ME: Mental illness roared into our family like a freight train in the winter of 2002, when he was seven years old. It was probably always there, like a whisper in the distant woods and even though we knew it was eventually going to find us, there was nothing that could be done to prepare for its arrival. We are a family of five and exquisitely average. We are two parents; both educated at a middle-tier, small private college, earning middle class wages at professional jobs. There are three children and through the years there have been numerous cats, dogs, hamsters, fish to bless and enrich our lives. We have a home in the woods, complete with a basketball hoop in the driveway and a lake out our back door. We are so typical, and yet not typical at all. Mental illness is much like a hurricane; it blows in and rips everything apart leaving behind a heap of heartbreak to put back together. And there is no Red Cross to come to the rescue.
SON: “I met you when I was five,
I look back now and wonder why I ever fell for you,
Your name was anxiety,
Panic, I met you when I was seven,
We danced and danced on a runway,
Grounded a plane for nearly fifteen minutes,
I met loneliness when I was nine,
She was waiting for me in my room after school,
The bullies couldn’t find either of us there,
Suicide, I met you when I was eleven,
When I saw you I had a flirtatious staring contest with death,
In the end, she blinked first
Whenever I thought I was ready to break up with you you’d caress me with your superficial touch,
I dumped you once before,
But after two years I crawled back to you
ME: I think the most difficult part of this journey has been the loneliness. I remember having my first panic attack in 7th grade. Sitting in art class I felt this unusual sensation come over me. At first it was an erratic thumping heartbeat. My face felt hot and flushed; hands began shaking and breathing became shallow and fast. I was light headed and felt as though I was going to vomit. I thought I was dying. The teacher was teaching and I was dying. I told no one. Twenty-five years later I had an even bigger story to tell, and nobody to tell it to.
Our seven-year-old was a cheerful boy with an advanced vocabulary and a love for basketball. He loved riding his bike, reading books, learning to ski, and playing with friends. He was eight and in the third grade the first time he went to a psychiatrist. By this point he had missed almost a year of school. It began as a panic attack when we were boarding a plane for a Christmas trip. Flying was nothing new for our family but this time was dramatically different. As soon as we arrived at the airport he seemed unable to manage his nerves and excitement. As we walked to our gate he began panicking; stripping off his backpack and jacket and claiming that he didn’t feel well, couldn’t breathe and wanted to go home. Picking up the pieces, we got him settled with a snack and waited to board the plane. He walked on to the plane and as we made our way to our seats, our world changed and I knew that things would never be the same.
SON: My internal environment is afraid, pessimistic, motivated, persistent, and lazy all rolled into one confused mind. I’m sure most of us have heard the story of how we have two wolves inside of us, one good, one evil and whichever one you feed you become. Well, I make sure both are well nourished.
I am the product of what has been done to me. I have been lied to, lead on and cheated on more times than I can count. I have lost friends who said they would be my friends forever. I have been backed into a corner and insulted until a teacher broke it up. I have had my head slammed off of a cement wall as a prank. For better or for worse, what’s been done to me has made me who I am today. It built a wall up around me. It made it so I overthink my girlfriend’s words, her tone, even her body language. It made it so I cling on and squeeze the life out of something beautiful. It made me think that purposely cheating was the only way to get rid of someone who wouldn’t let me go. It broke me. And it also hardened me. People have turned their backs on me when I showed them my emotions. So I do my best to seem emotionless to those around me whom I don’t yet trust.
I am the product of the four medications I take every morning and every night. I am calm, and mostly focused with them. Without them I am angry, unstable, sad, afraid, and all over the place. Medication is my stability. This world is made for people like me without medication. There is more stimulation than I can handle. I am incomplete without my medication. Who am I? I am just a product of what is around me, behind me, in front of me, and inside my mind.
I’m a mom and a wife. A sister, an aunt, a friend and a daughter. I work with children, helping them discover how they can complete “I am…”. I’m also kind of proud of this little bit of writing I did with my son. He’s amazing.
Cindy can be found on Twitter.