CW: mental illness, substance abuse, trauma
My mental illness has been my trusty sidekick for longer than I can remember. She was first labelled as such when I was 16. He called her “depression and possibly manic depressive episodes but we will wait to see if this continues past 18.” She cloaked me, protectively, in darkness after surgeries supposed to fix the brokenness. She stood by my side when I changed schools again and again, when I was the new kid once more. When I couldn’t sleep, she laid next to me and reminded me of the sadness, the enormity of grief. She stayed next to me as I watched television for hours and skipped class after class until my roommates took their tv back and forced me into the shower. Medication after medication made my trusty sidekick disappear for awhile, but I disappeared too. My light dimmed and my smile was forced. I had to find ways to feel alive again.
Alcohol and sex were my new friends. They told me things that mental illness could not say so loudly. Alcohol told me I was exciting and funny and sometimes even sexy. Sex would tell me that I was beautiful and wanted. Mental illness only whispered my worthiness in my ear occasionally. Medication silenced everything.
In the most responsible and careful way, I stopped taking my medication completely one day. No more sleeping pills. No more anti-psychotics. No more antidepressants. No more hormones. I bled immediately for 3 months, soaking panties and pants with blood as if I was a new to the blood game, as if I didn’t know how my body would react or respond. My body ached. My brain sought ways to minimize this dramatic jolt. I drank more, I ate more, I smoked more. The temptation of sex was always there but sex was not something I sought out. Terrified by the closeness of sex, that someone would see through me and see her.
I felt more alive than I had felt in a long time. I felt raw. I felt like my nerves were on the outside of my body – I could feel again. I felt everything – deeply, thoroughly. I would find myself crying hysterically over another persons’ stories and sadness. I would find myself laughing maniacally over another person’s joy. I wouldn’t sleep for weeks – watching Food Network and learning how to cut an onion just like Rachael Ray. I would keep the house clean and make her meals, exactly how she liked them. I was going to be a perfect partner, even if I was with someone who was not mine. I could be someone who didn’t have the sidekick of mental illness anymore. I mean, I wasn’t on meds, so I was healed. I felt that this ability to feel so deeply was who I was I meant to be.
Returning to therapy was the only way back towards who I was. She had reached rock bottom and I had arrived there with her. We had taken different routes but the end result was the same – emptiness, loneliness, despair. I refused to be put on medication and ensured I saw someone who couldn’t prescribe. I stayed focused on the relationship, not the path that led me there. And I ran. I ran as far away from myself as I could. Thinking that running would bring me back to myself, thinking that therapy would bring the light back in.
Therapy and running didn’t chase my sidekick away. It showed back up in ferocious ways – crippling me with fear and anxiety. My sidekick only shifted. She had grown up and changed but she was still there. Because I continued to ignore and lie about her, saying she was gone, she seemed to sulk in the shadows waiting. She would knock me out when I least expected her, but also when she was expected. I blamed her appearances on post marathon blues and reaching large goals. I blamed her on fear.
My sidekick is not me. She does not mean I am weak or small or unworthy. Her steadfastness means that I have this amazing sidekick who forces me to balance and take care of myself in ways that others may not have to. I no longer yearn for the lies alcohol told me. I no longer use sex as a means for worthiness. I fear still taking medication although the chest pain says it might be helpful. I fear being less of myself, less bright, less creative, less loving. The tradeoff is bouts of sadness, debilitating, all encompassing sadness. The heavy sadness where you cannot sit up straight and the strength it takes to smile is almost too much. The tradeoff is anxiety that keeps you in bed. Anxiety that causes pain in your chest that feels like your ribcage and sternum may crack. The tradeoff is sleepless nights filled with spiralling questions and worries. The tradeoff is compulsive perfectionism.
The tradeoff is a full me. My sidekick is not me but allows me to be fully me.