What You Knew: Loving Someone With a Mental Illness

When you fell in love with me, there were two things that you knew.

The first was that I was going to make you late. It made you crazy at first. Your hands would busy themselves by moving in and out of your pockets, and my eyes would busy themselves with your eyes, darting around the room to avoid glaring at me. I couldn’t help finding it wildly adorable, which only slowed my pace. It was never long before you would give up on being timely and sit down to observe the storm. Missing shoes, heavy breathing and frantic laughter.

The second was that I was going to make you think. I wasn’t the type to go easy. On the nights you spent away from home, our phone calls would be flooded with the questions of the universe. I’d ponder what it all meant. You would tell me that being unsure was the grand adventure. I started to tell you what colour your mind was, and you answered me with soft, sleeping breath.

When you fell in love with me, there were things you didn’t see coming. When we stumble into such fondness, it is usually under the impression that love will tell us what we need to know. Love speaks, and it speaks often, but sometimes it only comes through in riddles. It’s not what we know, but what we learn.

And we learned

The first time I was hospitalized, you watched as a colossal dose of Haldol attempted to rid my head of the things so real that they couldn’t be. It took with them my peripheral vision and short-term memory. The doctor said that the side effects were temporary. It became very clear that my condition was not. It was when we learned that no amount of affection could balance my brain chemistry.

We grieved the loss. You laid next to me as I stared at ceilings and you told me that the emptiness would be encompassed by something more beautiful than I could imagine. It was never a skin I could shed at my convenience, though I tried. I said “this is not my life.” You said “it’s just part of it,” and you smiled when you told your friends and family. I learned (and forgot, and learned again) that it was my life, and not a life sentence.

We learned, and somehow we are always learning. I wonder sometimes how we ever managed to remain tangled in the shadow of a mind that tore at us from the inside. I think of all that our love brought, how much of it you must not have seen coming. I imagine that it’s a little like a Chinese gift exchange. I laugh and say thank you for not returning me. You tell me that I’m exactly what you were hoping for.

No amount of affection could balance my brain chemistry, but it didn’t stop you from giving every ounce you could muster. There wasn’t any fixing, just healing. You had no idea what to expect, but you trusted love to tell you what you needed to know.

I like to think that it did.

Why Not To Be A Jerk: Notes From A Recovering Bully

Sometimes there’s no other way to slice it than with the truth; I used to be an asshole. I know a lot of inspirational tales about the survivor, but I almost never hear much about how life turns out for the bully. (It makes sense if I think about how many people actually want to own up to their bullshit.) Since I try to live with no shame in my game, I’ll tell you how it goes. I can’t tell you how not to be an asshole, of course. That one is all you. But if you’re reading and nodding along, that’s a good step. I’ll just tell you WHY not to be an asshole instead.

5 Things That A Bully Knows

1. Words are glass. Small, jagged shards that wink as they hang in the light. These moments last only seconds, but these seconds in this light make the shards look as much like the truth as they felt leaving our lips. It is not until we lay sleepless inside of ungodly hours that we taste the blood in our mouths.

2. We have our reasons. Reasons like self-respect and love and justice. We see ourselves as the messenger rather than the villain, for a villain would surely use his fists.

3. Hate is heavy. To rule this way brings discomfort that is felt at all times, like stacking those we dislike atop our shoulders. We do not feel discouraged, because it takes a strong person to carry this weight. We blame them entirely, all the while questioning why everyone is on our back.

4. Bullies have bullies, too. There is the one person we all know, the one who started it. The one who gave us all of our reasons. An objective perspective would tell us that the virus did not begin with them, yet we will maintain the idea that this person doesn’t have reasons; just a blank space where a soul should be. We will imagine that even for a soul that is black like soil, there is, at the very least, hope that good things might still someday sprout.

5. We are just confused. How could we not be? So few of the people we know walk around with the weight of nothing and nobody. This is not malice; it’s survival. Surely if you cease to be the one holding the saw, you become the one laying on the table.

5 Harsh Truths That A Bully Learns

1. Awakening to life’s purpose will more than likely not involve pretty pastels, no third eye, no peace. It will feel as if we are going about life, skin held together by staples while our body attempts to shed this and replenish itself. We will resist, clinging to our rough exterior as if it were worth more than it is. We will not let go until we realize how painful it is to embrace ourselves.

2. Change, the grand, sweeping kind is almost never launched in quiet, thoughtful moments. Change is brought in by heavy gusts that shatter window panes. Change becomes the guest choosing to stay; invited or not. We will adapt and flourish next to it. Or we won’t, and we’ll find ourselves brushing up against it, hearts like sandpaper, vowing that we’ll teach our kids not to be wimps, because life is tougher when you’re a wimp. We’ll find ourselves spitting glass.

3. Everyone has their reasons. Reasons that make us unimportant to them, like them to us. Reasons like pride disguised as self-respect, vengeance disguised as love and loss disguised as justice. We will not see this great wheel of reasons until we and all involved notice that we’re running in circles.

4. Nobody with any kind of character bets on the bully. To be an asshole, to fly off the handle, so far it’s (kinda) worked. However, there are VERY few areas in life in which these strategies are efficient or tolerated. One day, when our sideshow is no longer the freakiest in town, the crowd that coos and strokes our fragile egos will begin to thin until it is us and the dust. We will be remembered, but people will not find it entertaining. We become the empty vessel after the party.

5. Perhaps the most jarring truth is that we matter more than this, that our lives are worth more than we’re doing with them. Our voices are melodious when they are not being used to wound. The energy we squander on hate takes real commitment, and there are innumerable positive outlets we could use to fine tune that rather endearing bit of our character. As we turn this over we will see that almost every black, rotten part of us started growing with the hope of something good. We alone are something good. The road is a unique, authentic journey for all who travel, but the pattern of change has been the same since Moses was an angsty teen. We become who we are when we discover that we can no longer be who we were.