The Labyrinthine Nature of Mental Illness

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I’ve been living with mental illness, with depression and Bipolar disorder for as long as I can remember. Actually, I didn’t know I was Bipolar until recently, but depression has always been a palpable force in my life. I recall, as a child, feeling isolated and alone, tired and empty. I recall my middle school days when kids would ask me if I was stoned because I would walk so slowly to class with my eyes half closed. I recall my high school days, when I couldn’t wait to get home so I could go into my room, close the curtains, and sleep for hours. Then there were my college days, when the challenge of depression reared its ugly head in all its glory. Insomnia, anxiety, and depression took over my life for a few years, at times becoming debilitating. As I moved into my early adult years, I managed my depression with alcohol. Needless to say, my depression was at bay, but my life was rather in shambles at times. And in my more recent life as a father, I’ve spent much of my time trying desperately to hide my depression from my boys.

Until recently, I did an okay job of hiding my mental illness. (Or, at least I had enough will to try and hide it.) But a hospital stay several months ago pretty much shattered the facade of health, ambition, and superficial smiles. Now it’s out in the open. My family members, friends, and colleagues are aware of my struggle. In some ways, when I can get past the embarrassment, it’s a relief. Hiding a mental illness is a most exhausting endeavor, requiring a strain on the mind and body that is at best, unhealthy. And while acceptance, awareness, and all the other “a-words” that are key first steps, the rest of the journey can only be described as labyrinthine. The path is uncertain and one does not, cannot know, the effect that a strategy will have. Exercise works, sometimes. Eating well helps, sometimes. Therapy helps, sometimes. Support groups, self-help books, positive affirmations, meditation and medication all work, sometimes.

The challenge for me has been accepting that I’m not on a straight path to mental health but wandering through a labyrinth with wonderful surprises and many pitfalls. And while the traditional compass and maps may help guide the way, the labyrinth is full of tricks and seldom predictable.

But here’s what I’m learning. The labyrinth is life, and not necessarily a bad life. Once I accept that there is no escape, life can begin. I can enjoy the path of uncertainty, as well as the openings that provide a sense of calm and comfort. I used to think that anything but a clear path forward spelled impending disaster. I used to crave the certainty of conformity and continuity. I’m changing, willing to step off the conveyor belt and into the labyrinth, in spite of its dead ends, fully open to its gifts and surprises. Is it a mistake? One never knows until one tries.

Peace to you.

The Bellowing Angels

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