I have no idea how I am still standing. How is it even possible to keep going when I am carrying so much? I beg my husband to tell me the truth. There has to be something more wrong with me, something I just can’t see. I mean, besides what is obvious to me. I have mental illnesses. I know that. I know how they affect me. In fact, I have several of them. Not just one. One isn’t enough for me for some reason. No. I have five of them. I’m also in recovery. Who wouldn’t be? Five mental illnesses are enough to drive anyone to find relief in something as simple as a pill. Unfortunately, drugs don’t get rid of the mental illnesses. I wish I had known that before. They just added to the stack of problems I already had. Stealing years of my life away. What’s left of me are shaggy remnants, a recovered photograph, bent, burned edges. A skeleton, hanging from a tree, bones clanking a chime with the wind.
Years of medication attempts, years of therapy, years of learning, years of working, years of failing, years of trying again and again. I think I have a pretty good handle on the mental illness stuff. I’ve gained the bravery to finally open myself up to making new friends and reaching out. This isn’t high school anymore, right? We are all grown-ups around here. A few of my co-workers became some of my closest friends. I was having fun with real people. I found REAL people. I could open up about my illnesses because these were real people. I was surprised at how easy it was, how nice it was to have friends to confide in. Share my secrets. Share my sadness. Share my successes. Share my happiness. It actually helped. They understood, they helped me. They invited me out. Did you hear that? THEY, invited ME, out! They let me sit in the back corner of the restaurant because they knew I needed to see the door. I needed to see if anyone was coming at me. They unfolded the linen napkins and took out my silverware because they knew I couldn’t stand to touch linen. They asked the waiters for paper napkins for me, lots of paper napkins. Because I couldn’t touch the ketchup bottle, it was covered with germs. I had to use a paper napkin to pick it up. And I couldn’t re-use that paper napkin because it was now covered with germs from the ketchup bottle. They didn’t laugh at me when my plate came and I quickly placed the fries on a separate napkin because my foods can’t touch each other (or the table, because it’s also covered in germs). They ignored my picked through scraps of food because I had to be able to see what I was eating and if something about it seemed off I had to hide that piece under another napkin. They were okay if I ended up not eating at all. And they still invited me to go out again. Even after having to cancel last time because I was having a panic attack or a migraine. They called me. They texted me. They checked on me. It was okay with them, that I was not okay. It was okay that I didn’t have to plan my every move to hide my secrets. Hours spent writing and re-writing a text message because I was so worried I would say the wrong thing and hurt someone’s feelings. I finally send the text, but still flattened with panic. If they didn’t reply, the guilt came plowing me down. I did something wrong. I knew it. I knew I would screw it up. I shouldn’t have said that. Why did I do that? What was I thinking? But no, then, it was okay. They didn’t mind, they understood, they stuck by me. They returned my texts. They kept inviting me. They kept encouraging me. How could I even begin to doubt their sincerity. I’m not imagining things. I really have found the right group of friends. I’ve got this, they get me. Pinky swear promises of lasting friendship.
Until. Until? Until another diagnosis comes. Are you kidding me universe? I finally think I have things going the right way. A great job, great friends, great husband, great kids, great home complete with my dream garden full of flowers and food and chickens and goats and dogs. But it wasn’t a joke. Now I also have Rheumatoid Arthritis and Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. I fall on the floor laughing and crying at this cruel reality. What in the hell did I do in my past life? Was I Hitler or some demon like that? I’m mean, really, come on. I’m a good person… I think. I don’t deserve this… I think.
Back to until. Until I could no longer work. I had to leave my job, but reassurances from my good, real friends kept me afloat. Echoes of promises made bounce in my head. It will be okay. I have fought before, I can fight again. I’m standing on the shoulders of those real friends and I can do it. There’s a lag between that confidence and the initial diagnoses. A lag of sadness, filled with grief, filled with denial, filled with anger, filled with self-pity. But I stay bright, I stay in touch, I stay connected, I stay sober, I stay friendly. But slowly, so slowly I hardly notice, the buzz of my phone wanes. I question myself, but those echoes of promised friendship are still there. I just have to step up my efforts to be sure I’m staying in touch. I initiate, plan, offer, invite. I don’t dwell on myself, I do all the right ‘friend’ things. I ask how they are doing, how are the new house plans coming along, how are the kids, is work going okay? Now my phone doesn’t buzz anymore. I don’t know why. The old tape, long tucked away, begins to play. It plays a tune that I hate. An earworm of devilish proportion, digging it’s way through my brain, into my heart, into my soul. Questioning every word, every move, every text, every action, every thought. Where did I go so wrong? What did I say? What did I do? I’m sure I’m guilty. I just don’t know of what. And since we aren’t in high school, we are grown-ups, I think I do the right thing by asking. What’s going on? Making sure it isn’t about me. Is something happening to you? Did you have a crisis and you are afraid to tell me because you think it will be too much for me to handle. I ask because I’m trying to do it right. I ask because, for the life of me, I can’t think of what I did wrong. All I did was get a little sicker. I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m still here. I’m still the same person. I can still talk, I can still go out, I can still be a friend, I can still eat, I can still listen, I can still laugh. So, why then? Why am I crying? Why am I covered in a blanket of guilt?
I’m begging my husband again. Please, please tell me what I don’t see. There has to be something that I cannot see. I swear I remember the details of our last conversations, our last lunch date. Maybe I have become psychotic now, unable to recognize reality, to recall the images, the words, the hugs, the promises. The tape in my head won’t stop. I’m back to the beginning. The loop replaying, day and night, telling me I am wrong. I am guilty. I am a bad friend. I am a bad mother. I am a bad person. My heart is broken. My truths are lies. I don’t belong here. This place is not for me.
He tells me I’m doing it right. He tells me I’m okay. He tells me it’s them, not me. He tells me my love is strong, my heart is big, my kindness is clear, my friendship is genuine.
But I’m crying. I’m crying so loud I can’t hear.
Those words aren’t on the tape.