Outside In

Is my smile convincing?

I have worked extraordinarily hard on this grin. I’ve straightened it, polished it, plucked it, and whitened it. I’ve learned how to use it, too. I’ve figured out that as long as you see it, you will not poke and prod me. You won’t look too far past it for anything deeper. If I’m being truly honest, it’s not even that I’m faking. It is more of a survival skill. It keeps me from falling apart just as much as it appeases you.

Does this outfit look okay?

I’m much too careful how I dress. I put a lot of time into this over the years. If my clothes are ironed and modest you won’t look too long. You won’t think I’m stuck-up, or sloppy. You won’t call me a prude or a slut behind my back. If I look good you will think I am doing well and feeling fine. You won’t know I spend days in the same clothes without showering when I’m depressed. As long as I am well put together on the outside, noone bats an eye. These garments, these simple pieces of fabric, are armor to me. They protect me from you. Your eyes, your thoughts and your judgments.

Is the pinterest-worthy organized home doing what its supposed to?

It is supposed to look like I’ve got this. I don’t. I really don’t. But does it look like I do? God I hope so. I wouldn’t want you to think I actually live here alone with a three and five year old. I don’t want anyone to know that I struggle to stay on top of it these days. In the extremely rare event someone comes here I spend hours stashing toys, scrubbing toilets, washing dishes and generally, hiding all evidence of life. You won’t get to see that this is hard for me. I’ll do everything I can to prove I’m just as good at this today as I was a year ago with an extra set of hands.

Does my voice sound right?

If I’m talking to you, I assure you I am working harder at controlling my thoughts and response tone than I am at listening. I don’t want you to hear that today my mind is racing, or maybe that I just finished crying. If I talk too fast, you’ll know. If my voice shakes, you’ll know. If I don’t respond fast enough you might know it’s hard for me to focus. You could figure out that I already forgot part of what you said because some anxiety slipped in and distracted me for just long enough to deafen me.

The effort it takes to project this shield to the outside world is exhausting. I’ve recognized it over the last year. Recently I’ve begun lowering it to some extent. At least with a few close friends.

Most the time, there is something, however small or large, that I do not want you to see. For my own comfort and safety I keep my insides in, and my outsides poised.

Survival

Some days are spent, in their entirety, holding my breath. Keeping things in.

I want to scream.

I want to run away.

I want to cry and sob.

I’m so tired.

Some days I just want to let go. I want someone else to take the wheel and drive this car.

I want to ask for help.

I want to not have to ask.

I want to rest.

I’m so tired.

These years have been the greatest of my life. They have been filled with endless joy and happiness. But those things did not come easily or free of pain along the way. They came with days and nights full of fear too. Living on edge afraid of losing my babies, my self. Many torturous lessons in staying in the moment, and letting go of control.

Today I am far better at both of those things. I’ve learned I absolutely have no power over anything outside of myself. And I have learned that if I am constantly worrying about tomorrow I miss the joy of today. I could see and hear those sayings all of my life, but I would have never learned what they truly meant if I hadn’t lived what I’ve lived.

I’ve perfected nothing. I am still in the trenches learning as I go. Today I am reminded that with joy can also exist pain, simultaneously. I know for me, it has given me a deeper appreciation for the ups in life, and a peaceful knowledge that the downs don’t last forever.

True, these years have been survival years. Truer still, these years will soon enough be a distant memory. So, for now, I choose to be present for all of this. The pain, the joy and everything in-between.

Actually

So, I write quite a bit about not exactly knowing who I am. But during a stranger that normal week, and with plenty of time to think, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps I do know.

Maybe I know exactly who I am.

The thought continues on to suggest that possibly it’s more that I’ve been too fearful to let her out. Afraid to show myself. Not just to you, or the rest of the world. But I’m kind of terrified of my own inner self.

I’ve spent an exorbitant about of time hiding who I am from everyone else, and even longer stuffing it all down, deep down. Not allowing myself to feel the things I knew damn well where there. Thinking I owed a piece of my soul to everyone and everything on the outside. Never taking into account the toll it was taking on my insides.

I feel free today. Maybe not entirely, but definitely more so than I have in quite a long time. Today, I owe to no one but myself. And what I am owed is liberation. From boxes, and cages and self deprecation.

Fog

I look forward to this day all week.

It is set aside as this special time when I can finally breathe. Feel moderately comfortable. Completely and fully exhale.

This time it was different.

There is something dark and heavy in the air. I could tell myself I’m just imagining it. I know how to do that. But I’ve done that for too long.

I’ve ignored this exact feeling many times over, and eventually it comes back to haunt me. It rears it’s nasty two pronged head another day while I’m kicking myself, wishing I’d have headed the warning.

This fog is coming from one of two places. The traditional answer is that it’s emanating from within me. And only me. That’s the script that I’ve been trained to read. It says I messed up or missed something. I can correct it and clear the air.

The other, less palpable answer, is that it isn’t just me. I won’t be able to fix it. I can’t flip a switch and vanquish this darkness. It’s not mine to eradicate. This is the narrative I despise. In this version of the story I have to rely on faith.

Faith that somehow, some way, something else can mend this brokenness.

Hands in the air, no driving with my knees. Just allowing something else to take the wheel.

Raise Me

The first thing I had written in years, which I wrote in 2018, was a post about seeing you. Seeing the hurt in you and recognizing it. Understanding you and being with you through those moments when life is heavy.

Fast forward two years, and low-and-behold people are doing that for me today.

They see my racing mind at 5:30 am and raise me a phone call at 5:35. To me, not from me. Because they also seem to see that although I need support, I am not the best at asking for it.

They see my tension, my anxiety, and raise me a gentle hand, or even just their presence until I can breathe again. They remind me that I am not crazy, and what I feel is real and normal.

They see my path, and raise me the gift of experience, of having been here before. They don’t tell me what to do, they guide me until I reach my own conclusions.

They see my self-doubt and raise me their reassurance and reminders of what is factual, and what is feeling. They give me the ability to trust in them until I can remember to trust in myself.

They see me.

Every time I think they won’t, or think they’ve had enough, they see that too.

Maybe I’m not too much.

Maybe I am just enough.

They see me, the me that no one else sees, and they raise me still.

What Bipolar Disorder Looks Like For Me

So, now that the cat is out of the bag on one of my secrets I can share more about it.

I have Bipolar Disorder.  I’ve known it since I was about 15 years old.  As the name suggests, it’s looked different over the years.  But it is always there.

I can go days, weeks, years in one spot: manic, depressive, or hypomanic. These are some things that are hard for people to understand.

This isn’t a choice, or lack of trying. This is a disease. This one is tough for a lot of people to grasp, including myself.  It’s hard, even after 18+ years, to constantly come to terms with my brain not quite working properly.

Just last week, I walked into my doctor’s office and asked with tears streaming down my face if he was sure that this is real.  Is this really the Bipolar, or am I just not trying hard enough or doing the right things to “get better” this time.

“This Time” meaning that I have been battling a state of depression and hypomania for about a year.  It came on after a relatively trying year when I wasn’t exactly taking time for myself and I was internalizing a lot of external stress.  I crashed and burned.

I know medication is taboo for some, but for me it is life saving.  I will never get better, so as to not need medication.

I’ve gone years on a lot of meds, and years on as little as one medication. I have and will spend my whole life monitoring and changing medication as needed.  No it’s not fun.  It’s brutal at times.  However, I can’t yoga, meditate or pray my brain into working like yours.

Sure, those types of things work as coping mechanisms.  Yes, it is extremely important for me to take care of myself, know my triggers, and avoid extra stressors but there is no one cure-all for Bipolar Disorder.

Thankfully, today is a pretty good day.  For today, I put one foot in front of the other.  For now, I will continue to write-it-out.  Some days are better than others.  Knowing these things is also key in not getting caught up in the gravity of it all from day-to-day.

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