“You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” ~ Steve Jobs
It’s hard to live with mental illness, especially when it’s not your own.
My experience with mental illness started as a child, being around bipolar depression and alcoholism. Growing up, it was common to spend months in a clean, happy, music-filled house, only to have it switch suddenly to weeks of dark loneliness, dishes piling up and the curtains drawn.
The atmosphere wasn’t light and fun anymore. It was different; it was confusing.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a loving childhood, with everything I needed and support I could count on. But I knew early-on that something wasn’t right. At 15 years old, I moved to a different state to live with my other parent, because home had become a place I couldn’t understand or live with anymore.
I realized that mental illness can be displayed in many different forms: depression, substance abuse, narcissism and emotional abuse. And because I spent much of my life around it, it became difficult to escape.
Later in life, I rekindled a romantic relationship with a childhood friend. It felt familiar to me, in ways that I only understood years later. The friendship became a mix of all the bad qualities and experiences I had distanced myself from in childhood. I felt uncomfortably comfortable, because in a life lived long ago, I had been exposed to the same circumstances.
Being a 20-something who was figuring life out and healing from within, I started seeing this relationship for what it was: living with someone else’s mental illness.
When I realized that I couldn’t change the situation, I changed myself—and left it all behind once again. Now I’m looking at the empty glass from the outside, finally, and not drowning in the contents from within.
It is the strong and determined ones who break free from mental illness, especially when it’s not our own.
We are manipulated, emotionally abused, confused by normal human interactions—because normal for us is so warped. We don’t know how to behave anymore. We find the same lovers, over and over, and wonder why we can’t find the kind of partners our peers are finding. You know, the calm, loving, stable catches—the quality ones. We tend to attract the emotionally unavailable, the manipulators of feelings, the psychologically needy, the ones who just can’t get their sh*t together.
So what’s wrong with us?
Well I’ve spent some time alone to figure it out. And I realized we have to be just that—alone.
We can’t stay dependent on relationships, coming in and out of them quickly.
It’s like eating French fries and frozen pizza for lunch and expecting to stay satiated throughout the day. These foods have zero nutritional value—only fillers. But your body needs sustenance, nutrition, so many components to convince your brain that you are full.
Love is the same concept.
We fill our hearts with unsatisfying encounters; people who hurt our energy and leave us feeling emptier than when we were without them. Then we jump to the next person, hoping they will fill an ever-increasing void that was carved out long before they existed. We need to let go of the frozen pizzas of the world and find what will truly fill us.
But before we can find balance with another, we have to become the definition of balance, which is something we likely have never been taught or shown. And it won’t come easy—not for any of us.
Well I’m here to tell you, my beautiful, wounded bird, that you need to love yourself first.
Take time to sit and write, listen to jazz music in your bedroom alone, just like I’m doing now. It will likely take many lonely nights, some with crying, and many going to bed early. Start to focus on how your mind and body function and feel, and be completely overwhelmed by your complexity. You will pick up on the areas in your life where you’ve become your own poison, and you will start to cleanse them.
Begin working on yourself as a whole person, and doing all of the things you thought being with another person would encourage you to do…to be the better person you already are.
You will have many failed attempts at finding a person who actually fills your heart. Instead, your heart will slowly start filling up with the effort you’ve put into yourself, forgiving the ones who have hurt you and spending time being alone. Once this kind of breakthrough happens, you will never be the same.
Because you are the glass, the vessel—and you are already full. Keep living with your passions, goals, acceptance, self-love, introspection and forgiveness. Forgive all of them and forgive yourself. Never apologize for being vulnerable and empathetic.
Life is short, and you’ve already spent much of it being a warrior for your own sanity. If you can read this and see your mental illness for what it is, then you are ready. Because your mental illness is not yours, you just lived inside four walls with it. And you’re not alone.
We are a breed all our own. Once you break down the walls you’ve built around your wounded heart, you will find us. We will talk about our experiences of healing and through our strength, you will find love.
You will always find love.
Author: Haley Amezcua
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Kiran Foster/Flickr