Today has been designated World Mental Health Day by the World Health Organization. And the theme of this day is “Depression: A Global Crisis”. And with no good segue, here is my own discussion on that, in two parts, unequal in length, alike in their importance.
Part the First
A Canvas Of The Minds was born with the express purpose of discussing mental health, of raising awareness every day, in the best way that we knew how: through the voices of many individuals dealing with mental illness. Two of us had an idea we thought was good, and through the efforts and work and contributions of all the incredible people who have consented to write with us, and with the amazing support of all of you who have read, commented, subscribed, promoted, and encouraged us, we are doing all we can to make every day a day of mental health awareness and education. So while I of course acknowledge how important having a day around the globe focusing on the impact of mental health on everyone’s lives is, perhaps coming from us, it is more rightly a day of thanks. From where I sit, it is especially a day of thanks to all of my wonderful co-authors who share so much of themselves. And I suspect I won’t be overstepping if I say from every single individual involved in this project, it is a day of thanks to anyone reading this, all of the people who give our writing a feeling of purpose and meaning.
Part the Second
As far as my own mental health, and spreading awareness to the very few who still don’t know my story, the first of the most important conversations I will ever have finally happened.
I spent the Sunday before last with my Babygirl (I’ll make this part as short as possible for those of you unfamiliar). I have no children of my own in any way conventionally recognized. What I do have are three girls whom I call the ‘daughters of my heart’. I entered their lives technically as a paid caregiver: a nanny, a baby-sitter. In reality those girls had me, heart and soul, before they were born; and they will have me as such until I take my last breath. Babygirl is the oldest, she will be 13 in a couple of months.
When Babygirl was born, and shortly after, entrusted to my care – those were the golden years. They were the happiest of my life. There were many days I know I woke up not wanting to face the world, not feeling I was able to. But I got out of bed every single day for that girl, and I don’t remember any day being anything but pure joy. She filled my life with an incredible love, as she did anyone who came in contact with her. We were meant to be together, fated from before we ever knew each other, and she left no room in my heart or my head or my life for the depression that had before touched me. I can’t say that I was stronger than depression, but she sure as hell was.
But by the time she was in school, I already had reason to be grateful that she had good parents who weren’t me. My mental health declined severely as I no longer had her around full-time. I reached a point in these years where I saw her rarely. It killed me, but most of the time I couldn’t find a way. And I knew that it was better not to let her see the hell that I was in. It was hard for the grown adults who loved me to be near through the pain and confusion and horrors of my search for sanity. I wasn’t going to expose my precious girl.
Well, about seven months ago, I got well. It’s strange to put it that way, as though I just recovered with the snap of my fingers, poof! like that. It isn’t quite right, you don’t get over years of incapacitating anxiety, panic attacks, and PTSD with the wave of a magic wand. Certainly bipolar disorder will be along for the duration. But in a lot of ways, it does feel like magic to me.
And all that time, through all of these years, I knew conversations would need to be had. For a long while they were off in the mists of Someday. But I’ve been seeing my Babygirl much more often, and in so many ways she is quite grown up, and sooner or later I knew we’d have some serious talks about why I changed, and even disappeared for years of her young life.
I was thinking about how the first of these conversations might start, and how I would handle it, and how my Babygirl would handle it as I was driving up to meet her two Sundays ago.
I found out.
Babygirl and I had lunch and went to a movie. Then we wandered around a shop, and at some point in the conversation, which covered so much, I said something about, ‘When I move out (from my parents’ home)’. My Babygirl then asked a perfectly reasonable question for a girl of her age.
“Yeah, why don’t you move out?”
Here was the moment, and I’ll admit my world probably stopped for a good ten seconds. And I stared at her precious, beautiful, innocent face. And then I asked if her mom had ever told her anything about what had been going on with me these past few years. She said no, and I asked if she had ever heard of mental illness or bipolar disorder. She said no again, and by this time I had her full attention, all the sparkly items and all the other people had faded into the background. Because she knew something important was happening. She is one smart girl, and while she never questioned me about why I stopped coming around, and she remarkably never thought it must be something she had done, and even more remarkably never lost faith that I would come back to her, she obviously knew that something was wrong these past years.
And so I told her the truth. The bare-bones, somewhat gentler truth; a five minute introduction to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. And she listened, and was thoughtful, and didn’t ask any questions, really. I don’t think that’s exactly what she was expecting in answer to her question. All I needed to say was ‘I can’t afford it’. But I think she was glad to know something, finally, after all of these years. She’s been so patient, after all. And I was very glad to tell her something, finally, after all of these years. Because I could tell her my story with the happy ending included.
I know that isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning. I know that she and I will have more talks, she’ll have talks with her parents, I’ll eventually have talks with my other girls.
As I drove home that evening, I did question the wisdom of me discussing it with her without first approaching the subject with her parents. But they’ve known this discussion was inevitable. And I think they also knew that it was no one’s story to tell but mine, and they trusted me to handle such a serious, important matter in the best way. And I am grateful to them for that.
So for me, on this day designated to raise awareness about mental health all across the world, I am paradoxically most grateful that I have begun raising awareness in the smallest, most important corner of my own world.
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