Carry grace for the broken places
№ 21 ☼ Mental health ☼ 1,139 words ☼ 4 minutes
When I initially sat down to write this, it was just a few minutes after ending my first telemedicine call with a psychiatrist (my psychiatrist?). I thought writing about it would help me process the appointment and everything else that has lead to me needing this call in the first place.
“Do you have thoughts of harming yourself or others?” He asked.
“Well, I don’t want to kill myself. But I often feel like I don’t want to live. It’s a lot, you know?” My reply was shaky. I had only said that once before. During therapy.
“Mmhmm,” He mumbled as he typed too heavy on his laptop, banging in my ears via headphones because I was trying to take this call while at work. I was tucked into a secluded corner of the warehouse, hoping no one would be able to tell what I was talking about if they happened to hear me.
He explained what my options were and what might work for me. “You’re getting some relief from aripiprazole, so let’s try adding lamotrigine to see if that helps stabilize you further.” I didn't really know what was expected of me or why this particular choice made sense, so I googled it real fast. An anti-seizure medication? And an anti-psychotic? It’s hard to type these words even now. Do I need these? They don’t feel right. They don’t feel like me. But the whole reason I’m here is because there is something going on with me that I don’t understand. So “me” isn’t a reliable baseline. Maybe I just need to trust the process.
“It’s for mood stabilization,” he explained.
“Ok,” was all I could say.
It has been a couple of months since that call. I’m on medication now because I’m unwell. Not drastically. Not dangerously. But unwell just the same.
I’ve tried to write this piece many times since that call. But this is the hardest thing I’ve ever written. The weight of hell is heavy. It’s been there for a long time. It’s hard to talk about what it means to be living in hell or to feel it living inside you. In fact, I really didn’t want to write it at all. My initial attempts to write about this experience were from a place of wellness. I tried to write as if I had already moved past the central part of this process, imagining I was seeing hell in the rear-view mirror and was now in a position to dispense some pithy wisdom. I thought that somehow writing that way might fast-track this whole thing for me.
I couldn’t get past the first sentence. I’ve had to accept that this isn’t over. Healing is a journey and I’m at the beginning.
Through therapy, medication, my spiritual life, the encouragement of a few close friends, and, above all, the love of my wife, I have been able to quell my manic energy these past few months. But it has come at a cost. I am not able to rely on the energy my mania would produce. My energy now must come from a healthy place. This is new for me.
Though I am unwell in many ways, I also feel reborn. I must develop new habits. I have to start from scratch and choose healthier routines. I have to actually take care of myself. All of this produces a “cleaner,” more reliable energy. It’s no longer the sporadic manic bursts that came from my compulsive behaviors and dopamine hits. This is a very vulnerable place to be. But vulnerability allows me to explore a new kind of authenticity.
I am rediscovering what it means to bring my whole self forward.
Authentic vulnerability is hard for me. I care what people think. I want to make a good impression. I want to be (ahem) mostly useful. I’m not ashamed of this. It comes from a good place. But it is a mindset that is not conducive to authenticity. People-pleasers will know exactly what I mean by that. But If I am not vulnerable, then I cannot be authentic. And if I am not authentic, then I will never be known. And there is nothing more terrifying than living this life and not being truly, intimately known.
Even our broken places must be brought forward. That is where healing is found.
I hope that by bringing my whole self forward, I might be able to write again. Maybe not as frequently. Certainly not as frenetically. But with purpose now, and clarity. A new found humble, vulnerable authenticity. I hope that by sharing this with you that you’re encouraged as you bring your whole self forward, seeking to be known.
I’ve discovered something kind of beautiful in the midst of these broken places: Authentic vulnerability connects us more deeply with others. As I take steps towards facing this illness, I’ve also become more aware of the struggles and pain of others. Perhaps you, like me, are struggling with the reality of mental illness. Crushed under the weight of anxiety that you did not invite but that will not leave. Scared by what is happening inside of you and confused as to why. I do not want to peddle in feel-good fluff. I am sharing this part of myself in hopes that seeing my broken places will encourage you in yours. I want you to know you are not alone, even if that’s how it feels.
This experience has reminded me of the importance of grace. As I have said many times, we simply do not know the whole story when it comes to other people. No one, not even my wife, could really understand what was going on with me. I didn’t know what was going on with me. And therein lies the learning: you cannot see why another person behaves the way they do. Even in the most intimate relationships, it is just not obvious why people do what they do. And how can you hold someone by the throat and demand they answer for their behavior when even they do not understand it? I do not mean that we should not hold each other accountable. But perhaps that should not be our first or even our primary concern. Maybe they are sick. They are unstable, confused, scared, ashamed, and alone. Instead of accountability, perhaps we should be expressing vulnerability. We can heal each other by saying, “I know you’re afraid. I know you’re hurting. It won’t always be this way and you’re safe with me.”
You must carry a lot of grace with you wherever you go. You will need to hand it out quite often. We all desperately need it, even if we do not deserve it.
I would not be here without the abundance of grace that has been shown to me.