For the past four days, I have been steadily transforming our home from a dusty, cluttered space into a space into which I will be proud to invite guests. I’ve also done a lot– a. lot. — of silent introspection. Doing away with the layers of dust and piles of laundry has meant that I had to face the demons inside me that allowed our home to get that state of disarray in the first place.
Pair my ungraceful motherhood transition with a hefty dose of serious depression… the situation here at home has been a recipe for those layers of dust that have accumulated throughout the house. Once those dust layers had settled, well, they fed my depression steadily and helped to lower my already low self-esteem. After all: if I couldn’t do something simple like keep the house clean, what did that say about me as a person?
I know myself and the chain of events that led to those piles of dust well enough to know that there’s no part of the situation that could have been any different. I shattered myself by illness perspective and circumstance on many fronts.
Shattered. I repeat the word because that much emphasis on my shattered abilities is appropriate. I was completely and totally shattered by my perceived loss in ability. I didn’t understand what was happening to me and I was angry. I felt out of control. My perceived absence of control materialized as my perceived inability to care for my surroundings. It was all I could do to fall into survival mode, as I cared for my children and myself and J as best I could. I’ve operated in only survival-mode for years now. All stability of my expectations for any potential future occupations fell by the wayside. Uncertainty and instability swept my already low self-esteem far, far away.
The situation remained as such for much of the previous seven years. That’s a long time. It’s almost more time than is possible for me to wrap my brain around.
So, what’s changed? What happened this week that gave me the energy and insight to get out of the recliner and start caring for and about my environment, my house and, by extension– myself?
A recent physical health issue has given me hope that my mind, which I’d long since banished away as defective, isn’t so defective after all. There is something physical to which I can now point and say, “This causes at least a little bit of my issues.”
The stigma that surrounds mental illness, as I have experienced it, lends unspeakable amounts of shame to the way I have long felt about myself. I know plenty about experiencing stigma. In my case, my stigma is equally self-imposed, as is any stigma coming from outside myself. That stigma has translated to a paralyzing loss of hope. I’ve long felt utter terror about the potential lack of any sort of enjoyable future for my life, in my more depressed days.
In the case of the before-mentioned physical illness: I instantly felt better about myself when I heard I suffer from a physical illness for which there is a treatment method. Unfortunately, however: the reason I feel better about myself has to do with the hope that maybe some of my problems do not stem from mental illness. Maybe at least some of my mood issues have come about due to the physical problem that comes along with my illness.
I’ve bought into the mental illness stigma our world perpetuates on a daily basis. I’ve dealt with mental illness daily in some way or other for nearly nineteen years and I have wholeheartedly bought into the stigma. I’ve bought into the lie that mental illness is lesser– that I am somehow lesser because I have a mental illness. I’ve dealt with my own mental illness for nearly nineteen years and I should know better. I should know that mental illnesses are equally as valid as any physical problem and that my mental illness does not speak to my character. Yet, here I am, grasping at the hope that I have a physical problem that explains some of my behavior and my moods, at least in part.
After all these years, I’ve learned nothing about how to fight the world’s stigma against mental illness. After all these years, I am still running away from my mental health diagnosis, full-steam. Those stigmas have been just as stifling as my real health situation and in my case, my health remains unchanged, as of yet. I still have a mental illness. I will always fight my natural tendencies to cave into that mental illness, to bend to its will. The terror and shame from the stigma, though…that has lifted somewhat because my own self-imposed stigma lessens a little bit through my new physical diagnosis. I’ve lifted some of the stigma I’ve imposed on myself all these years because of my physical health…
Quite tragically, it means that I have learned nothing of compassion toward my own mental illness. And for that fact, I feel sad. I want to know and, thus, behave better. For myself, for others.