“I am bipolar.” “I am schizophrenic.” Find yourself in a room with people who have been diagnosed with any mental illness, and you will find yourself hearing all the ways we are damaged. All the ways we are “different” and “sick.”
I speak to you as someone who has been there. I went from being a normal, healthy person at age 32 to being someone who was considered mentally ill. I was hospitalized four times in two years.
Looking back, I can see how far away I was. I can recognize it when I see it in others. Those of us who experience mental illness sometimes go to places that we need help getting back from. I went to those places more than once. I know what those places feel like. And I know how hard other people try to get us out and keep us from going there again. We don’t share about these places. We never even begin to think of it as a gift.
Once we become mentally ill, we begin to live in a little room with no windows, and we don’t think there is a way out. We close the door on ourselves because we feel like no one will understand or listen. Our lives become small. We become about what is wrong with us and not what is right. We just get through.
But we all need more than just getting through.
We all need to live from a place where our internal spark shines and glows brightly for ourselves and the world. That spark is in there. Sometimes it shows up as a raging fire. Those of us with mental illness have walked through that fire again and again. Inside ourselves. Right at our very core. It can appear to destroy our lives.
But this is only a part of the story. That fire comes from the same spark that is our truest gift.
I was in that fire. I was so far away from what others and I could understand that I very well could have turned into ashes. But the world called me back. And when I came back I found myself locked in a room. I didn’t think I had to let myself out. I was locked away in a life made small.
But, slowly, I let my life get bigger. I looked in those places I was scared to look in. I found windows, and then I found the key to the door.
You can find it too. It’s your window, your door, your key.
Once I walked through the door, I found myself in a beautiful room. It’s my room. I can choose what is in it. I have my plants and my comfortable chair. I have my children and my music.
I know you have a room that’s just for you waiting on the other side of your door. No matter how many times you’ve been through the fire. No matter if you have to go through the fire again.
Once you’ve been through it, you can learn from it. You can see where to place your feet and where to stop and get a drink of cool water.
Don’t let yourself be locked up in a dark room because you have experienced the fire. You have too much to offer.
Remember who you are. You are beautiful. You are strong. And you have that one spark, that one light, that one message that the world absolutely cannot live without.
Find your key and open the door. Your special room awaits you.
Beth Gager is coordinator of consumer empowerment for Region Ten Community Services Board.