In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week…I offer you a short story about suffering from mental illness. Will you take the time to spread the word, to spread acceptance, empathy and compassion? Everyone knows someone who suffers, even if you don’t realize it, for many suffer alone. Are you willing to make it a bit easier for them by increasing awareness? Share this story, or share your story, or talk to someone this week. I challenge you….
I’m standing in the basement of my unfinished house, half listening to my husband and father discuss something about the heating system. My husband, my parents and I have been building for about 6 months at this point. It’s winter and very cold. It’s not much better inside the house since we have no insulation or heating system. I’m shivering despite the fact that I’m wearing enough clothes to immobilize me.
This weekend we’re working on electrical, stringing wires through studs, mounting boxes and stapling wires. Soon we’ll go back upstairs to frantically try to finish what we’re working on, hands out of gloves for as long as we can stand it until they are freezing and unable to complete any task, fumbling with the tools, dropping supplies while my parents will work on the heating system downstairs. We’ll try to get as much done as possible and even so the stress of building my own house, of spending every free moment here for months on end will continue to take its toll on me. Budgets, schedules, and a bank and town that wants us to finish is pushing me past my limit. My eyes water with hot unshed tears at this thought and I stamp my feet trying to increase circulation and pull my hands into my jacket. Don’t think about the big picture or you’ll lose it.
I am so tired. I’m tired of being cold. I have so many clothes on that I feel stiff and my feet are beginning to ache against the freezing cement floor. My stomach aches too and with the thought that the only bathroom here is a port-a-pottie at the top of the driveway, some 250 feet away in the blistering wind, my stomach clenches and squeezes painfully. And I can’t even think about leaving, going home to our dirty apartment that I don’t have time or energy to clean.
I stare dully at the multi-colored lally column that supports our huge 3 ply main carrying beam and all I can focus on are my thoughts. I want to leave. I want to escape. I need to use the bathroom but I don’t want to go out there. My stomach rumbles, piercing me like a knife buried and twisted just above my pubic bone and sweat trickles under my arms even though it’s freezing. My thick clothes are clammy with sweat that will soon leave me shivering. I don’t want to be here today, but I have no choice, I am trapped because we must work, we must get things done. My stomach grips itself up, clenched so tight that I shove my crossed arms into my gut to stop the pain as the room around me, the heating system, the piping, my father and husband are suddenly blurry and smeared. I am terrified. I am trapped. A prisoner of this project.
Without warning I’m floating above me, just behind my head, looking down, watching my struggle.
I need something to happen. I need to end this. I need to stop feeling this way.
I’m losing control now, heart thudding loudly in my head, every fear about being trapped both physically and theoretically jailed in this year long project with no escape or end in sight without several more months of punishing schedule, unanswerable questions and problems, rushes through my mind. A kaleidoscope of worries and fears. I am stuck here. I can’t go home. There are obligations here, responsibilities and the only way to stop the stress is to work, work, work myself to death. I can’t leave. But I am so tired! We must finish this, there are so many things hanging in the balance.
Pure panic is strangling my throat, cutting off my air. Heat engulfs me as if I’ve been set on fire, cheeks aflame. It’s hard to breathe. My overactive imagination forms every fear in rich real detail. Failing our inspections, the bank revoking funds, never being able to live here, messing up somehow catastrophically, structurally, destroying our investment.
My pulse ticks at my wrist under my too tight hair elastic and a bead of sweat trickles down my ice cold, now shivering back. My knees quiver and my stomach begs me to rush up the drive in the cold, shooting a red hot ripping pain for inspiration. Suddenly I feel alone. Terribly alone inside my own head, stuck in here with the thoughts that I can’t escape. Obsessive, controlling, highly irrational, over tired, emotional, creative. I can’t get out of my own head! What can I do?! How can I escape?! I hate me. I hate me. I hate me. I need peace! I need to stop feeling this way! I want to feel…nothing… for just a little while!
My stomach lurches, grinding and churning inside me and my leg muscles twitch with my desire to run out of here as I step back and forth from foot to foot trying to ease the ripping pain inside me and the obsessive terror thoughts controlling my mind. Everything around me is unreal, colored by fear, by worries that are bigger than I can handle alone, a huge smothering, suffocating, I can’t breath, terrorfest.
And then, with a physical shiver, like a jolt of electricity, the thought settles over me, terrible but somehow like freedom, a portal opened in my mind to another realm of possibility.
I could kill myself. I could die. If things get too bad I can always end it. That is my last resort. It’s my choice, my option. It’s the only option I really have for escape.
A stunning revelation.
The thought percolates, warms, and settles into my imagination, this revelation that death is the answer. The only true freedom, the only escape. A door that has been opened, announcing to me that there is a way to end this, to stop this, to be in control. The only true control I have over my body, my mind, the fact that I worry and react.
The thought is wonderful, like a balm, like looking at a soft pastel landscape painting. Peace. Yes, I could end it. I could shut me off once and for all.
I close my eyes and sway for a moment. Death. Yes. Control.
I can see it behind my eyes. I am no more. I am free. I have escaped the terror of being alive, of living inside my own head with my thoughts, feelings and obsessive irrational worries.
Even as the thought grows, the greatest truth, the only control I truly have, I know I won’t do it.
It’s too drastic, too sudden, too serious, too permanent. But the idea….the thought that freedom is out there somewhere, elusive as it may be is…beautiful and terrifying and real.
It’s a last option, but it’s an option, it’s a choice.
My very alive heart thuds in my chest.
After a few moments, the feeling of this strange heart throbbing, mind buzzing freedom eases and my husband is finished talking to my father and is ready to go back upstairs to work. He looks at me for a moment, a very normal everyday glance and I nod and follow him up the stairs.
As my icy feet and heavy legs plod up the stairs to more work in the cold, I wonder about the fact that he has no idea the kinds of thoughts in my head, not unless I tell him and even then it’s a facsimile, a pale comparison to how it really feels to be me. No one has any idea what goes on in my head, I truly am alone, we all are. No one knows the kind of irrational terror that takes hold of me, sending my body into spasms of uncomfortable agony or the kind of delicious fear and truth that make death seem like a kindness, like a very viable option.
I’m very adept at hiding it these days. I’ve had lots of practice over the years.
No one knows how often this happens to me, how often I’m on the verge of this happening to me.
No one knows the fear that grips me, that turns my mind into a battle zone where the only outcome is certain death.
And yet, I go on. I struggle and I continue. For death might be the only option, but it’s an option I won’t entertain.