When I first became mentally I was 25. I was still at an age where appearance mattered. I was still at an age where I really cared what other people thought of me. So it was with bated breath that I asked my mother if you could tell by looking at me that I was mentally ill. She gave me the once over and with unconditional love she said “Yes, Kate, I can tell because there is a sadness about you that was never there before.” This was not the answer I wanted to hear. I proceeded to cry my eyes out, only adding to the evidence of sorrow that I know wore on my brow.
As I have aged I have begun to have terrible anxiety, coupled with depression. It is so hard to describe the anxiety. It feels like someone has peeled off my skin using a dull instrument, bits of skin are still hanging off and there is some exposed bone. Yes, that’s about what it feels like.
Meanwhile now that I am older, I don’t really care what people think of me. But it still matters to me that my mental illness is my secret. I don’t want to go out in public wearing it on my sleeve. It is private. It is the invisible disability. I reveal it on stage, but that is my chose. Normally I want to blend in.
What I have learned is that it helps me to protect my illness by objectifying it; to distance myself from it. It helps to understand that my illness is not me; it is not even part of me. It is a living, growing entity completely separate from me. I am not my illness. I must not be defined by my illness. I have bipolar but it doesn’t have me!! I never say I AM Bipolar.
I am a lover of the trend to name your mental illness. It gives you distance, it gives you perspective. My anxiety is called Frank. Frank even has a job. He works at Shell Oil. (This came about because every time I rehearse, I use a pretend volunteer, and I would always call him Frank. My husband and I laughed about this and it stuck. Frank from Shell) my anxiety is a living, sentient being. Now I can relate to it from a powerful distance. And I do.
For years (yes I’ve been ill for years on end) I tried to move away from Frank. I tried to reject him. But he just kept following me around. People often talk about living with the Black Dog. This is the same thing, try as I might, I was living with Frank.
Then one day my husband said, “Make him your friend.” It never occurred to me that Frank had any attributes that would make him my friend. But I was desperate, I would try anything. And so, instead of moving away from my anxiety, I started to move toward it. Where ever in my body that I felt the barbed wire, I would take my mind and gently focus to it. And it would move. Nothing stays the same. As soon as I shone a light on my depression, it scattered like cockroaches. (Not that I know from personal experience, I’ve never scattered cock roaches, but you get the idea)
As I began to make my illness my friend, I began to feel I had more control over it. Instead of it following me uninvited, I took it with me. I visualized that Frank and I walked arm in arm. Yes, Mother, there is a new sadness about me, but there is also a calm. I am the boss and Frank does as he is told. He will do anything except leave me alone. And that’s fair enough. He can share my world. This was a much better existence than when I fought to get rid of him.
Then one day, Frank just got bored; Bored of all the self-help and self-care that I was practising. And one day, completely unannounced, Frank went away. It’s not that long ago that he went. I still have him on speed dial in my mobile. But I continue to do the things that annoy him. You know, journaling, meditating, mindfulness – the lot. It’s like I nagged him to death.
I’ve stopped looking over my shoulder. I’m hoping he won’t come back. But after 30 years, I bet on nothing. If and when he does return, he will be welcome. I will tame him. But for now I don’t miss my friend. I am In Recovery, Me.
Have a great day. In Recovery, Me.
About the Author – Kate Hull Rodgers is an expert by experience. She has been mentally ill since 1986, more than 30 years. She is diagnosed as bi polar and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) Every day she battles to be in recovery, many days she wins. She speaks in corporate workplaces with her company www.humourus.co.uk. She has spoken in 29 countries. Also she runs Stepping Stone Theatre for Mental Health www.steppingstonetheatre.co.uk with her husband, Bill- and she is still happily married. Mustn’t forget, she is the proud mother of Harvey and Dominic – and the dog, Zebbie.