An Excerpt from My Memoir: “It’s Summer Somewhere: Seasons in a Life with Mental Illness Through Diaries, Essays, & Poems”

 

Sanity is an inside joke, and I’m on the outside looking in. I learned early on that you can’t be both black and crazy in this world and expect to live a “normal life”. Both carry too much weight and stigma and most people are too afraid to acknowledge the humanity that lies within people seemingly different from them. Maybe they are afraid of seeing themselves in me. Maybe it brings up too much guilt. But here I am all the same.

Growing up, I tried to fit in. And by growing up, I mean up until this very day. It works for a bit. Long enough for me to feel accepted and loved. In my mind being accepted and loved by my chosen community (whether it’s the cheerleading team, the punk rock scene, or marriage) waters that small seed of self-acceptance that lives deep inside me with enough validation to feel human. I begin to take root. It’s a beautiful feeling, and what I imagine sanity feels like. Then it happens. The newness wears off and the embrace I shared with my community starts to fade. The community begins releasing its hug and I’m still lingering in its flaccid encirclement. In that state, I try to figure out ways to make them accept me again. So I bend and bend and bend and before you know it I lose myself like a musician improvising to a song that doesn’t exist. It’s cold there, on the outside. The roots I sprouted were shallow and not lasting long enough to blossom into permanent self-acceptance and validation. So you can only imagine what it was like going through a divorce…

The mental illnesses I live with affects all those afflicted by them differently. For me, all of my senses are turned up to eleven. I hear things both said and thought by humans and inanimate objects. I see things. I feel everything. Hard. When it’s a full moon, I both crave and repulse being touched so I just hide in my room like a fucking werewolf and wait for it to pass. Emotional triggers feel like being shot in the heart. I often experience physical pain when I hear or see something that is associated with a situation that hasn’t been healed. It takes me by surprise and it’s hard to “come back”. That’s when the dissociation begins. Expressing autonomy in that state is like trying to cut vapor. Writing when I feel like I’m entering a dissociative state helps me to ground and come back to myself. Some of the chapters in this book are written when I’m either dissociating or coming back from my trip.

 The world slows and I feel like I’m just as much Vanessa as I am the chair I’m sitting on. Then I’m less and less Vanessa and more and more everything else…sound, paper, beads. In that state, it feels like being held hostage under water. It is hard for me to breathe or move. So I let it have me and it eventually passes. In the daytime, I’ve learned to come out of that state pretty but at bedtime it’s the hardest. At night, if I’m not merging with inanimate objects then I’m living a separate life in my dreams that is just as real as this one. The only difference is that life is easier to control. My prophetic dreams are a little harder to deal with especially when they are about other people. I used to sleepwalk but I haven’t done that in years. Without meds, I’m lucky to sleep a few hours at a time. It’s hit or miss really. Medication does help me to function and meditation helps me to focus and also with practicing radical self-acceptance.

Sometimes I’m just super awkward. I feel like two board games mixed together. All of the pieces make sense in their own box but together it’s a big cluster fuck. The manual for one game is lost so I’m often left trying to play Scrabble with pieces from Connect Four and wonder why no one understands what I’m spelling out for them.

Most of those who know me were surprised when I finally came out about the disorders I live with. So as not to shock their system, I did it in easy to swallow doses. posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was the first one. People know that one. They can sympathize with that one. They just didn’t know that it is becoming more and more common in divorced women. In all honesty, neither did I.

Then I told them about living with bipolar disorder. People who have witnessed my mood swings smirked as if to say, “duh”. What they didn’t know about was the several suicide attempts and being hospitalized. I’ve learned to live with this disorder by focusing on my strengths when I’m at my extremes and doing my best to be patient with myself while riding the wave. I’ve come to acknowledge that this is how my brain works. So be it. I guess it helps that bipolar disorder was coined, “The CEO Disease”, given that Steve Jobs, three of the Netscape founders, and a few other super successful business people are also bipolar. I’m in good company. Even so, I was still not shouting it from the rooftops because people can be condescending when you are mentally ill. Your feelings are just attributed to your disease and therefore invalid and worthy of being ignored. I took that risk and shared it with a few people I’m close with. And like I said before, they just gave me the “duh” look.

Then there is the newest and most accurate diagnosis, borderline personality disorder. It is a controversial diagnosis and the one whose symptoms have been the most disturbing in my life. Even when I was presented with bipolar disorder, I knew that was a part of what I was experiencing but not the full picture. When my psychiatrist brought up BPD, I immediately cried. 1) Because I was overjoyed that someone finally listened long enough to put the pieces together and now I could move forward with a treatment plan that is more likely to be effective 2) Even though I knew the doctor hit the nail on the head when he read me the list of symptoms, who the hell wants to have a personality disorder?! 3) My psychiatrist is really cute and even though I could never date him for obvious reasons, one of the symptoms of BPD is having highly inappropriate relationships (case in point).

My mom was the first person I told about BPD. She looked up the symptoms online and gave me the same “duh face” my friends gave me when I told them about being bipolar. “Yup that makes all the sense in the world,” she said.

Though in this book I refer to myself in terms of my diagnoses, wearing those or any other labels does not speak to the totality of my being. It affects how I function in and experience the world but it is not my full story. When I do use the “I am bipolar” or “I have BPD” statements it is within the context of accepting what is and moving forward, not in an effort to cling to a diagnosis.

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One thought on “An Excerpt from My Memoir: “It’s Summer Somewhere: Seasons in a Life with Mental Illness Through Diaries, Essays, & Poems”

  1. Vanessa you are a beautiful writer! I have a couple close women in my life with BDP so I’m pretty familiar with it – you are strong and awesome and I enjoy watching and getting to know you even if it is at a distance. You inspire me and I’m so glad to have met you!

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