Quitter’s Smoke & Mirrors

In recognition of Canadian Mental Illness Awareness Week I’m choosing to bleed on the page again. Everyone struggles with something. Being vulnerable is an act of courage. It’s okay to be hurting. It’s okay to not be okay. You are not alone.

Most of the time Bossy and I like to keep things pretty light and fun on here. Sure sometimes we dabble into weightier topics like gender issues, politics, religion. But up until now, I have chosen not to go into great detail about a lot of the less shiny things about myself. However, in recognition of “Mental Illness Awareness Week,” I am going to put myself out there in a very vulnerable way in the hopes that the stigma surrounding mental illness continues to be challenged.

On the surface I look pretty intact. I have a job and a family and a mortgage and all the other conventions of modern life that society uses as markers of being “okay.” But sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m really not and it all just feels like smoke and mirrors.

The truth is that in the past, and even now sometimes, I really struggle to keep my shit together. That the simple tasks of daily living, like making a phone call, grocery shopping or chit-chat with neighbours creates a knot in my stomach so large that it feels like I can’t breathe. That sometimes, seemingly out of the blue, I can be completely overwhelmed by a panicked feeling that is so intense I mistake it for a heart attack and want to find a place to hide so I can die alone.

And that once in a while…on my very worst days…I used to be plagued with thoughts so dark that I’m still uncomfortable putting them into words.

And almost always, I told no one.

For a really long time I walked with my darkest feelings alone because it’s what I thought I had to do. Life had taught me that having a mental health issue was a weakness or something that I’d contrived. That if I’d just put my unwavering trust in a healthcare professional they could “fix me,” with the latest magic pill without even wanting to talk to me about what might be making me feel this way. And that talking about this to any of my friends was a risk that could result in them distancing themselves from me for fear that my damaged mind and heart might be contagious or that I might ask too much of them. I’d learned the hard way to keep my pain to myself.

So instead I’d write. I’d write to keep the wolves at bay and the scary feelings from taking me apart. I’d write to make peace with the thoughts that made no sense and didn’t match the shiny, albeit weird exterior, that I’d carefully crafted for myself.

But today I feel differently…because I talked to someone. I got help.

I have come to accept that my greatest pain is my greatest strength…if I let it be. It’s led me to my life’s work and I’m grateful for that. It doesn’t diminish the pain, but it gives it reason and purpose and sometimes that’s enough. And enough is okay.

So to everyone else living in a carefully constructed world of smoke and mirrors, I see you. Whether you choose to hide or not, I know that you are there and I want you to know that you are not alone.


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