It’s been a long while. My apologies. What can I say? Life has been busy.
I’ve been following old dreams and creating new ones.
And I’ve been keeping up with my classroom visits and workshops. Oh how I love working with kids. I enjoy challenging their ideas and understandings of mental illness. I don’t tell them about my diagnosis or about my story until we have spent at least a good hour together looking at the myths and stigma around mental illness. And it’s interesting how most classes react the same way when I start in on what happened to me.
The teacher, who most often has been taking the opportunity to mark or plan while I entertain the students, looks up from his or her desk. The students stop shifting in their seats or whispering to their neighbors. Curiosity is piqued. Attentions are grabbed. All of a sudden the somewhat abstract ideas of the last hour aren’t so abstract anymore with a live specimen at the front of the room.
That’s when I tell them that I live with Bipolar Disorder. I explain how it began after the birth of my children. I describe what mania and depression feel like. I make it real for them.
I talk about how I take responsibility for my diagnosis. That at first it was hard to accept, but how now I see it for what it is: a gift. One that allows me a platform of firsthand experience. A foundation from which to inform, encourage and inspire others. A place from which to stand proud and tall in the face of all the sordid negative crap that surrounds mental illness. It’s a place of privilege and a place of responsibility – one that I accept wholeheartedly.
Afterwards there are often disclosures. Quiet children following me as I leave, requesting a moment of my time in private to tell me a story of their own. Sometimes there are tears. Connecting these children to community supports feels good. It feels right.
And telling my story over and over feels right too.
In fact, it was about eight months ago while driving home from a workshop that I realized the significance of telling my story. I reflected on the way I felt in the classroom that day. How my body felt as I stood at the front of a room of strangers and talked about the darkest and most difficult period of my life. My heartbeat was normal. My breathing relaxed. There were no flutters in my stomach or anxiety in my chest. I had told my story without an ounce of stress or heartache.
This was a big deal. This was hard, quantifiable evidence of the progress I had made.
Where embarrassment and shame had once kept my diagnosis privy to just my inner circle, now acceptance and self-love had completely emboldened me. Confidence had grown where fear had once stood. And it had all happened while I wasn’t even paying attention.
That’s what I love about life. Things change. It’s quite impossible for us to remain the same. People try to convince us that we can get stuck, but we can’t. From one day to the next the circumstances of life continually affect us and encourage us to be better.
I’m thankful for the gift of hindsight. It allows me to look back and take stock. And it provides perspective when life is full steam ahead. It reminds me, that even when you aren’t even noticing, life keeps on trucking, quietly going about the business of wanting what’s best for you.