Last night I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted. I had one of those days where I felt ineffectual and frustrated and all too hyper aware of every single thing in the universe. I went home and went to yoga and tried to calm my mind but it wouldn’t stop. During shavasana I couldn’t quit running “I could have been a better mom” scenarios through my head. Those always lead to the “I could have been a better partner” scenarios. Then as I laid there waiting for sleep the mother load of scenarios “How could I have saved Casey” went through my head. And I couldn’t quit hearing Chris’s call in my head.
“He’s gone H. Casey’s gone”.
Which brought me to today. Today is the 2 year anniversary since Robin Williams checked out. No one knows exactly why. That’s how these things work. But one thing that irritated me greatly out of the media at that time, was this phrasing; “Now mental illness has a face”.
Man, that elicited a giant ‘fuck you’ out of me at the time.
Mental illness has a million faces every day. I guarantee if you are reading this, you know someone who has been affected by: depression. anxiety. bi-polar disorder. suicidal thoughts or attempts. schizophrenia. or some other disorder in a long line of disorders that affect human beings.
If you zoom that lens out even further, we get to a much more complex study in human beings in general and the concept of “normal’. This is also what makes treating mental illness so damn tricky. That “normal” line.
So one day my friend and I were talking. And her and I are pretty much polar opposites on the emotions spectrum. And she had recently gotten upset to the point of tears about something and said “I think I had my bi-yearly cry” and I laughed and said, “and I had my second cry of the day!” So which of us is “normal”? Both? Neither?
This presents a problem, when recognizing the signs of certain situations. For instance, last year I was pretty severely, probably needed treatment, depressed. My life had imploded. I lost my mom and if you read my blog you know what a shit storm of emotional baggage that is. I lost my job. My career. Man, I took that hard. I still do. I lost one of my best friends. My son moved out. And I carried a lot of guilt about all of those things individually. I pretty much spent last summer staring at my ceiling. What had I done to have all of those things land at the same time? Why was the universe testing every possible limit of my will to LIVE. But every day I got out of bed. And I went to my new job. And I made dinner for my son. And I told myself, “You’re depressed, but you aren’t that depressed. You still get out of bed. Keep it together Smith”. A pretty “normal” reaction to my life’s events at the time. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t off the “normal” spectrum.
I was that depressed. I should have seen a counselor. But instead I took trips I couldn’t afford and got out of this town and eventually, I could breathe again. Because I knew, from life’s experience, that it would get better. That it hurt like hell, but it would get better.
Casey didn’t have that life experience. He didn’t know that in a year his life would be different. That the things that were causing him so much pain, would be different eventually. I had JUST seen him. I had just held him in my arms, given him a big hug. I watched him walk with his dad into Best Buy a week or so after Christmas. I remember standing there in the parking lot. Tears in my eyes. Watching my former partner and my former “step son” walk into the store together. Happy tears. I missed them both so badly. But honestly felt like we were all in a good spot. How do you know? He was gone in less than three weeks. He would feel so badly, he would use his shotgun against his precious face and opt out.
Humans are complex beings. We don’t even arrive onto this plane of existence without baggage. We are made up of stardust and all of the things that make up our souls. We are comprised of generations of DNA full of quirks and twists. We are born with weak spots. We find ways to cope and adapt to live with those. Sometimes we grow up and we meet life partners and we either try to fix them, or let them fix us. Eventually someone gets exhausted and at the end of the day, we really all need to be our own caretaker. Because at the end of the day. NO ONE CAN FIX YOU. Though it is really nice when someone is around to help you cope. But anyway.
We all need to get better at talking. “I’m not sure you are ok”. And “it’s ok to not be ok. But what can we do to make it less miserable not being ok right now?”
I used to ask my kids “are you ok?” and the answer was most often “yes. i’m ok”. Sometimes they were NOT ok. Really, really not ok.
And sometimes I didn’t know they weren’t ok. Often probably.
_SIDEBAR – IT IS REALLY HARD TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TEEN WHO IS BEING A “NORMAL” TEEN AND A TEEN IN CRISIS. In fact. There is no outward difference. Yeah.
But sometimes I should have said “I’m not sure you are ok”. I feel like that might opened the door to conversation better. And there were times last year people would say to me “Are you ok?” and my response was always “Yes, I am ok”. Because of course I am ok. I am going to work. I am making dinner.
Meanwhile, 9 months of unpaid bills sat stacked in my dining room.
So back to normal.
There is no clear bar of “normal”. And there aren’t often clear signs of “not normal”.
You have someone like Robin Williams, the proclaimed “face of mental illness”, who certainly by most stretches of what we know about him, wasn’t the most normal person. Zoom that lens back in closer and I wonder how many people realized he was in crisis.
We need to quit looking at others and at ourselves and being so hard about not being “normal”. Every person experiences life differently. Some with a lot of anxiety. Some with none. Some with a lot of baggage they are dragging around, some with a lot less. Some people find solace through their church or belief system. Some find medication helpful. Maybe it’s a good therapist. Maybe it’s through writing and sharing. Or yoga. Or maybe all of the above. And sometimes none of those things make our normal feel normal. And sometimes that is just ok. And sometimes, it isn’t.
There aren’t clear answers. If there were, humans would be a lot less complex. Life would be a lot simpler for a lot of people and we wouldn’t be having conversations about what mental illness looks like.
But it’s rarely clearly defined. It’s not concrete. It’s an ever moving bar of assessment for each individual on a scale that only means something to them. Am I ok? Am I not ok?
Can I be? How do I get there? And when do I reach out for help.