…and you could do so much more!
Last night I took a lovely twilight walk with my partner along the busy, noisy, but slowly calming streets of my suburb. We walked past terraces, the rise of hills, the sound of families settling for the evening into meals and television show routines. The beauty of the mundane always runs into me as a hot knife.
We walked down to the river, where we laid on the grass.
Our breath synchronised briefly, then fell away, into other fractals of vapour and rythym. The silver glass of the highest arcs of cloud streamed through willows and pine and wet my face with gratitude. Someone said to me recently I feel like I’m just waking up…and I feel so alive. Yes, yes, I know what you mean, I agreed. And I do.
I’m a very bright girl. I’ve known this since I was small. I can think about things, argue about big ideas, make words do little dances and make authorities with red pens like me. That’s a skill set I’ve got. I’ve been told since I was a small person that my big brain, big smile and gargantuan spirit would take me far.
But you know what? I don’t know how to balance my budget. I don’t know how to do my tax return. I can’t organise superannuation for myself. I can’t work out how much a gas bill or electricity bill would be.
That’s not the half of it. Until last year, I didn’t know how to catch a bus or buy a bus ticket. Basic social and financial interactions upset and confused me. I ignored letters, pushed aside paperwork, was incompetent with managing anything beyond the most basic functioning (and often even that eluded me).
I couldn’t, until four months ago, confidently say that yes, today I will wash myself, get up, leave the house and not look for ways to die.
Why? Because nobody told me about bipolar disorder when I was a girl. Nobody told me about the inability to focus, to do anything consistently, to not buckle quickly under stress and turn it, like a perverted alchemist, into a gleaming bout of depression. Nobody declared the truth – that my mind was absolutely, without a doubt, capable of telling me I was the most awfully abhorrent being getting around, and I should snuff that thing out.
Nobody gave me a nudge and let me know that this destructive narrative of panic and doom would be a script blooming fierce into my skull with such authenticity that I couldn’t do anything except believe it.
Sometimes I could be brilliant and a laugh a minute and in everyone’s lap, too. I often appeared normal – always, when guests were around, I believe. Though my memories aren’t to be trusted on the whole.
But there was always a wobbly slide, then a tipping sideways, then a crash.
And nobody told me that people with mental health issues often find someone who will allow them to become dependent on them, and because of their own personal issues, foster that. Keeping one eye on you, caring co-dependently, helping you stay insane.
So it became that the girl who won all the awards, who was close to dux of her school, who gave speeches, and did important things and seemed destined for important things became the girl who was trapped in cycle after cycle of madness, with no job or prospects, a squandered university degree long mouldering out of usefulness, and a terror of leaving the house without her husband. A house overrun with filth, endemic mould, and animals we couldn’t afford to keep.
I spent most of 2005-2009 crying, starting university courses I didn’t finish, and thinking I’d achieved something because I’d walked to the shops to buy some food. My poor parents endured round after round of elated manic and depressed phone calls. Scheme after unfinished scheme, grandiose plans, and later…the tumble back down into the inky muck. They put me back together after suicide attempts and my miscarriage. They smiled and tried to understand the flights of fevered fancy. My mother tells me she spent many years convinced I was going to die, and waiting for it. She hasn’t slept well for years.
I have no idea how many mentors I’ve disappointed. How many teachers would hate to see me now.
I’m quite proud of myself, at present.
As I said, when I left my ex partner, I had almost no life skills, no job prospects, and I had no money. I was 26 then, and I turn 28 this year.
I had my last run at suicide last year. I’m not very good at it; I like life too much even if it sometimes doesn’t like me. I finally got my medication right – for the first time – and found a really good, appropriate doctor. It has made all the difference.
And now that my brain has stopped attacking me at every turn, and I have crystallised into this present form of stability and ‘normalcy’, I am left looking behind at the wreckage.
I cringe at the indiscretions, the inappropriateness, the days drowned in tears and irrational raging. I shudder to think how I lived, as I live so well now.
I don’t know how to do so many things, and sometimes, when I’m on a date with someone new, these catch me out. I cover them up so well. But my stomach twists and turns, because I think deep down I have this ‘knowledge’ that I’m not a real person, not a real grownup. Because I can’t function as others do.
Today it was not knowing what the fuck to expect a quarterly electricity to be. To not know how to attack my superannuation. To face, yet again, the pile of appointments, questions, phone calls and emails I need to master just to make my life function. To not know if today I have the energy, or I will go back to bed. The good news is that my improved mental health means that 95% of the time I err on the side of good function, and only sometimes I run away (which is more habitual than anything).
I try not to be too hard on myself when that happens. It is an echo, a tic, a glitch from recent dream.
So this challenging statement I’m often flummoxed by – ‘but, you’re such a bright girl! You could do so much more!’
How do I deal with it?
It often comes from people I respect, people I admire for their wit and brain and sass. People I would like to be when I grow up. As such, there is implied criticism of what I am doing.
There’s no way I can respond, really, because the response would be far too long and inappropriate. And may possibly involve expletives.
But it would sound…it would sound something like….this:
“I’ve come from being a person who had to visualise her cats dying of starvation in order to compel herself out of bed so she would feed them. I’ve come from not eating, myself. I’ve come from not washing, and crying because there’s loud noises from roadwork, or hyperventilating because I can’t bear the press and closeness of people in a shopping mall. None of that was of my making, but what have I done with that history? I’ve sought help and used it, and gotten out of bad situations, and now I’m in a place where I have gotten advice and resources and can function in basic ways. I’ve negotiated housing for myself. I get out of bed each day. I write and have friends, and laugh and never ever think about death. I hardly ever have anxiety. I deal with officials. I mostly read my mail. I confront things head on. I’ve secured myself full time work. And I’m going to travel, which is all I’ve wanted to do since I was 19.
So in other words, I’ve brought myself back to life.
Is that not enough for you?”
It is for me. Perhaps not forever. But for now – god, yes, it is enough.
Like my friend said to me – I feel like I’m just waking up. And I feel so alive. I think I get to enjoy the simplicity of that for a little while before I pursue a PhD, right?