I avoided social media this week because I keep catching myself saying “that’s what it looks like when your parent dies of mental illness when you are 20”. Tragedy takes on new tinges when it hits this close to home. My face burns when I hear people wonder what it feels like to watch your husband stay in bed for 20 hours a day. What would happen if I answered, “it feels like your life’s happiness is being sucked through your belly button until eventually you learn how to pretend it isn’t happening”. Love can no more stop a depressive episode than it can stop cancer from metastasizing.
This week, during a declared state of emergency in our city and with racial violence erupting miles away from where my beloved was raised, I separated myself from this world for a few days. I did this not because of powerlessness, nor because of feigned ignorance. No, I did this because I can’t bear to look in the face of children who lost their father to mental illness and search for similarities to my own children.
Love isn’t enough to end an illness and that terrifies me. Love IS enough to make sure medications are taken, appointments are kept and regimens are followed, but love will never be a cure. This week I have kissed my husband more than usual, looking in his eyes as I tell him I love him. Every time I look at him I see how hard he works to manage an illness that the world pretends can be cured with platitudes of perseverance. If only self-love and determination could cure HIV and impetigo as quickly as it cures depression and bipolar, then the world would be so beautiful!
This week has been traumatic – listening to the side conversations around the water cooler about selfish choices and leaving children behind leaves me cold. Every time I hear someone congratulate Robin William’s first wife for being smart enough to leave him before “it got too bad” my cheeks grow crimson and I walk away. I advocate and I give speeches; I find safe spaces and talk about the beauty of our life in the presence of a bipolar as a silent third partner – but never at work, of course never in the office. How can these people possibly know that their triumphant rationalizations of trauma and loss are choking out my spirit?
It is after these moments with others that my anger bubbles. The reality that I am in love with someone with mental illness, not living with mental illness myself, knocks me back again. If it can hurt this bad to know that people think it wise for me to get going before the going gets rough, how must it feel for Dave and others living with an illness to know that the world advocates that the people who love them should leave them cold and alone before they have a chance to hurt them?
Please be kind. If you love someone who has a mental illness, sometimes being silent is a far superior alternative to trying to fix things. If you love someone who loves someone with mental illness, I am a strong advocate of the word always. Say I love you always, then stop talking. No caveats, no explanations. Just stop and let the world, their life and everything else progress as it may. The world can be a dark place and we could all use a little light, levity and love in our days.