by: Joyce Roseman
Almost 25 years ago, when I said, "I Do" to Glen, I also said "I do" to his mental illness. I signed up for battle and had no idea I had even enlisted. That didn't change the fact that I was going to have to engage in an all out war against a hideous and fierce disease. I was completely unprepared for this assignment. How could I have known the battles we would wage? How could I have understood the sorrow, loss and deep soul pain that would accompany us on this long journey? There was no way! No one could have helped me see, for no one I knew had ever walked this kind of journey. I WAS LOST!
I laugh out loud right now...I'm still lost at times! Mental illness is so vast, invasive, complicated and varied. Seems the time I figure out one component, that another difficulty arises and I'm once again at a loss all over again. Finding wisdom and answers is as different as each person who suffers. What works for one, may not work for another but there are tools that work across the board. But I didn't start out with these tools. No one does. How can we?
I wish people could grasp the depth and complexities which surround mental illness. I wish I could have always comprehended. I still have my own frequent battles against this crazy disease. I wish my family and friends (that we have lost along the way) would engage in the battle with me. For this is a lonely road. It's riddled with loss, sorrow, disappointments, misunderstanding, challenges and it's an every day fight for survival. I hate the loss. I have personally lost a great deal because I married a man with mental illness. But Glen has lost as much. The loss of 12 jobs in our first 10 years of marriage...who of you can fathom that? Who of you has ever dealt with job loss? Maybe a couple, if you're lucky. But 12???? Really?! Think about it. Then add to that all the people who think they have the perfect job solution for your husband. "Friends" who think they know it all and can prescribe the perfect remedy to stop the cycle of loss. Oh, how do I put that into words? I want to scream at those people...bug off!!!!! I have other words that might be better. Mind you own business!!! Get a grip and before you shoot off your mouth, go do some studying first!!! It might come in handy.
A staggering number of friend and family losses has accompanied Glen and I on this 25 years journey. We came to understand, if we were to survive, we would have to dump the bossy, arrogant, "I have all the answers" family and friends. And we have dumped them. We burned the bridges and it's the hardest loss of this journey. Family has abandoned us. They've turned a deaf ear because mental illness is just too hard and inconvenient for them. AWE!!!! I'm so sorry it's hard for them. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I should feel sorry for them no more. I'm done worrying about what they think. Oh, I still hurt from time to time. I write in my journal, more days than I wish, about how the loss of a relationship with them has pained my soul. It has left me with deep wounds and scars.
The memories fade slowly. Bit by bit, as I walk this road of loss, I find nuggets of truth that help guide me on. "Let your compassion for yourself be the air to cleanse your wound" (Mark Nepo) This has helped me tremendously. I understand and accept grace for me. I am a deeply sensitive soul. All the loss has taken a toll and I wonder how I can go on. Yet, it the midst of my deep loneliness and loss, I find I like myself and that's enough. My wounds are existent in me for a reason. They exist not just to heal me and to change me, but to change every person who dares to forge a relationship with me. And I find I offer a lot! I am a person of incredible value...not because I'm so perfect but because I have stayed the course. I have won small battles here and there and when lumped together, "I AM WINNING THE WAR AGAINST MENTAL ILLNESS!" Day by day; moment by moment... doing the next thing. Walking with my husband. Talking about the ugly painful stuff. When you open up your soul and begin to empty it of it's troubles, you find it heals and refreshes. But you have to be willing to open up and do surgery.
"Giving people permission to be who they are, gives them permission to accept the transformation which grace offers." (my quote) This is my motto for myself and all those in pain. I don't do it so well...so often I fail. I get angry at myself because I let self doubt creep in. I spend too much time dwelling on the past losses. It's hard not to go there when I feel I am alone. I miss having family to talk to. I have lost my relationships with my parents and almost every sibling. Glen's family has abandoned him, as well. There are days when you want to pick up the phone and attempt, for the 1000th time, to try to bridge the gap. Then you remember who you are, how much progress you've made without them, and you remember it's not worth going through that agony once again. This is a war we cannot fight or win. We cannot make people love us. We cannot make people accept us. We can only love and accept ourselves.
By leaving the past behind, we make room for the present and the future. We cling to what is good and open our hearts...once more (as painful as it may be) to be loved, accept or perhaps hurt all over again. This is the hardest daily battle. I'm a wounded warrior! My soul has been crushed over and over and over and over....again and again. Perhaps the sweet perfume of crushed roses emerges! Grapes are bruised and crushed before a fine wine is produced. But the bruising and the crushing is extremely painful. I could never had imagined the pain and loss that my soul should need to endure to emerge a wounded warrior! No one can know or understand this crushing unless he or she has felt it's fierce blows. I've had pain knock the wind out of my soul. I've sat stunned and lifeless when blow after blow has threatened to knock us from our footing. I've listened and heard the lashing words of rebuke, mockery and judgment. I've looked into the eyes of people who didn't get it and I've had to learn to turn and walk away without wasting my breath on a rebuttal. This is the makings of a wounded warrior.
I have begun to understand, after all these years, that I can survive the greatest of losses. It has come at a price. But it's a price I have to pay. I want to win the war. I will win the war. I will not relent. I can't relent. I've invested too much time to quit now. I began to understand that if I was to survive, I would have to find a way to cope. Writing helped me cope. Reading help me cope. Talking when given the opportunity to speak has helped me to cope. Forgetting the past as much as I can has helped. (That's an almost daily battle) I choose to move forward with or without. Join me if you will and if you don't, I can go on without you. I'm sure that threatens a lot of people. They are intimidated by our ability to close the door to them and their abuse. It's empowering, to say the least! The temptation is there to reopen the door but we must not!!!! It's a loosing battle and only empties us of our confidence and strips us of our dignity.
And so, that battles rage on. Winning the war against mental illness requires us to not give up...ever! We must fight often, daily, moment by moment. We must never give in or quit. We must find new ways to cope. We must speak when prompted. We must offer mercy to those who suffer in silence. We must open the door for them to be heard. We must give them honor, respect and dignity. Those winning the battle against mental illness...those fighting for survival...they deserve our support!!!
I can say, I need support. I have fought long and bravely, but today, I am a tired wounded mental health warrior. I'm reaching out to make new friends. I'm hoping they come along to cheer me on. I need friends with skin on...next to me...friends who will hurt with me, cry with me, love me, support me and help me go the rest of the distance. I plan on winning. Today is not my day to give up!