Alert: this post may contain material that is triggering for some. If you find yourself in crisis, you can call 1-800-273-8255, or visit www.crisischat.org for support.
What I know to be true in this moment is that mental illness is like faith.
Some people say they believe absolutely in whatever they believe in, do it blindly and without doubt even if it is something they can’t experience through their 5 senses. They call this Faith. To me, Faith is believing absolutely, except when you are doubting absolutely, or when you are somewhere in between. It is having Faith that the only constant is change. It is absolutely believing it is okay to doubt, and okay to believe, and okay to be in the middle. Faith is believing, absolutely, that it is okay to come as you are, that you can show up as your True Self, even if you are punished for it. Joan of Arc was punished for it. Ghandi was, too.
Mental illness is scary, and full of suffering and pain and panicjoy. Pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, are subjective; there are pictoral spectrums for people in hospitals to help their doctors and nurses understand the amount of pain they are experiencing, because Words are of little help in accurately describing an internal experience (though for me they are the closest I can get).
Joy is subjective, too, though we don’t like to think about that, because it is a shiny, sparkly emotion that we like to think we can share. And we can share it, just as we can share pain-but my Sarah experience of Joy will never be experienced by anyone who doesn’t have my Brain. And the same is true for my Sarah experience of Pain.
And so I believe that Faith is subjective. My definition of Faith, as described above, is true only for Me in this moment. It might be true for others, in the moment that they read it, too. I can only hope, because that would mean that I’m not quite so alone. And it would mean that they aren’t quite so alone, too. Because even though my Sarah experiences will only ever be my own, they might resonate with the experiences of others who are Living, or trying to Live.
People start wars because of Faith. They always have. People start wars because of mental illness, too-it just isn’t spoken out loud. And I don’t mean that the people that start them do so because they are crazy. I mean that wars begin because of fear and lack of understanding, and the fierce desire to stand in Your Truth, even if it means killing someone else who is trying to stand in Theirs. Mental illness is biological, chemical, Real things happening in your Brain. And it is, for me, being surrounded by fear and lack of understanding when I am Living My Truth, and being punished, sometimes, for Living In It.
Mental illness is scary to talk about, because when you are experiencing depression, or mania, or anxiety, or suicidal ideation, It is a uniquely You experience. There are common threads, there are links, there are helpful and unhelpful things to say that are true for most humans when they are in It. And what I, Sarah, look like when I am in It, and how I feel when I’m in It, only I will ever know. That’s terrifying. And that’s where Faith comes in.
My Faith is that, as I continue to show up as My True Self, in my Sarahness, it might allow others to do the same. That in giving Words to this subjective experience, it might shine the light on the fact that it is subjective, but not unique. That because I have personally been trapped, I have personally felt the flames, that I can truly “understand a terror way beyond falling.” I’m on the sidewalk, now, and I’ve done the jumping.
David Foster Wallace understood the flames, too; he wouldn’t have been able to write those Words otherwise. I wish that he had known, in the moment before he hung himself, that his Words would help someone else, like me, be a little more brave, a little more willing to use my wild trembling Voice. Perhaps he would still be alive. Not because I have any delusions about my power or impact, but because what saves me, daily, is people around me modeling bravery through vulnerability so I that I can imperfectly attempt the same.
And so, as Intensely Intense as I am, today, I am so very grateful that I am Alive, and so very saddened that he, and many others, are not. And all I can do in this moment, despite the very real risks, is continue to stand in my Truth, to say the Scary things, and to hold on tightly to My imperfectly perfect Faith as I press the “Update” button on my blog.