suffering from mental illness with just a little persistence. That everything was sunshine and rainbows once you opened your hand for a little white pill. And I want you to know that was wrong, even if 75% my truth.
Before anyone becomes overly concerned. I want to quote a very wise Greek philosopher, Megara. "I'm a damsel. I'm in distress. I can handle this. Have a nice day." Because I am. I've got years under my belt of psychologist recommended tricks and psychiatrist prescribed medications. I have a metaphorical tool-belt. But that doesn't mean that this reality is fiction. It is very, very real.
And that reality is a relapse.
Relapses are just as common among the mentally ill as the addicts and the midnight drunken texters. They produce the same feelings of shame and the same disconcertion for the days to follow. They can be long-lasting or just a fleeting moment. I was lucky this time. It was just a thought.
I won't describe what exactly led me down my bad habit rabbit hole once again, but I will tell you what led up to it. I was back in the States again -- a place laden with so many ghosts that sometimes it's just hard to rest in those familiar spaces -- and I had lost some autonomy over my life, something I had come to cherish in my life abroad. So when someone close to me expression some derision of my choices, and we argued, I was distraught. I wasn't strong. I was in fact quite a mess. And I had a fleeting thought that gripped me: "I understand why Demi Lovato overdosed now."
Now, that may seem a bit overdramatic, to be using the sobriety case of a celebrity to cope with current personal events, but that's the way my mind worked, OK? And that thought, so superficial and momentary in purpose, worked itself around and around in my head, spiraling me right back to where I had been two years ago.
I want to clarify something right now though: Just because these thoughts happen doesn't mean you give into them. The human psyche is an amazing thing. And for those of us who have experienced the brunt of mental illness, we are far more adept at maneuvering our "dark times" than people give us credit for. Take Betty for example (name changed). I met her during my brief sting in the hospital. She was 79 and on her 7th in-patient treatment. And yet she smiled at me and told me about her son and their close relationship and how he was visiting soon. I often think to myself, if Betty could do it, so can I.
Because even the most educated medical professionals will tell you that there is no magic cure. In fact, my psychiatrist (aka my current BFF) told me that the road to recovery is not a straight incline. There are dips and climbs and dips and climbs. He told me to expect those moments of weakness. One of my many psychologist in my lifetime gave me the best advice that when these "dark thoughts" pervade your mind, accept them. Breathe them in. Hold them close and then let them go. Don't shame yourself for feeling them. Be gentle with yourself and acknowledge them while all the while realizing you are so much better than that.
So I did a little research. Of course. And this is what I found:
Triggers are real and they are proof that the devil is alive and well. Know yourself and be willing to acknowledge the chinks in your armor. These can be as obvious as stopping or personally altering your medication, or as subtle as daily stressors and conflicts in your relationships. Stigma. Poor physical health. Mental health is at its strongest when there is harmony between the individual and her or his environment.
The signs are always there. Altered sleeping patterns. Social isolation. Lack of hygiene. Increase in risk-taking behaviors. Finding it difficult to concentrate. Eating too much or too little.
But the resources are there too. Confide in someone. Confide in the world (I'll sit down now). Allow yourself to free yourself from societal expectations and engage in what makes you feel alive.
There's nothing wrong with a relapse, as dirty of a word as society makes it. It can be small or it can be a huge step back. But neither of these means it is the end of the line. I'm honestly grateful for my momentary relapse. It proved I wasn't invincible.
So take the time and breathe. You're allowed to be human -- in fact, it's encouraged. Forgive yourself and the world will too.