I have five female cousins that I am close to. As the sister-less of the six of us, my cousins have valuable roles in my life.
Two are older, and they are sisters. Three are younger, and they are sisters. The two older ones paved the way for me and have been strong pillars of support my whole life. They lead by good example and always let me into their worlds, even from a young age. The three younger ones have always looked up to me, especially when we were growing up together in the same town. I always loved being a role model to them.
In thinking about my five cousins, I think God put me in the middle of them to offer me a path to follow and give me an opportunity to lead.
As I am coming more out in the open about my bipolar disorder, I reached out to my five female cousins. Last Friday I sent them a loooooonnng email describing my battle with mental illness. I wanted to lay it out there because they all know me well, they are a safe audience to share the heavy information with, and I knew they’d love me in spite of it because they vaguely know about my ups/downs. It felt so good to write and send the email. I was direct without skating around my (former) embarrassment and shame.
I have enjoyed hearing back from them — all their responses filled with love. I am grateful that I could share some of my ugly truths with them and that I didn’t have to make excuses for any of my past behaviors. And surprisingly my words flowed quickly and easily out of me.
Today I asked one of my cousins a question about something she wrote in her response to me. She had brought up a time when we briefly roomed together and an episode happened to me that caused me to spiral out of control. It’s fuzzy, but I am glad she reminded me because it’s all part of the puzzle that I (and doctors) have tried to put together for a long time now.
The episode happened in 2006, and I remember laying in bed in the apartment we shared. My cousin, and our other roommate, were trying to help me as I lay flailing and not making sense. Eventually they called my mother who came down, but I refused to seek medical treatment and assured her I was fine. After a crazy few days (that I now realize was the mania), I checked myself into a hotel by myself (that I now realize was the depression). For two days, I hid from the world until I rested enough to function again.
Looking back I realize that was not something a normal person would do, but it fit right in line with other things I had done in my life. I isolated, I suffered in silence due to embarrassment, and I pushed anyone who tried to help me away. I say this not looking for pity or feeling bad for myself; I say this because it is the truth. A small part of me wonders, How could I have been so stupid? But I have to silence those thoughts and replace them with, I am so glad I am figuring this all out. How can I share this with someone else who might need the information? How can I not repeat the behavior?
My cousin apologized for, as she put it, “bringing up demons” when she responded to my question, but I am appreciative and she need not be apologetic. If I am going to write the truth — my truth — I need all the information I can gather. In order for me to do that, I have to talk to those closest to me and go as deep as I can into my mental health history.
My best friend, Vicki, told me last year when we were in NYC that I have a unique story if I ever want to write a book about it. I laughed and cried at the same time, because even though I know I do, I have never been certain it’s interesting to anyone beyond a few people.
Vicki and I spent this past weekend together, and she reminded me again that I have a story, but only I can decide what I want to do with it. I am starting to realize that if I want to write about my past, I have to face it without too much emotion. I have to research mental illness. I have to read about other people’s battles with mental illness. I need to learn more information on bipolar disorders. I have to ask my friends and family tough questions and be ready for hard truths, no matter how upsetting they might be.
The more people I talk to the more I am realizing that my story is there for the taking if I want it. I have a lot of work to do if I want this, and I think I do. And if I am going to expose my battles, I have to go as deep in detail as I can possibly go in order for complete authenticity. No sugar-coating, no beating around the bush, no holding back, no bullshit. No one wants a half-assed story. I have to put it all out there no matter how much it hurts.
But maybe it won’t.
I have come so far in the past few months with regard to my accepting my mental illnesses, that maybe it’ll flow as easily as the email I wrote to my cousins.
One step at a time, I remain hopeful about the future.