The Path and the Edge

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We all walk through life, most of us without any knowledge that this cliff exists. The edge that is there that if we cross – we’re done. I am talking metaphorically of course; not the actual Cliffs of Dover (although if you walk off that you are indeed done as well)

I’m meaning the edge of mental health wellness. Most people wander along so far inland (mentally healthy) that they don’t see the cliff. They may be aware it’s there but they don’t see it. Maybe they’ve heard about it from others or know someone who has gotten too close and come back or even someone who’s fallen off… but they’re ok.

Then there are those of us who come close enough to see it and smell the scent of what it encompasses. The depression, the fear, the sadness and the apathy… and so much more. Most of those that see it wander and come away from it again to go on their way, safe and all right. Sometimes they wander near again and again, but always back to safety they end up going.

There are those who spend their whole lives traversing close to the edge, dangerously close at times and barely less so at others… but always with that drop in sight. A hard path and a tiring one… but sometimes in the sunshine so that even though the edge is there it’s still sometimes not a bad way to walk.

Then there are those who walk so close to the edge… for so long.. and without the heat or brightness from the sun… those that start to move towards the edge even more closely. Knowing the danger and the potential… and starting to embrace it and even seek it… as a means to end the walking and the path that is just too hard.

Some take a running jump and leap, impetuously and with very little forethought… others walk so long and think so hard and then take a steady pace and are over the edge resolutely… some sit for what feels like forever, legs dangling over the edge as they contemplate and muse, then quietly – almost silently – slip off and are gone.

We all live within the edge… most have never felt it’s pull and so many of us that do feel it stay on this side of it. So many find that the edge is the only place that they can end their journey. Willie did. Missing him more than ever right now.

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Memories not enough

Getting out of the car today and I look over and see the cup that Willie left there the day before he died. The cup that I haven’t had the heart to move yet. The cup that I noticed was there 2 days after he died. I looked at the cup then and the feeling that overwhelmed me then was simply disbelief.
I remember looking at the cup and not being able to place how it got in the cupholder on the door…the passenger door. Then, in a split second, it hit me. I could hear myself telling Willie – like I did a thousand times before – to make sure he took his garbage out of the car with him when he got out. I could see him as clear as he was just a couple of days before… opening the door and saying “yup” like he always did… and not taking the cup with him. I didn’t give it a second thought then. We had just spent the afternoon together talking about counselling and schooling options and picking up his little brother and getting to a therapy session for him. We were meeting his Dad there and it was nearing rush hour and I was focused on traffic and schedules and the stress that had been building since the month before when he had been released from the hospital. That cup was the furthest thing from my mind… yet I had automatically told him to make sure he took it with him. Even in the midst of therapy sessions and the surrealistic “normalcy” we had going of trying to ensure that Willie didn’t commit suicide I still had autopilot going to throw a Mom moment about a plastic cup.
Less than 24 hours later, Willie was dead. Two days after that I found myself looking at that cup and being slammed by shock.

Today I opened the car door to get out my bags and I looked down and saw the cup that I have come to see but not really see. Today though, it took me right back to that moment. I saw Willie again, clear as if he was right there… shrugging and saying “yup” and uncurling his lanky self out of the car – all legs and arms too new in their length for his 16 year old body and mind to wrangle as he sped through puberty. His voice, newly deep and rough – no hint left of my baby in that voice. Him striding away across the parking lot in front of me and his brother. Just over an hour later I would be saying goodbye to him for the last time.

That cup is my last physical connection to him. Some have argued with me that I should get rid of it; that all it does is bring up painful memories. I disagree though… the pain of loss and memories of that last day are far outweighed by the comfort that it brings when I look over and see it. That connection to him is too significantly the last and final physical connection for me to let it go. It’s hard enough to accept that those memories of him, talking and moving and “being” are only memories and that I’ll never see him again… hard enough to accept that…16 years of memories is too little to last me the rest of my life… but it has to.

Want or need?

We all have needs and wants and we’ve all had it drilled into us that wants are different from needs. That we don’t “need” all the things that we think we do; that, in fact, most of the things we think we can’t live without are just materialistic wants.

But what about when the line between what is a need and what is a want becomes blurred?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week on this and how it affects my life and more importantly, my quality of life.

The truth is that we only need a few simple things to exist. Food, shelter.. really not much to live. Our society has become so stuck on wants that are perceived as needs that there is almost a disgusting sense of greed that so many think they need to have a life.

When I moved a year and a half ago, it was a long distance move from one city to another and I decided to make this the time to purge my “things” and start over. I held onto the most important items but very much cleansed my life of most of my material objects. What happened is that I have found myself living with the sense of “I have what I need, I don’t need more than this”.. true in one sense but the reality that has become obvious to me lately is that sometimes something that you think is just a want is really a need… when you look at living versus existing.

I can live anywhere… yet I moved to Victoria – and specifically to the area of Victoria that I did – because of a need to have a certain lifestyle to have a quality of life that’s not just a want anymore, but a need – a need to be happy. Being able to walk to work instead of drive in gridlock commuting… being close enough to the ocean and beautiful beaches to walk to on a whim and sit and stare and smell the air…having an apartment with character instead of a cookie cutter look… these are all, on the surface, extraneous wants yet to me, they have become needs for me to have a life that is fulfilling. Going back to the morning rushing and exhausting end of day from commuting hell is not something that is permissible now to me. This lifestyle is a need for me. Non-negotiable to my happiness; and my happiness is finally on my radar.

Just like we need food to fuel our bodies and enable us to live, our souls need nourishment too. You can argue that having love and companionship isn’t necessary and in some sense that’s true. I have spent the last long while living the truth that while friends are nice and feel good, anything beyond that isn’t a need for me. That I’m all good alone and that I don’t need anyone in my life to make me complete… and that is a truth… I can exist alone. Yet having recently started to let people into my life and my heart, it has shown me that what I have always perceived as a want may in fact be a need. Not in the way that I can’t live without love and companionship, but with an awareness that for my life to be the quality that I need, then having people who I love and hold close to me is fundamental to that happiness. Living openly in relationships that fulfill who I am and how I love is a need to me now in my relationships, no longer just a want.

We always hear “life is too short to live without….” and the simple truth is that it’s not the quantity of life, it’s the quality of the life we choose to live with that’s important. Sometimes the wants become needs and we don’t realize it.

A Story in Scars

There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple of years surrounding eradicating the stigma that envelops mental illness. It’s something that I’ve seen first hand with how my son was hiding his illness from everyone because he was scared and ashamed of what was happening to him that he couldn’t control.

I’ve done lots of watching and reading of some great movements that are striving to help all of us, but youth in particular, not feel that shame and to be able to speak openly. Not just about mental illness and mental health in general but in a more personal way.

The campaign “Not Myself Today” ( https://www.notmyselftoday.ca/ ) is a more adult geared campaign that looks to end the stigma attached with mental health issues in the workplace. A great idea, and one that I speak openly about supporting at my own workplace. But… and here’s the catch… do I speak about my own personal struggles? Nope. Only a very few select people at work know that I lost my son to suicide. None know the daily fight I have with my own depression or PTSD or the thoughts that rampage through my mind that I am almost too ashamed to even admit to myself. Only my direct supervisor knows that I am seeing therapists and dealing with depression – and this only because I worried for my job security as I felt myself slipping in my ability to function a few months back.

I had plans to go to the gym yesterday during my work day and when I was getting ready to go I realized that I had forgotten to pack my long-sleeved workout shirt. Anyone who has known me for years knows that I tend to wear as little as possible on top when I work out. Spaghetti straps all the way – I get really hot and sweat, a lot, when I work out. So for me to be focused on wearing a long-sleeved top… well that in itself is unlike me. That I almost didn’t go to the gym because of this speaks volumes about how I feel about the scars on my arms. It’s not that I think scars are hideous or disfiguring; I really am not that concerned about the actual look of them. It’s what they represent and how people will automatically make assumptions and even label me based solely on the physical manifestations of my struggle with mental illness.

My arms are always covered at work to hide them. When I shop for work clothes my clothing choices are limited now not by what feels good or fits, but by what the clothing covers – or what it doesn’t. I add long sleeved sweaters to every outfit that has short sleeves to ensure that people that I work with don’t see the scars. So that they won’t ask questions that I don’t want to answer honestly. How do you explain to someone that you cut yourself to deal with the pain and feelings caused by depression. THAT doesn’t sound “normal”… I’m in a position of authority at work. I’m the manager; what kind of a manager can I be if I am so incapable of self-control as to do THAT to myself. These are the thoughts that go through my mind. The mind of someone who knows better and who talks the talk about reducing the shame of living with mental illness. Ironic.

I have foregone Physiotherapy, Acupuncture, Massage and Chiropractic care because I couldn’t let the practitioner see my cuts. I alter my activities and choices based on hiding something that I’m ashamed of that I shouldn’t be.

Even with all of the talk of ridding our society of stigma, it’s still there. Fully and completely and thriving. It’s not just that I imagine that this is the reaction… it is. I see the looks and have heard the comments from people who notice the scars and the cuts. Friends who don’t know the truth who ask if my kittens got me when they see one of the cuts poking out of a sleeve. The next sentence is “they must have claws like knives – it almost looks like cuts.. but who would be crazy enough to do that” and they laugh. And I laugh too because how do you say that yes, they are cuts, and yes, you are crazy enough to do it to yourself. The sad truth is that I balance the options of either being truthful and not hiding the scars and cuts and maybe, just maybe, educating people… or keeping them covered and not having to face the stigma. I wonder if by me hiding them I am contributing to the perception going on and on. The perception that someone who has signs of mental illness is viewed as weak and incapable… categorized as being not able to handle stressors…as someone who is to be wary of and handled with a ten foot pole.

My inner Self says to wear the short sleeves and know that whatever someone else may think or view me as is wrong…The truth is that my cutting doesn’t tell a story in scars that I’m weak… it’s screams “Fuck you mental illness, I’m still here”. That’s not something to be ashamed of. That’s a truth to be proud of.