The Sweet Spot, Part I: How Mental Illness Became A Blessing.. Not a Curse
I’m about to embark on a poetic journey about my experiences and triumphs with mental illness which presented itself in the forms of severe depression and mania. Most individuals correctly refer to this combination as bipolar. But, for the sake of the overarching emphasis of this three part article, acknowledging and transcending mental illness, I’m going beyond labels, getting to the “heart” of the matter and focusing on their essence.
Recently, I was asked by a family member, “What does mental health mean?” All this time as a mental health advocate nobody had ever asked me that question and to my slight annoyance, I discovered I was stumped. Too many pictures and wordy sentences flooded my brain instead of a nice, fluid one liner. We use phrases like, “he’s having mental health problems,” “her mental health is unstable,” or “let’s bring mental health awareness” and assume we’re communicating the same thing. But at what point does something become a mental health issue and what makes someone mentally healthy? Furthermore, what does mental health comprise and why would someone not have it? Now, incapsulate that in one sentence. Exactly. So, when I got home I went where we all go when we have questions about the origin of a term, person, place or thing…Wikipedia. Here’s what the source had to say:
“..psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment. From the perspective of positive psychology or holism, mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life and create a balance between life activities, and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health includes ‘subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence, and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others.’”
Okay, that was great but wordy and clinical on steroids. I desperately needed that one liner. The site gave its last reference, a quote from the innovative psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, who said, “The capacity to work and to love.” Ahhhh..now that immediately resonated. You see, when we don’t have our mind we can’t handle daily tasks like making a living or feel that emotion that connects us to everything in this universe, love. Thank you, Wikipedia.
Now, in lieu of the title of this article, how can anyone say a health challenge associated with something as severe as suicide a “blessing”? Many find this statement outrageous, feeling it marginalizes the painful realities of mental illness. Consider the following scenarios associated with illnesses such as bipolar, clinical depression, or severe anxiety:
“My son took his life his second year after being admitted to a top university.”
“My sister with a PHD in microbiology lives homeless and hasn’t seen the family in years.”
“My son’s incarcerated due to not being on his meds and displaying aggressive behavior.”
“My daughter lives in constant depression and I have to raise my own grandkids.”
“I can’t be creative because of my medication and experiencing emotional flatness.”
“I can’t maintain stable employment.”
“I have a mountain of medical debt.”
“I live at home with my parents and I’m 35.”
“I live in a government out patient facility and I’m 45.”
“They took my kids from me because I self medicate with alcohol and drugs.”
“I’m an embarrassment to my family because I’m too “eccentric”.
“I simply can’t handle the roller coaster of emotions anymore. As soon as I’m feeling good I’m dreading the intense depression around the corner. I’m afraid to be happy. I’m so afraid..”
As we can see, mental health is fundamental to the direction our lives take and challenges the mental health of others. Last year, HuffPost Rise released a video called, “Gifted with Bipolar,” that discussed how my poetry is fueled by mania and depression and that I felt the condition was more a blessing. But sadly, I can relate to many of these above real life scenarios. Hence, I feel I have a duty to give a more thorough, contrary perspective that shares what allowed me to turn that corner and discover what I love to call my mental health “sweet spot”. No, its not just that classic narrative about how tribulation makes one stronger or making lemonade out of lemons. It goes a step further and has more to do with the delicious illumination inherent in one’s transformation. Hopefully, whether one has a diagnosis or not, after reading they will be inspired to discover their mental health sweet spot, too.
Now, aside from many, I’ve always felt a person’s success has nothing to do with their job title or health predicament. But one’s enthusiasm and quality of life is key, otherwise, why be here in the first place? I’ve seen individuals with fatal illnesses have a better quality of life than multimillionaires with top notch healthcare because of their awareness and state of mind. For the individual who has dreams and a passion for life but drowning in depression’s abyss, what do they do? This person was me, so I did what came natural but made a conscious choice. I went mad — for mental health.
What harm is there in going mad with wanting to feel better? What’s wrong with going mad for happiness? My other options were to simply go mad, not properly care for myself and hold a job, stay over-medicated or just throw the towel in (we know what that means). Yes, Mr. Freud was on point with his one liner. Since I was unable to make a living or love, I took that hopeless intensity and poured it into wanting a way out of the abyss. Did I have motivation? Not necessarily, when you’re in serious depression that word feels unachievable. However, I had a burning desire to not feel powerless; something I feel everyone suffering from mental illness wants. I also had what neuropsychologists believe is key to turning that corner and that’s the energy to hope and surrender. Lastly, I had the energy to look for success stories. I desperately needed direction and tangible hope. “Success” meant being able to enjoy my day and handle the challenges that life brings all of us without having an emotional, psychotic break. It meant my ability to be creative, write, be of service to others, have a stable career and feel in harmony with this universe. Success also meant having others support my journey. Unfortunately, nobody with my symptoms was talking and if they were, they were sharing the maximum dollar amount government disability pays out. Although disability is extremely helpful for many in recovery, it can make one feel unfulfilled and aid depression over time.
So, for me to realize the quality of life I felt I was destined to have, I had to make peace and get to know somebody I never took the time to pay close attention. It forced me to get to know myself away from the illness and its chemical imbalances. At the heart of the matter, it’s those hypersensitive, emotional reactions to life’s triggers (and personal triggers) that sets off the unbearable symptoms; from there the two get stuck in a volatile tango that intensifies. For those like me with severe bipolar, there is no middle ground. It’s either the depths of hell, which makes suicide more like saving grace, or flying off at the handle in uncontrollable bliss (or rage). Hence, understanding and getting a grip on hypersensitive emotions requires hyper soul-searching and hyper self-care; medication or no medication.
Unbeknownst to me, this introspection revealed a beauty so miraculous that it will be challenging to put into words in Part II of this article. To be blunt, I would be an ingrate if I pretended this “blessing” never materialized and I owe it all to mental illness.
In my next article, I’ll explore my personal experience with surrender; what it entailed, and it’s exquisite, practical results.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on October 5, 2016.