My Story Of Hope
To have mental illness is to experience the brokenness, the wounds, the torture of life: something is killing me inside. It is to often fall into the gutter of life, to feel gargantuan proportions of pain, to feel utterly alone, to feel tension about to break out in oneself. To have mental illness is to fight a daily war against poverty, ignorance, and prejudice, and often I lose not because of I lack guts, but because of my environment.
The stigma strikes daily and across the land, silencing the mentally ill, pushing us down, shutting us up, tearing our hearts out, rejecting and dehumanizing us, assigning us to the broken corner of life.
Mental illness has smashed me through a wall and cut me up with knives; it has put a curse of shame on me; it has eliminated my sexuality. It growls at me, “You should be working,” and love kicks around upstairs waiting to find me.
For part of a lifetime I wanted to die; the suicide thoughts would come swiftly and push me to the brink. Do you know what aloneness is? To face the almighty darkness where you are constantly falling down. Mental illness carries a rope to hang by, a bottomless terror, a plea to God to give me life or take me away.
But hurrah, the long black night ends, and the storm is lifting. I have worked on myself from the dungeons up. There are gifts locked away. In the dungeons there are great gifts. Open the gates: hope hope hope!
I learned to find meaning in the darkness. I had to uncover the potential of my inner self and inner learnings. What am I? What can I be? How can I grow? Will my life be taken away? These are the concerns I have posed for myself. I have learned a great deal and at times forgotten almost everything. I have stood tall and fallen flat on my face. I have to hold my own every second, for at any moment can come an inner attack.
I did not cause this illness; therefore I must practice self-acceptance and keep the blame down. It’s a sticky business and requires learning and unlearning, and megawatts of support. It’s very hard to get in touch with my feelings and stay inside them, to take my inner pulse.
I have learned to cry, get angry, and be aware of fear.
I have tried to be assertive, say what I need, speak out about my thoughts and feelings. That has been, and still is, hard work.
I needed to keep expectations low.
I built a support system and put people in my life.
I learned to be vulnerable and share feelings of weakness and uncertainty.
I trained myself to look for the good wherever I could find it.
I learned to be closer to my family.
Through meditation, I harvest the blessings of the moment, striving not to live in the past or the future.
I pursued love, work, family, and service. Though I falter, I’m on the endless road.
I learned to put hope front and center on my stage.
I developed that special place inside where I am intrepid, a fearless warrior with life on all sides. Yet how overcome I can be by fear!
My illness speaks like a foreign language. Vigilantly I translate and interpret it.
I have recurrences of my illness, pain; but I will not beat myself up. I have to practice gratitude and forgiveness.
I believe we are one family, all connected, people-to-people united. I belong in this great life stream.
Today in my life are prayers, faith, risks, relationships, support, family, friends, forgiveness, work, meanings, helping others, medications that work, and a never-say-die belief: get down, get up a thousand times!
A last word. If America had an understanding and compassionate and loving heart, mental illness would disappear or wouldn’t matter. There is a powerful security in belonging. Imagine: beyond the invisible torment would be visible love! If we, the mentally ill, were viewed as precious, we could bend to the light. We would not break off from life; we would join life!
“My Story of Hope” originally appeared in UU World, Mar/Apr. 1999. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Richard Baydin is a poet and political activist with a spirited ministry of over 50 years.
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