TW: mental illness, self harm.
It’s been a few months since I’ve posted here, but I would be remiss to neglect the opportunity to contribute to the conversation before mental health awareness month comes to pass, and I have that urge – you know the one – to dig a little deeper than I do on a daily basis to share something real with those who have followed my journey.
Recently, life has felt light. Every day has been busy and bright and full and rich and honestly, a little fabulous. I like to think that I have find myself amid my Samantha era (IYKYK), floating through every day with a confidence and stride that nothing could possibly threaten to rid me of. However, there are moments where I’m reminded of my fragility, and of my past, and of the burden of mental illness that no matter how much time passes between episodes, I will never quite be completely free from. And while that sucks, yes, the contrast of this loftiness I’ve been living in and the reality of my condition is one that brings me the most …let’s go with “niche”…perspectives.
An example of this occurred the other day when I realized a few things in response to a reaction to a story I told that I know now is something most people would find too dark and difficult to discuss. TLDR; my friends were over at my place drinking rosé with me before dinner and somehow we got on the topic of death. While many feel uncomfortable with this topic, I, for whatever reason, feel safe talking about it, like it might as well be the weather or the latest Netflix show we’re discussing…probably because I have flirted with it so intimately. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve never made a plan to self-harm or worse. I have, however, been to one of those darkest of places, where I know more of us have been than we might be aware of. The dark place where you don’t necessarily want to die, but where going on living seems even harder and more terrifying than the other option (if you want to know more about this story – please refer to my “My Bipolar Story” post). I don’t go around telling people this often, because of course that would require a conversational trigger warning and a complete neglect of social norms. However, I do feel rather comfortable telling certain people, these friends included, the fact that there was a two-year stretch where I absolutely refused to wear a seatbelt.
I know, we’ve all hopped into a car and decided “meh, it’s just down the street, I won’t toss it on this time (which, btw, I am NOT condoning. WEAR THE SEATBELT, PEOPLE.) But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to a two-year long period of time where I would get into cars and intentionally refuse to fasten the belt into the buckle around my waist, because that was my one and only way of showing the universe that if it wanted to take me, it should. In the same way that you might act weird to a boyfriend you lost feelings for with the hopes that he might break up with you to make things easier, I started neglecting measures to protect myself with the hopes that life might just, well, break up with me.
I was overcome by the chilling reality of the fact that we live in a world where school children can be killed moments after snacking on their Goldfish during playtime, a world where politicians care more about controlling women’s bodies than providing for the lives they force into being, a world where subways, playgrounds, and movie theaters aren’t safe. My hypomanic state caused me to fixate on these realities, and it got to the point it was absolutely unbearable, and that’s why the thought of putting on a seatbelt to protect my life??? felt backwards, so I refused to wear it.
I explained this to my dear friend who was petrified at the nonchalance with which I was telling this story, and while my reaction was to laugh hysterically (and that’s something I’m not even going to try to begin to explain beyond that I believe that it’s a coping mechanism and way of making the story feel less bleak), my friend’s reaction to this confession of refusing to wear a seatbelt for two years, was to cry. Right there on the spot, a puddle of tears.
I reassured her though, that I always wear a seatbelt now because I value each and every single day, in spite of what I’ve suffered and even because of it…that without that experience of darkness, the lightness I feel today may not feel so bright. This is not an iteration of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” though, because fuck that. No one should have to reach that point of darkness to gain strength and resilience, no one should have to endure the tragedies of this world to feel some morsel of ease. But I am saying that overcoming suffering brings immense gratitude, and that if you or anyone you know might be in that dark place, you or they should know that there is hope, there is light, there is abundance and thankfulness and healing on the other side…even though those things can feel so far out of reach when you’re in the thick of it.
Upon confiding in people who hold me close that I’ve been to this dark place, the most genuine of questions tend to follow: how did you do it? How did you hold on and get through? To which I say, determination; a profound belief that there was a life more beautiful, more bearable, on the other side of the hard work I knew it would take to overcome what I was going through, and a trust deep down in my soul that I had what it took to survive this. And I did. It took months and months of testing medications and committing myself to therapy even when I didn’t really know if it was working. It took tears, so many tears, and a vulnerability that made me so embarrassed and uncomfortable to uncover the darkness I had secretly been facing for so many years. But it was worth every bit of that discomfort. It was worth every ounce of holding on tight and working hard to fight to survive. It was worth every action I took to gain back my sense that my life is valuable and worth protecting.
It was at the moment when my dear friend started crying while I cathartically laughed, that I questioned: have I become so desensitized because of my trauma, or is this a sign that I’ve truly healed from it? And I’m still trying to answer that question, and maybe it’s not black and white and maybe its a bit of both, but what I’m realizing bit by bit, is that the more I sprinkle these confessions into the conversations I have with those who hold me close, the more safe they feel to acknowledge what they’ve survived, and how far they’ve come, and I can hopefully emphasize the reality that change is only brought about through action, through fighting hard, through trusting that small nudge inside you that this isn’t how things have to be. So while I will *not* be going around telling everyone outside of this blog that I used to not wear a seatbelt, I will appreciate it greatly if anyone ever asked me how I’m doing in the form of the question: “are we wearing our seatbelt these days?” and they can feel free to laugh along with me.