Yesterday I got the news that I’m losing one of my best friends of 16 years. He’s someone I’ve known pretty much since birth. He’s giving and loving and very furry. He’s my cat.
And while I can understand that not everyone will fully comprehend the bond between a human and animal, you will just have to take my word for it that the news put me into shock and I am now grieving what will very soon become a physical loss.
And, of course, a trauma like this (yes, it is a trauma) will make my bipolar disorder blow up. Bipolar makes grief worse and grief makes bipolar disorder worse.
Recently a received a message from someone who was very distressed because her family wouldn’t accept her because of her mental illness. Her family hadn’t cut her out of their lives, necessarily, but they didn’t understand bipolar disorder and just waved her off telling her to “take her meds.” They made no effort to support her dealing with her mental illness.
And to this woman, family was everything. She didn’t think she could live without the support of her family.
And while I know that family is critically important to some people, I’m here to tell you: you can live with a mental illness, with bipolar disorder, without the support of your family.
Today my anxiety really flared up. I suddenly found I had less time to get to a bus that took me to a train that took me to another bus that took me to a hotel. And if I missed that last bus in the chain, there wasn’t another for five hours. And I still had to pack and get dressed and eat cake and just, in general, get ready.
And this freaked me out – or, put another way, this created some instantaneous, nasty stress and anxiety. My mother tried to help with the anxiety. It didn’t work.
I once had a very nice girl tell me that I was hard to get to know. I was surprised at this. I feel like I’m an open and honest person and if you want to know something about me, you can just ask and I’ll generally answer.
I didn’t prod her for more details when she said it, although I probably should have. What I think she might have meant was that I was hard to get to know emotionally. I think what she was saying is that I wasn’t showing my emotions around her and that was the hard part to get to know. This girl, in particular, wore her emotions on her sleeve, so I can understand the disconnect. She was right. My emotions are hidden. But that’s because not even I want to know them and I can tell you right now, no one else really wants to know them either.
I have written a lot about what to do before, during and after a suicide attempt. I guess that’s because the people who read my work are the survivors and the loved ones, mostly, of suicide survivors.
But there’s a very underserved community in conjunction with suicide and that is the loved ones left behind by suicide. They are suicide survivors too. These people are left with a void. These people are left with a hole in their hearts and a hole in the information that’s available. But there are things I think you should know if your loved one commits suicide.
It’s extremely difficult to tell someone you have a mental illness. No one really likes a conversation that’s along the lines, of, “Hi. How’s the family? Did you know I have a possibly fatal, lifelong condition?”
It’s kind of a bummer.
But telling someone you have a mental illness is hard on the person you tell too. It’s not just hard to give the news; it’s hard to receive it. In fact, most people have no idea what to say upon hearing that someone has a mental illness. They may not know anything about the mental illness or only know what the media tells them – that people with mental illnesses are dangerous and scary. And while that may not be accurate, if it’s the only thing the person has ever heard, you can’t really blame them for acting negatively – at least initially.
So if someone tells you they have a mental illness, what should you do?
Rarely, if ever, do people accuse me of having a lack of compassion for people with a mental illness. This is probably because I am a person with a mental illness so I kind of know where other mentally ill people are coming from.
Nevertheless, this is exactly what one commenter recently did:
This is a tragic post because the writer is incapable of honoring the struggle of a human being who is in pain. Rather than muster empathy, compassion and problem-solving, she shuts out the people who need her most. There is something wrong with America when families send their loved ones to prison or institutions when what they need most is the love and support of their community.
The commenter is referring to a post wherein I suggested that sometimes the right thing to do is to say goodbye to a person with a mental illness. Particularly in cases where a person is abusive and refuses to get help, sometimes walking away is the only thing left to do in order to protect your own life. I stand by this sentiment.