“There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you’re high it’s tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one’s marrow. But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are far too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption on friends’ faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against– you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and enmeshed totally in the blackest caves of the mind. You never knew those caves were there. It will never end, for madness carves its own reality.”
― Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
I was at school today and it was my first day back among the students since summer break down here in “Oz”. I decided at lunch to go out in the yard, see who I could find and catch up. I came across a young girl, who I have had a decent amount of contact with and was able to help her and her family with one of our Christmas hampers. I can’t go into details or give you her name, but trust me when I say that this sweet girl is a gem…she is a survivor….she is bright….she has more potential than most dozens of students combined. But she is struggling and she shared with me how over Christmas break a close family member was admitted to a mental hospital and diagnosed with “bi-polar disorder”. She shared how she was alone at lunch because she was stressed about life and what had happened over Christmas…she was not feeling well.
As we talked she said the doctors told her that there was a 50/50 chance she could develop bi-polar….she was worried because she felt like she was already showing “symptoms”, but nothing could be diagnosed or done now, because of how young she is. I could feel her anxiety…I could feel her feeling like a freak….or the worry that one day she would be identified as one.
I told her she was very self-aware for her age and that THAT could really work for her in the future. I highlighted her being in puberty and how that sucks ANYWAY, even in the best of circumstances, let alone when dealing with a very stressful, not-so-typical life. I then told her that lots of people struggle with mental health and it’s nothing to be ashamed of and just something that needs to be managed. I then, being careful of boundaries, alluded to my own struggles….
And I saw it….for a quick, brief second, a flicker in her eye…a movement of her face…it was relief maybe….or contented realization that someone else was struggling or had struggled with similar issues she is facing (and will probably face in the future) and was a “normal” functioning member of society. I saw it…something, dawning on her….in her face….and it was like she hadn’t heard it yet….she hadn’t heard that you can be a little bit broken…a little bit different….a little bit “off”….and still thrive. And I was glad I told her….I was glad and I thought “Why is this sort of thing still so hidden in certain circles?? Why is mental health still so tabboo among many where it shouldn’t be??”
So I felt lead tonight, in a PMSing, possibly a bit manic state, to write this.
You see, I have always, always, ALWAYS since I can remember, been what some may call, “emotional”, “intense”, “full on”, “dramatic”, “moody”, “extreme”….you get the picture. If for some reason you don’t believe me, ask my parents and they will confirm my past and what it was like raising me in ALL my emotive glory….then ask my husband and he will confirm what I am STILL like.
I have felt everything in BIG ways since I was small. “Sensitive” or “OVER sensitive” was another word/phrase that has been used on me too. It’s like I feel everything…whether I want to or not….very rarely do I have a “middle ground”, though as an adult I regulate myself a bit better, my norm is to feel everything around me….so either REALLY happy….or REALLY sad.
At one point in my life…when I was finally realizing that how I was might not fall into the scope of “normal” and where friends were urging me to get help, I was being checked by a psych to see if I had bi-polar….it was decided that I did not, because I don’t exhibit the extreme behaviors (like maxing out a credit card on a BMW when I’m manic, though how fun would that be?!) that usually come with it. It was decided that my extreme emotions were how I “coped” with the ups and downs of life. So extreme highs and extreme lows, but not quite over into the bi-polar realm….though I do have days, where I wonder if I should be checked again…who knows. Either way, it was the start of a journey where I really started to understand myself and my past, my childhood suddenly became a lot more clear.I seemed to be hard-wired to feel too much an I needed help navigating that aspect of who I was….desperately.
It was around then (my very early 20’s) that I was first prescribed an antidepressant, and let me just say that at THAT time of life, those meds saved my life, gave me the capacity to breathe again, to be in the world without feeling every little thing, to learn how to cope with who God made me to be.
It was hard at first, feeling good and different….in control….peace I had never really felt within myself….all because of some pills….because it meant I had to acknowledge that something in me needed some “tweeking” and for awhile, I struggled to be secure in myself regardelss of the meds. Now days, when I do speak with people who are not coping with their own mental health issues or who are refusing to acknowledge that medication might actually help them with this hurdle, I remind them that diabetics take insulin and people with asthma use an inhaler. Medical/chemical depression is about the brain and helping it function better in a more healthy way, is no different than managing any other part of the body that is “acting up”. I tell them that and I believe it…because it’s true!
Over the years, I realize that who I am, IS who I am. My extreme emotions, make me who I am…my ability to feel for other people like it’s myself going through whatever is happening, spurs me onto action in ways that if I was more “not intense”, I don’t think I would push so hard or advocate where I do. It has also made me very in tuned to other’s mental health and brutally empathetic. I now what it’s like to have dreams, desires, a brain that is pretty switched on but at times TOO switched on, so one comes across a little bit crazy…”too intense”, so over the top that focus is often hard or comes in sporadic chunks of time…..OR to be so overwhelmed with life and ALL that is felt from it, that getting out of bed is just not an option.
And so I feel like as a feminist woman….who IS now comfortable with exactly how God made me, I need to speak up for those of us, who maybe were made with a bit too much of something and maybe not enough of something else….those of us that feel SO strongly at times, we can’t contain it….and then at other times, we are so exhausted by our feelings, we shut down and choose to feel nothing for awhile. Because in both those highs and lows, God is still using us….He is still guiding us through….teaching us how to manage both ends of our extreme spectrum….
I’m glad I found that student today….I am glad that while I hardly told her anything specific about me, just the hint that I had struggled with similar issues she was facing, was enough to let her know she wasn’t alone, she wasn’t defective, she wasn’t useless and it was going to be okay. I saw it in her face….and I am speaking up on this, to hopefully encourage others to reach out to those around them who they know or suspect are having mental health struggles OR if they are the one struggling, I hope they feel the freedom to be honest about who they are, embrace it, harnass it and start to look at this struggle as a gift and a talent that can and WILL be used by God.
I am not unaware of the spiritual side of mental health and I tend to know when I am “down” because I need to get back in touch with God and let Him speak to me….and when I am desperate, out of control and prayer is barely an option because of what is going on in my head. I think as Christians we still need to work on our sensitivity towards this issue. Not all depression can be cured by praying more, loving Jesus more or denying oneself more. I do think the church in general is getting much more “savvy” about this issue and is more aware of how to help (and how not to, maybe more importantly), but I have heard things said, implying that “most” depression with Christians really needs to be spiritually examined and I think comments like that are unhelpful and event harmful to those who are struggling.
Being someone that struggles with the benefits and pitfalls of extreme emotions, I can honestly say that I still have days where I wish I could change it about myself…but then, I know God knew what He was doing when He made me….and so I just keep trying to grow and learn how to use how God made me, for His glory….and along the way, give others the courage to do the same.