In recent posts, I have admitted to being in therapy. On my poetry/creative works blog, http://www.faithtdavies.com, I’ve occasionally spoken of my personal life, but I haven’t really written about me, ironically. I’ve stuck to writing about safer aspects of my identity because I didn’t always feel comfortable talking about my mental health. Some of my poetry touches on themes of depression, self-harm, suicide, recovery, and other aspects of mental health, but nothing that delves into the depths of what I deal with on a regular basis. But my mental and physical health is as much a part of my identity as my gender and sex identities, and it’s a topic that deserves its regard.
For the last year and a half, I have been on an extensive, exhaustive, mental and physical health regime. I’ve struggled with physical and mental health issues for years, but the crumbling of my marriage and the trauma my ex, and those around her, inflicted on my already vulnerable mind pushed me over a cliff that I had, up until meeting her, managed to avoid all my life. It wasn’t pretty. I struggle with shame a lot, in regards to allowing obviously lesser people tear me apart…but it’s not my fault. Their actions and their treatment of me were not my fault. *Deep breath*
That is not this story; just an easy jumping off place. The lynchpin that completely changed the course of my life. The last year and a half have been focused on recovering, not just from the harm inflicted upon me a year and a half ago, but from traumas I’ve experienced throughout my life. I guess you can say the demons of my past caught up with the demons of my present and crashed me headlong into the largest steel wall they could find. It was terrifying; it was traumatizing; it was necessary.
My entire world had come to a screeching halt. My heart wasn’t functioning properly. My stomach and liver were dangerous messes. Years of self-harm, severe stress and neglect had finally caught up to my body. I couldn’t keep food down for months but was at my heaviest weight I’d ever been. I started drinking excessively. I resorted to old habits of self-harm to control the darkest thoughts and emotions trolling through my body. Suicide, again, had gone from a fleeting thought to a certainty, an inevitability.
I remember sitting in my room just staring at the wall. My entire existence felt like it had crashed over my shoulders. Everything I had wanted to be, dreamed to be; all that I had ever known, was in pieces at my feet. Sounds dramatic right? It was. Dramatic is the exact word for this experience. Dramatic feeling of emotions. Dramatic racing of thoughts. I could feel my heart pounding against my chest. And yet, I sat completely still. A war was waging inside of my body and I hadn’t moved from my spot for hours. I vaguely remember my mother putting me on the phone with my childhood doctor. Was I suicidal? Did I have a plan? Did I need an ambulance?
Before my world crumbled around me, when I was still living in Iowa, a friend of mine pushed me to see her doctor. I was visibly depressed and she threatened to drag me in herself if I didn’t go get help. It took me a few months but I finally did, and I was sent to a therapist. It was the first time I had a therapist validate my thoughts and feelings instead of telling me I was wrong for feeling so many conflicting thoughts and emotions. My instincts had been screaming that something was wrong with my relationship with my wife, with my mind, with my life overall, but my mind was so far in denial that I ignored myself. But I took a chance with this therapist and opened up about some of my darkest thoughts, and she didn’t send me packing to the psych wards. Instead, she worked with me on safety plans and the beginning steps of coping skills. She took a chance on me and asked me to make a promise to her, and to myself. When the time comes, not if, but when the time comes and I was ready to end it all, that I would stop and walk into a hospital.
The promise wasn’t made for the comfort of my loved ones. She didn’t place a guilt trip on me in regards to the promise. She simply asked me to take one last chance on myself. To try an avenue I had spent my entire life avoiding because I didn’t trust the medical field in regards to mental health. Because so many times I had doctors and therapists equate my sexuality and my gender identity with my mental health. While I’ve experienced distress and trauma in regards to my sexuality, sex and gender identities, these experiences are not the cause of my mental health issues. Outside of being physically assaulted, they don’t even have an impact on my physical health.
But this therapist asked me to make a promise to choose myself one more time one last time. To take a moment before the end, and choose to try to save my life.
Paramedics and others within the emergency response field do it all the time. Last ditch efforts; hail marys. I saved lives for a living, and this was just one more life I was aiming to save, even if it was just for one more day. Sometimes that’s all you need. One more day. I was just saving another life.
So, there I was 6 months after making that promise, staring at the wall and I made the choice for one more day. But I couldn’t guarantee that day. When you have a disease you take medications and have procedures and, basically, buy your body time to try to work through the disease. Being suicidal, having mental health disorders, is no different in this manner. You need tools to help you manage them, so you can keep living. I didn’t have any tools. If I stayed in that room I wouldn’t have survived the night. So I stood up, got dressed, tried to eat, and requested a ride to the emergency room.
I was hospitalized for two weeks. When I got out my life was suddenly on this path that I’ve never been on before. It was slow, infuriatingly slow, at times. It was patient when I wasn’t. It was filled with constant doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, medications and group therapies. It was also filled with words like PTSD, Bipolar Disorder 1, OCD, Ruminating Thoughts, Intrusive Thoughts, Anxiety and Panic Disorder, Clinical Depression. The DSM. I was terrified. Was I insane? Was I as broken as I felt?
Regular physical check-ups, blood work, x-rays and MRI’s filled my days. I couldn’t sleep in a bed for months. Nightmares filled my nights and days as I moved through intensive therapy several times a week. At one point I had 3 therapists. I could barely speak in groups, and I spent my therapy sessions mainly crying out of pain, anger, and frustration. I felt like a waste of life. My ex’s words would run through my head every day. “Just because I experience a trauma, doesn’t mean I can just stop my life.” God, that thought has wreaked havoc over my recovery, inciting shame and worthlessness every time it enters my mind.
It has made, along with other factors, every day for the last year and a half into one fight after another. I fought every step on this new road. A fight to wake up. A fight to sleep. A fight to walk outside the door. A fight to be able to sit in my car. To put the keys in. To drive. A fight to breathe, to eat, to shower. To smile. To laugh. At the start, I felt like my promise was for naught. That the pain I was experiencing was not worth the time. These doctors had no clue. These people in these groups knew nothing. This was just stupid. I was stupid. Why was I still here? But I kept going with the road set before me. I promised I would try, and so I did. I promised myself that I would honestly try.
I started having back to back surgeries. I could control this portion of my recovery. I had suddenly found time in my world to take care of some persistent aches and pains. Several birds, 1 stone. But as I started going through the physical changes brought on by these surgeries, I started going through more mental changes. I couldn’t fall back onto old habits. Old coping habits started causing problems physically, and if I was to heal I had to change my habits. My therapist started calling me out on my bullshit. My group therapy schedule changed to include courses like CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy,) Trauma Therapy, DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy,) and Managing Bipolar Disorder, amongst a few more.
I started talking more. I learned how to listen. Listen to myself and others. These people whom I had judged so harshly when I first met them, suddenly became friends. Confidantes. A safe haven. I began finding myself as this strange road before me started to become more clear. Still heavily overgrown, but clearer nonetheless. Parts of me was afraid, still am, that I will be here forever on this road. That this road, which I now understand to be what it truly means to heal, to recover, is one I’ll always be picking my way through. I’m afraid of this as I deal with a question posed to me. “Are you your recovery?”
Am I my recovery? No. No, I am not. I’m what my recovery has unearthed. I found my voice to speak my darkest secrets through my recovery. I started to understand my gender and sex identity through my recovery, because I finally had the time and the safe space to fully explore what those identities mean, and then to put those identities into actual application. I am not my Bipolar disorder, nor am I victim to it. It’s just another issue on a list that I deal with regularly, and I won’t be ashamed of it any longer.
It is no different from having asthma (which I have.) I take medications for my asthma to help it, but I also make sure that I avoid the triggers that cause asthma attacks and I work on keeping my lungs healthy by seeing doctors regularly. Being bipolar is no different. There are no magic pills to make it go away, but I do take medications to help control the severe mood swings. I see therapists and go to support groups to learn coping skills and mindfulness techniques to avoid triggers that, before, would leave me rendered useless for days. I have safety plans, like I do for my asthma, in case I’m in an episode and things go south. It’s still rough going, but I am learning how to manage it all, and do it without giving into feelings of shame and embarrassment caused by those who do not understand mental health issues.
So why am I writing about this? Well, this is a lifestyle blog, and my mental health, with my physical health, do come into play in regards to my lifestyle and my identity. Like my sexuality, where there are no magic pills to just make me straight, there are no clear-cut answers or cures for my mental health. A year and a half have gone by. 4 seasons. New people fill my life and I have re-learned how to laugh. I’ve claimed an identity that I’ve yearned for, without realizing it, the better part of a decade. I am smaller than I have ever been since I was a teenage. Pain levels are more manageable, depending on the weather. Doctors have started to listen, and I’ve learned how to advocate for what I need without having to feel stressed about it.
I’ve also experienced some of the worst aspects of my mental health issues. I’ve seen the best in people, and I have seen the worst in people. I still see the worse in myself. I’m still on this recovery road, and while I still find myself asking why I’m there, I know that it’s those thoughts that mean I still have a way to go.
I’m not brave. I’m not unique. I’ve barely touched on what I deal with mentally, and I’m not sure how much I’ll actually divulge. It’s a part of who I am, so I know it must be addressed, but at the end of the day, I’m just a human being that just works hard to open their eyes. Works hard to be around people. To handle noises and being touched. Who is terrified to post this because of what people might think of me. All the while trying to be compassionate with myself enough to tell myself that it doesn’t matter because I was strong enough to be vulnerable. To tear off the armor and just allow myself to exist in this world that has hurt me so, and love it just the same.
All the while finally understanding what it means to have these issues in today’s society. There is freedom in that realization. Freedom in knowing that I can, and will, not being guilted into choosing to live, and fight for this life. I am human, so multi-faceted that diamonds are jealous. I am what I am. So, for tonight, I leave you with this.
Don’t ask me to stay for you. There are some things in which love is not enough. Instead, ask me why I’m still here. And I’ll tell you a beautiful love story.
And what a story I have to tell.