Tears only the strongest have cried.

Last week while I was folding laundry my daughter came to me with tears in her eyes. Not fake tears that just wanted some attention. Real tears. True tears. The kind of tears you try to hide, but your emotions are more powerful than your composure. The tears only the strongest have cried. The tears that make your lip quiver, then your nose burns. You want to speak, but you know your voice will crack. You desperately need a hug; but you refuse to be touched, because what follows an embrace is uncontrollable sobs. So instead, you look away as if that will distract your vulnerability from manifesting—except it doesn’t, does it? It never does. Once your nose burns it’s an involuntary reflex to release the pressure brewing in your heart.

Her tears instantly broke my heart, “Mama, I keep trying so hard—but I don’t have any goals.”

She’s in her 5th season of soccer; and my girl has taken a beating. Because of the way her birthday falls and age-cutoffs for her soccer league, last year she was literally the youngest and smallest child playing in her division. I had suggested she sit out for just one season and try something else; but she loves the game—she refused my advice and insisted she could handle it.  In that season, she was playing against stronger and more experienced players that were twice her size. Kids with the ability to kick soccer balls towards the goal with speed and intensity that could kill a small animal.

Because she chose to follow her own heart, and not mine; my daughter learned perseverance and bravery. Those aren’t traits that can be taught, they can only be experienced. The fire in her soul refuses to extinguish, even in the strongest storms, and sometimes it leaves me in awe.

During her toughest season, my daughter found her place on the soccer field. She fell in love with being inside the goal, protecting her team from intruding forces. She took balls to the face that I knew had broken her nose—or at least knocked out the loose tooth she refused to pull. She took a shot to the chest that left her unable to breathe long enough that my motherly instincts raced me across the field. She sacrificed her body and regularly walked away with bruises in order to protect the most vulnerable location to her team—The Goal.

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“Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

–William Shakespeare

I put down the laundry I was folding and stared at her for a few seconds; then I held her while she cried so I could process the vulnerable emotions she needed me to protect in that moment.

“Baby, listen to me, you don’t need to score goals to prove your worth. How many balls did you stop today?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t know either… because I lost count.

How many times did you attack the ball and kick it out from underneath the opposing player’s feet?”

“I don’t know (shy smile.)”

“I don’t know either… because I lost count.

I know scoring goals looks glamorous. Everyone cheers, you’re filled with pride, and your team high fives you. But sweetie, you’re a defensive player. It’s in your heart—you do it without even realizing the impact you’re making. You know why? Because it comes natural to you; it’s your God-given ability to protect and defend. Defenders don’t score a lot of goals; their job is to open up the lanes for their teammates to score—and unfortunately they rarely get the credit they deserve. But you’re part of a team; and every person on a team has strengths that place them where they need to be. Some players are faster and have more coordination to move the ball up and down the field. That doesn’t make them better than you; and your defense doesn’t make you better than them—when your team combines those strengths, they become unstoppable.

You’re gonna score a goal; and you’re gonna score it this season. You know why? Because you’re past your toughest season now. You refused to give-up; you stepped up and you found where you belong. You played your heart out no matter how many balls flew towards your head; and you deserve a goal more than anyone else on that field. And do you know what’s gonna happen when you score that goal?”

“No. (bigger smile)”

“Everyone is gonna cheer louder than they ever have because we’ve all been waiting on your moment to shine. Then your mama is gonna rush the field to give you the biggest hug ever. Is that okay?”

“(small chuckle) Yes, Mama.”

“Sweet girl, don’t ever forget that offense sells tickets, but defense wins games.”



I’m talking to you too, Mama. I see you. I see you behind the scenes defending your team. Whether you work full time or stay at home with your kids—I see you. Exhausted, frustrated, and overwhelmed; but dinner is still on the table. Maybe that dinner is cereal, but that’s okay—your team is still dribbling, aren’t they?

I see you staying up too late just to catch a single moment for yourself; and then cussing the alarm five hours later. You hit snooze and spend three more minutes dreaming up excuses to keep everyone home so you can sleep a little longer; but then you roll outta bed because your team is counting on you to start the day—tardy is inexcusable and bills don’t pay themselves.

Mama, I see you color-coding calendars to make sure everyone is in position and a strategy in place. I see you picking up the house every night once everyone is asleep; and starting laundry at 10pm because you were laying out outfits for the next day and realized no one had clean underwear. I see you removing grass stains from uniforms and finding the lost stuffed animal that your child cannot sleep without. I see you cleaning litter boxes and washing the dog after they left muddy prints all over the sheets you have no time to wash.

I saw you rush your child to the hospital because the fever wouldn’t go down and you were the only one who knew something wasn’t right. I saw you hold them while they shivered for 2 hours. Your arm went numb; but you still kept rocking. You came home that night and tucked them in bed beside you, breathing in all their contagious germs–never once concerned for your own health. I saw you when you realized there was no more Tylenol, so you got in your car at midnight and drove through the rain to make sure your child had what they needed. I know you think your efforts go unnoticed, and for the most part they do—but don’t ever forget, I see you.

I see you emptying dishes and picking up dirty socks. I see you sweeping floors and scrubbing toilets while the rest of your team rests until bedtime. I see you sorting through bills and I feel your heart drop when you realize one didn’t get paid in time. You handle it silently and you carry that burden. You’re the reason the water stays on and the electric still warms your home every night. I see you defending your family and keeping them safe.

I see you documenting every moment with photos because you know one day you’re gonna miss this; and I also see that you’re rarely in those photographs. I see you scheduling dentist appointments and yearly checkups, when you don’t have time to schedule one for yourself. I see you stepping up to lead or coach your child’s activities even though one more commitment might break you. But no one else offered to help; and you don’t want your kids to miss a single opportunity. So you reach deep inside and summon the strength and patience you’re not sure you have.

I see you rushing from one side of the goal to the other; shuffling your team here and there and everywhere—stressed beyond measure and praying you make it on time. You always make it though, sometimes by the skin of your teeth—but you sacrifice anything you can to keep your team in the lead.

Sometimes the ball gets dropped though, doesn’t it? And you cry yourself to sleep because you failed. You didn’t fail though, Mama. Dropped balls happen; and everyone has a bad game once in a while. Go home and wash your face. Get some rest, because your team needs you ready to defend tomorrow.

You try so hard and dream of the day when all your hard work and dedication finally score you the goal you deserve. I see you envious of the moms who have time to work out every single morning; and then go shop for the latest trends. They’re always so put together and their clothes are never stained with chocolate handprints. I see you wanting to go back to work, or dreaming of a better job—but the other team scores instead. While they brag about their new opportunities and six-figure salaries; you want to leave your post and give up on ever scoring your own goal. Maybe this game just isn’t for you?



Sweet Mama,

I see you cry real tears. True tears. The kind of tears you try to hide, but your emotions are more powerful than your composure. The tears only the strongest have cried. The tears that make your lip quiver, then your nose burns. You want to speak, but you know your voice will crack. You desperately need a hug; but you refuse to be touched, because what follows an embrace is uncontrollable sobs. So instead, you look away as if that will distract your vulnerability from manifesting—except it doesn’t, does it? It never does. Once your nose burns it’s an involuntary reflex to release the pressure brewing in your heart.

The fire in your soul refuses to extinguish, even in the strongest storms; and sometimes it leaves me in awe. Listen to me, you don’t need to score goals to prove your worth.

Accept my embrace. Relax in my arms and just be still while I protect your vulnerable emotions in this moment. My child, I know scoring looks so glamorous, but you’re a defensive player. It’s in your heart—you do it without even realizing the impact you’re making. You know why? Because it comes natural to you; it’s the ability I gave you—the ability to protect and defend. You sacrifice so much of yourself without hesitation. I see you; and I need you to stay at your post. I need your defense. I need someone willing to sacrifice herself for the most vulnerable position on our team—The Goal.

You’re gonna score a goal; and you’re gonna score it this season. You know why? Because you’re past your toughest season now. You refused to give-up; you stepped up and you played your heart out no matter how many balls flew towards your head. You deserve a goal more than anyone else on that field. And do you know what’s gonna happen when you score that goal?

Everyone is gonna cheer louder than they ever have because we’ve all been waiting on your moment to shine. Then I’m gonna rush the field to give you the biggest hug ever. Is that okay?

Precious Mama, don’t ever forget that offense sells tickets, but defense wins games.

I love you and I see you,

-God

Carry on, Warrior.

Life happen and life hurts; and sometimes it’s more than we can bear.

 “My God, My God—why have you forsaken me?” -Jesus    

(Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34, Psalm 22:1)

Even Jesus questioned whether God was still there.

But what kind of Father abandons their child in their darkest moments?

Most believe that when Jesus died on the cross and took on the sin of the world that God turned his back on him because sin cannot exist in His presence. I understand that—if you want to be legalistic and heartless. I’m no Biblical Scholar, I’m pretty much self-taught and some would probably question my lesson plans; but I just cannot believe that I was made in the image of a God who could be so cold—sin or no sin.

 

There are times when my children cry and I walk away. I don’t abandon them; I just walk into the next room and continue with my business. Either they didn’t get their way, or they barely scratched themselves or bumped their knee. I don’t stick around for that. I know when they really need me—I know their cries.

This world has gone completely mad; and I need my kids to be tough—I need them to be able to pick themselves up when life happens. Before they leave my nest, I need them equipped to keep flight through any storm that blows in their direction. So when I walk away I’m not ignoring them—I’m training them to be strong in a very dark world.

A couple weeks ago my son gashed his head. It wasn’t the usual scratch or bump. This wasn’t another practice-run in Toughness 101. I didn’t walk into the next room this time and let him learn to cope with a little pain. We hadn’t trained for this type of injury and he needed me; I rushed to his side before he even cried out for me—I know his cries.

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His fear and his pain were overtaking him. The rest of the world suddenly disappeared and all of my instincts zeroed in on him.

Head wounds bleed profusely; and this was no exception. The amount of blood that poured from his little head shocked me. Like a photograph, I will carry that initial image of his injury to my grave. All I saw was red, dark and scary red. It covered his entire face, pouring off his chin, preventing his eyes from opening. He was scared, and in pain, and screaming in the darkness that had been forced upon him.

I wanted to believe that the instant he heard my voice he felt safe, but his screams kept him from hearing me. I wiped the blood from his eyes so he could see and know that I was by his side, but I don’t think his vision saw past his fear or his pain. Still, I held him; and continued to whisper in his ear, “I’m here and I’m not leaving you.”

After the initial adrenaline wore off, and I was no longer able to flip cars if necessary, we were at the hospital. I laid my face on the top of his head while I cradled him and cried my own tears right along with him. Every scream for relief started my tears all over again. I continued to whisper in his ear. I have no idea if he even realized I was with him, it doesn’t matter—I was there and you couldn’t have pulled me away.

His cries sounded so alone, and scared.

Abandoned, and afraid.

The pain was more than he could bear.

We were taken back to a private room relatively quickly; and the nurses immediately began trying to numb the area to make him more comfortable. He refused; and his anxiety was uncontrollable. He kept protecting his wound and setting up boundaries that prevented anyone from helping—and by boundaries I mean kicking and punching. My boy is stronger than I ever realized—and savage.

I kept telling him repeatedly that the nurses’ were trying to help. They were here to take the pain away. He couldn’t hear me; or maybe he just didn’t trust me. He turned into a child I’ve never met before; his pain controlled his personality. I still held him and whispered into his ear; I wasn’t leaving his side, whether he could hear me or not.

Finally, with a quick and swift motion from a nurse while his father and I restrained his arms and legs, a lidocaine patch was stamped across his wound and you could see the pain begin to leave his eyes almost immediately. My boy started to reemerge from the pits of fear and doubt and pain and confusion.

He saw me; and he smiled—knowing he was finally safe.

I held him until he was ready to climb down out of my lap.

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God was there. He was there at the cross; cradling his son, resting his face on that crown of thorns and crying his own silent tears with every scream for relief. God didn’t turn his back; no amount of sin could have kept him from his son in that moment. Jesus felt abandoned because his fear and his pain blocked his ability to feel his Father’s presence; but his Father never actually left his side—sin or no sin. He held him and he continued to whisper in his ear until his dying breath.

Life happens, ready or not—and we cry out for Him, unaware that he’s already holding us. He wipes the blood from our eyes and whispers into our ear; hoping He can make us feel safe.

Whether we realize he’s there or not—it doesn’t matter.

He holds us until we’re ready to climb down out of his lap.

Then he whispers,

until we need him again,

“Carry on, warrior.”

Excuses.

To the woman in front of me in the Target checkout line:

I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with your friend about the other girl that had bailed on you tonight… again.

“She uses her Anxiety as an excuse,” you claimed, complete with an eye roll.

An excuse? No, sweetheart—but you’re fortunate to have a friend who considers you safe enough to speak the truth instead of actually making up an excuse. I’m not angry with you for not understanding; I can put myself in your shoes and feel the confusion. Instead, I feel sad. I want to throw another metaphor at you about, “Would you claim she was making an excuse if she had cancer and said she was too unwell to accompany you tonight?”

Except I don’t want to do that. Honestly, I believe that metaphor has been used beyond any effective measure. Cancer and Mental Illness, they’re 2 completely different illnesses; and the metaphor is apples and oranges. I can wrap my head around the message intended, but I would rather just speak the truth and see if that could bring a hint of understanding about the struggles of your absent friend.

She didn’t make an excuse. She wanted to be with you tonight. She had looked forward to your girls’ night for a week. Planning for an entire evening with friends brightened her days leading up to the occasion. Because you see, she doesn’t take those girls’ nights for granted like you. She craves those outings—because they don’t come easy for her—and her mind renders her lonely most days.

She wasn’t making an excuse. She legitimately could not bring herself to attend. The irrational fear and self-consciousness was too great to leave the safety and comfort of the home surrounding her. She doesn’t want to miss out; she resents her illness for shutting her inside again. She’s sitting on her couch right now wondering about the fun you’re having without her—which only increases her feelings of loneliness.

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For the beautiful souls who watch their loved ones spend the majority of their days in bed—depression isn’t an excuse. Depression is their reality. They sense your frustration even though you try to seem empathetic; but they know you believe they’re using their Mental Illness to excuse their laziness.

Except they aren’t lazy; they are fighting harder than you can imagine to break the chains of their depression. It suffocates the life out of their spirit. It’s not an excuse. On the days they wake up and complete the dishes and laundry and run the vacuum—you probably haphazardly praise their efforts. It’s not a big deal to you, those are simple chores. Except for them it’s the promise that one day they might feel normal—and on this day, they feel worthy. Completing a simple task for them is comparable to a job promotion for you.

It’s not an excuse—for them to climb out of bed and complete a grocery shopping mission is cause for Champagne.

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There are some that can no longer carry on. The demons of their mind have exhausted them; and that spark of hope that carried them through their worst days has lost its flame. When they commit suicide you believe they use their Mental Illness and life choices as an excuse. You label them cowards; maybe because it helps you deal with the pain of knowing you might have been able to save them?

Except you couldn’t save them, so please don’t blame yourself. It’s a fight only they can conquer—alone. You can stand outside the ring and cheer them on, but you cannot enter; and you cannot fight for them.

Suicide is not a glamourized portrayal of a person seeking attention. Suicide is not the epitome of excuse. Suicide is not a controversial series on Netflix: Thirteen Reasons Why… Suicide is the raw truth of a victim overcome by their mentally ill thoughts. You will never understand the pain they have walked through. You will never understand that battle between their heart and mind; the war of survival vs. complete loss of hope. Because if you could, you wouldn’t claim them to be a coward for ending their life; you would see them as I do—a fallen Warrior.

While you sit in shock after your favorite celebrity commits suicide, thankful you don’t have to endure the pressures of fame and drugs that took their life; I sit and sob, and pray for my comrades. I realize fame wasn’t their demise—their illness that you called an excuse was. Only one thought circulates in my mind after I hear of suicide: That could have been me—will the fire of hope that gives me strength turn to ashes one day?

 

Your friend wasn’t making an excuse. In not so many words, your friend was telling you she is unwell.

If you truly claim friend status in her life, please don’t scoff behind her back and roll your eyes. She can sense those arrows of judgment.

Go find her. Change your plans; bring dinner and movies to her house. Stay inside her safe-zone so she can participate.

Become her loudest cheerleader standing outside her ring.

Mentally Ill Mothers are Worthy.

“Mommy, why are you so mean sometimes?”

It was a question that came out of nowhere. Life was fine when she asked, almost perfect.

Then BAM. It slapped me so hard I almost saw stars.

“I love you more than you love me,” she finished—and then she fell asleep.

I lost my mind that night. I couldn’t breathe I cried so hard, and for so long; I vomited numerous times—my body’s physical attempt to regain control.

Except there was no control to regain at that moment—I fell into a bottomless pit where only the worst mothers go; but I immediately began clawing my way back to my children before I ever actually hit the ground.

That was the life-changing moment when I vowed to keep it real with my kids.

There seems to be a new trend amongst the parenting world—and the self-proclaimed parenting advisors. Everywhere I’ve looked the past few weeks has been plagued with comments and opinions that mentally ill women are selfish to have children. That our effect on these children will be long term; and there is no way we can raise an emotionally healthy child. These comments have also led into ignorant discussions that we are risking these children living normal lives because passing along our infected genes is a very big possibility.

And then my daughter asked me why I am so mean sometimes. You can understand why the world crashed on me that night. Was it possible that the numbness I have for my own illness had made me too arrogant to accept the advice that I am an unworthy mother? Have I started my children down a very broken path at such a young age—and they are doomed for life right out of the starting gate? Gut wrenching questions that didn’t allow enough space in between for me to even fall asleep that night. I stared wide eyed at the ceiling with tears soaking my pillow; and when I could no longer muffle the sobs I moved to the back porch and stared wide-eyed at the stars until the sun started to rise.

After a few weeks post breakdown—I am extremely confident when I say, “I am a damn good mother, and my illness is not a liability.”

My flaws and my illness have set the stage for emotionally healthy children in a way the world has never seen before. Is there a chance they have inherited my illness? Ten percent chance. TEN percent, people. If they do actually inherit an unstable mind they have a mother with a team of doctors and therapists on call. They have a mother who can read the warning signs long before they realize anything is wrong. Because of the advocates before me, a new road is being paved that lets us bypass the stigma of mental illness—and we can openly discuss any roadblocks and how to get past those barricades. My children will never feel embarrassment for the thoughts that might run through those pretty little minds. My children will never hide from themselves until they self-destruct. I am a good mother.

That next morning after I cried my way to sunrise, before I even poured my children a bowl of cereal, I began explaining to them why Mommy is so mean sometimes. Mommy’s brain is sick, but it’s nothing to worry about because I take medicine and the doctors give me checkups. Sometimes, though, I have bad days. So when Mommy apologizes and tells you I’m not feeling very good today, it’s not because my belly hurts—it’s because my brain hurts. Instead of vomiting or fever, I lose my patience quicker and sometimes I am mean. I never intend for my sick brain to hurt your feelings, and that’s why you see Mommy cry and apologize a lot. That’s why I make my way to the bedroom to be alone–so that my sick brain isn’t mean to you. My daughter hugged me tight and told me it would be okay.

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He wasn’t actually angry, but this is what it looks like when he is. This picture always makes me laugh.

She’s right; it will be okay, and they will be okay. Where some kids are hushed and silenced because their release of emotions comes off as disrespectful—our kids are told it is okay to be mad, but not aggressive. We let our kids yell, scream, cry, or a combination of all—because don’t you do the same as an adult? In a world where expressing emotion is deemed inappropriate; we have created a space where they can release the tension of life—and that place is home, with two parents who can guide them through the confusing parts.

Because of my illness, I realize the innate human need to scream it out sometimes. What mother hasn’t, at some point or another, locked herself in the bathroom and silently yelled and banged her head against the wall? What employee hasn’t walked to their car and beat the steering wheel after a long day? Life happens, and life is tough, and we are living beings with spirits that require a release of tension from time to time. It’s not disrespectful—it’s healthy.
I realize (probably more than most) how toxic it can be to hold in thoughts and emotions for fear of stepping on toes or causing conflict. I realize the trauma that can cause any brain, but especially a mentally ill brain. I am also learning the incredible bond that can form between members of a family that allow each other to be real. We let it out, we apologize, we learn from our mistakes, and we move on—together. I don’t question how my illness is affecting my children, because they will openly tell me if I’ve hurt them—and if that requires yelling at me, then so be it. I know they will be back to apologize, because they are learning from the master of apologies.
In this house we are raw, and we are real. There’s no unicorn-mom and fairytale moments happening behind these walls—if you dare to enter you should check your arrogance at the door. We can offer a lot of fun, an abundance of love, incredible honesty, and even more forgiveness; but we don’t play well with imposters or practiced smiles and gestures.
I am a good mother, and my children will become adults with an incredible understanding of emotion—because I am mentally ill.

 

When Bipolar steals your joy.

He brought me $3.47 from his piggy bank and asked if that would get us to Disney World. For months he has talked about this magical place and his dream to one day walk those sacred pathways leading to every character he’s ever loved. He’s 4 years old, and our daughter is 5—their imaginations are still magical, but the hourglass of untamed beliefs is losing sand faster than I can keep up. It’s an opportunity to watch their faces of unparalleled enchantment that would leave scars on my soul if missed.

“We just don’t have the money right now, bud. One day, I promise we will get there.”

I’ve not worked in over a year; and the year before that the business I stubbornly swore would be our ticket to riches…well, it bankrupted and plummeted us so far into debt that I sometimes wonder if we will ever walk without chains tightening around our necks. Somehow, every necessary bill gets paid and every meal is served hot on the kitchen table; it blows my mind every week. Our lifestyle was demolished when our income was cut in half; the adjustment from that has been close to unbearable—but humbling at the same time. Our house is warm and the mortgage is paid, food in our bellies, running water to drink, and more love than can be contained within our own family. I have my husband to thank for that, and his unfailing love of an incredibly complicated and undeserving wife. (Refer to this blog: https://sarahbethmcclure.com/2017/03/17/to-the-men-who-love-complicated-women-i-see-you/

I have children who think I hung the moon; and a warrior husband that has climbed out of the rubble with me and chose to remain loyal though I blew his world apart. We have been stripped bare of our recognizable life, but our souls have been refined in a way that isn’t possible unless you survive a fire of epic proportions. We are the lucky ones because we are still standing, albeit naked and on shaky ground; but I am more thankful for the financial chains around our necks than I ever was for all the material possessions we took for granted. With every successful bill payment I am reminded that miracles truly happen, and it’s a constant celebration that we survived another month.

I blame myself, though; and there are days that shame wraps a cage around my bed where I wallow in grief and resentment for all the Disney Dream Vacations I see on Facebook. I can’t hop on a plane and take my kids to the most magical place in the world. I can’t give them that one rite of passage that every child should take. But they have never given up hope, and any loose change they find is placed in their piggy banks or the Disney Savings Plate on the kitchen counter. They still believe their parents carry magic in their wallets; and that come hell or high water–we will get them there, and so they patiently wait.

I know what you’re thinking, because the normal side of me is thinking the same thing: I should find a job. Simple answer, it makes complete sense, right? I’m qualified, and I have truly wrestled with the idea for months now. I obtained a Bachelor’s Degree; and I worked a successful and well-paying career for nearly 10 years before my life imploded. I’m not bragging; those credentials played a part in ultimately breaking my soul.

You see, my spirit hid a ticking time bomb from me; and everyone else around me. By maintaining complete and utter control of my life, and the lives around me—I managed my condition without even realizing how miserable it was making me. Looking back, the evidence of Bipolar Disorder is so apparent that I can’t believe how blind I remained for 32 years. The people close to me still question if I truly suffered from the disorder my whole life—but that’s because the control I maintained hid the toxic thoughts that I ignored daily. I coped and self-medicated when necessary, the dosage just enough to keep my sanity. Then I got married, gave birth to two beautiful children within a 14 month timespan, and continued working and self-proclaiming myself as super mom. Then I was laid-off by my job; a job I enjoyed with people I loved dearly. Of course this was my moment to purchase and build a business that would make us millionaires. Private Jet to Disney World whenever we wanted. That was the crossroads where I stepped onto a looming path that was screaming for me to run far away and never return, but my stubbornness is toxic.

I lost control. I lost complete control and fell off the saddle; Bipolar Disorder was there waiting and laughing as it stole the reigns. I can still hear it mocking me, “Buckle up, Buttercup.” Essentially, my disorder spurred the horse and rode straight towards a spiraling and endless vortex of mania; leaving the controlling version of me face down in the mud.

What I didn’t realize at the time was my sudden money spending, binge drinking, and irrational thinking was a textbook case of a manic episode. A very intense episode that I had never experienced before because Bipolar only ran along beside me, my control blocking the reigns. I was spiraling upwards and increasingly out of control with nothing to stop me besides complete and total self-destruction. I became a person that I didn’t recognize; I stared at this second version of myself in the mirror every day, and she seemed fun and the life of the party, but my heart knew that she was not someone I wanted to know—still, this strangely curious girl laughed and pleaded that I keep spinning with her. I devastated many people along that twisted and dysfunctional path. The amount of damage is unfathomable, and I don’t think I will ever be healed enough to discuss it openly. Those who love me were chasing me, but I refused to slow down. I left them in a cloud of haze and smoke until the sudden brick wall of complete self-destruction knocked me completely to my knees.

And then I fell, and I fell hard. I fell into the deepest pits of depression one could ever face; and I continued spiraling downward as quickly and intensely as I had spiraled up. Bipolar Depression is different; and it is deep, and it takes root at rock bottom and grows around its victims, making the potential escape almost impossible. Those who make it become Warriors—fighters that never give up, ever.

At that point in my depression, it’s not that I wanted to stay in bed to escape the world—I HAD to stay in bed. I had to sleep; and there were times I couldn’t be woken up, which would be normal if I was taking sleep medication—but I wasn’t. I was on low doses of depression/anxiety medication and mood stabilizers. Those medications give energy, but they couldn’t even touch the depression I was facing until they were increased in exponential proportions.

This new and depressed third version of myself was colorless and rarely spoke; she detested sunshine or relationships, and she wanted me dead—she nearly succeeded. She held me hostage inside the walls of my house and her branches grew quickly around me, tightening their grasp as they staked their claim on my life. She chained me to my bed—then she whispered continuously in my ear that I was worthless and only made the lives of those around me miserable. I hurt people, it’s what I did—they didn’t deserve it, but she didn’t care; and she would continue with those swirling thoughts until I ended my life. She told me it was the only escape. 

My children kept me alive during that time; not that I was any type of mother that a child deserves. I could barely care for them, but I spent what small amount of energy I had on making sure they were fed and mostly safe. The thought of not seeing them grow up and the incurable pain they would feel if I was not at their graduations and weddings gave me just enough strength to grasp the edge of a cliff and hold on until my husband and family could ensure my medication was beginning to release the grip the branches of depression had over my entire body.

My children are incredible little humans that have learned the art of forgiveness and self-sufficiency at an inappropriately young age. My five year old daughter knows that when a person begins crying all you need to do is hold their hand and hug them. How many times has she rubbed her mother’s back while I silently release unhealthy thoughts and emotions? She normally asks why I’m crying, but when I don’t answer she never demands an explanation. My son just received the “Most Fabulous Friend” award at his preschool, and was recognized for always trying to comfort his friends that were sad. He’s a natural; and I almost lost my composure when those values were spoken. I can only pray these experiences have somehow miraculously strengthened their spirits more than harmed them.

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So you can see the incredible fear that I have of entering the fast paced and busy world of working mothers. I made an agreement with my disorder: that in exchange for shared control of my mind, I promised to slow down. I promised to admit defeat and that I will never try to regain control again. I will speak openly about my mental illnesses and I will accept them as a part of who I am. They still show up sometimes, depression and mania—but they only visit for a short while and their stay doesn’t entirely disrupt my life. They remain quiet for the most part, but I can tell when their plane touches down.

My fear is the reason my resume remains the same as it did 10 years ago. Rationally, I know we need more income immediately, but if I choose this route will the pressure push me over the edge again? Could I destroy my family by getting swept into another upward spiral? Could I survive another downward spiral?

My children deserve a trip to Disney World more than most—they’ve earned it. It would be a small reward compared to the battle I would have lost without them and their little understanding and forgiving hearts. But I cannot give them that reward if it means I’m stolen from their lives again. I vowed that mania and depression would never mother my children ever again.

So while I wrestle with the decision of side jobs just to make ends meet; or full time work so we can take an extravagant lifestyle for granted again—I just cannot stop leaning towards the side of miracles and the celebration of bill payments being made. I cannot help but have faith that the magic those kids believe lives in our pockets will someday miraculously manifest.

Maybe our pockets really are magical… if we choose to believe?

Meet my friend, Anxiety.

I’m sorry I cancelled last minute.

When I accepted the invite earlier this week I was feeling great. I was so excited. I was comfortable, and my anxiety was well contained.

When I woke up this morning I panicked.

I have nothing to wear. Will they be able to tell I’ve gained weight? What if I slip up and say something weird and make a total jackass of myself? I just can’t handle “uncomfortable” today. I need certainty. I need to stay safe today. I need my pajamas, and my tea, and my Netflix, and my locked door that keeps me safe inside from all the people.

The warm pressure rising from my gut all the way up my neck is making it hard to breathe. Just thinking about being in a crowd of people tonight makes me cringe. My fear is on high alert. Except what am I fearing? I have no idea. Seriously, I don’t know—but it is true fear.

I have to cancel, but if I tell you the real reason you’ll scoff at me. So what can I say? Hmmmm. Sick? No. Tired? Maybe. Plans got miscommunicated with husband and he already had plans. Yes. That’s perfect! Some might say I’m a pathological liar. I claim self-preservation techniques.

Please don’t be disappointed. Next time, I promise—because next time seems so far away and manageable.

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I’m sorry I never answered your phone call.

I tried to answer for the whole 20 seconds it rang. Instead I just stared at your name flashing on the screen of the phone, a million thoughts rushing through my mind.

What could you possibly want from me? If you’re trying to make plans I’m going to say yes, but I can’t promise I’ll actually show up.

If you need something from me I’ll be terrified to tell you ‘no,’ even though I’m barely taking care of myself at the moment.

Are you just wanting a conversation? Oh dear, can I formulate sentences that even make sense right now?

What if you ask me how I’m doing? I’ll be forced to lie and say ‘Great!’ Even though I’m still trying to calm myself from hearing my phone ring. I don’t like the lies. Even my lies make me uncomfortable, so I’ll just ignore you instead. If you need something important you’ll text me. I can take time to organize my thoughts if we text.

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I’m sorry I had to leave your party early. When I showed up I was so excited to see you and everyone else. Congratulations on your engagement, by the way. I’m so happy for you.

It’s just that, well—I wasn’t prepared for quite so many people. I had mentally prepared myself for your family, I had forgotten his family and friends would be there. Making small talk is so hard for me—especially with strangers.

There were so many people, as the crowd began to thicken I could feel that familiar warm pressure beginning to rise from my gut to my neck. Mouth dry, sweaty hands, and I was having a hard time catching my breath.

The more conversations I had to participate in the more my thoughts raced. Trying to hear them over my own thoughts  grew more challenging by the minute.

I had to get out of there.

I’m sorry I missed such a momentous occasion in your life. Again, congratulations!

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I look around the room and I’m so content being alone. I can feel my shoulders untightening the longer I sit here.

I sip my warm tea, curl my legs up, and find a good series on Netflix. I can shut my mind off now. I can let my anxiety cool off to a low simmer. No questions for me. No demands of me. No smiling for me.

The doorbell rings…

For the LOVE—call before you come over.

I’ll pretend I’m not home.

The lights and TV are on.

Shit.

(Opens door.)

HEY! What an awesome surprise!! The house is a mess, but come on in… let chat! It’s so good to see you….

Depression Sucks.

I don’t want to talk.

I need rest.

I need silence.

The thoughts in my mind are overwhelming. They won’t stop. My life is a constant battle of outside voices competing with internal thoughts. It’s too much.

I don’t know how, but I need rest.

I’m lonely, but I can’t silence the storm of thoughts in my mind when another voice is in my ear; so I shut everyone out and feel relieved when they finally walk away.

I don’t mean to hurt feelings, but I need silence.

I don’t want anyone around because the tension that radiates from their discomfort with silence is even worse than being forced to talk.

I know they mean well, but I need rest.

I don’t need to lay down in the sense that it’s been a long day. I need to disappear for a while in the sense that it could be fatal if I don’t.

I need silence.

I need rest.

I don’t want to cater to your emotional demands at this time. If there’s ever been a time I need to be selfish it is right now. I cannot heal if I’m constantly juggling how my illnesses are affecting you.

I need someone who doesn’t take control.

I need someone who listens without reacting.

I need someone who is comfortable to sit in silence, because I’m going to stay quiet for a long time. It would be nice to have a presence with me, but it will take a very special soul to keep me at ease.

I need someone who will let me be me. The broken, doubting, overwhelmed, depressed, sometimes angry me. I need someone strong enough to let go of the control that causes them to tell me I’m great and perfect and wrong to believe I’m anything less than magnificent. I need someone that will let me be me in my worst form, because that is the foundation of my healing.

Once I feel safe to step outside the numbest areas of my conscious, I will start processing my overwhelming thoughts one by one. I will keep what is good, and evict what is bad. I cannot be led in this process, and I cannot answer the questions that may arise. You must allow me to lead, and at my own pace. These thoughts will be ugly, and terrifying, and disturbing, and as close to demonic as one will ever get without actually stepping foot through the gates of Hell. I need someone who can listen without reacting, because the second you react is the instantaneous moment I will no longer consider you safe.

I know I’ve hurt your feelings, and for that I am sorry. I know you’ve meant well by the band-aids you’ve offered, but the infection is just too deep to be covered. I know you want to walk this road for me, but I must go it alone. I only need to know that if I get scared I can scream and you will hear me. I need reassurance that I will make it–not how I will make it–but that you’re confident I will find a way. My own way.

 

Love.