First of all, Happy New Year! I spent my New Year’s Eve, post-broadcast, in a hotel room, watching Anderson Cooper getting tipsy on tequila and giggling like a girl on CNN. There was some champagne, and much texting to friends around the world. Pinkerton didn’t make it til midnight.
Second of all, I learned that a dear friend had overdosed on New Year’s Eve. They’re OK, and I know they have the support that they need. Which is not to say that I don’t ache for them, or that I’m not worried.
They have been in treatment and therapy and are taking all the right steps to move forward, but I know they are frustrated and tired. They’re working hard but they just want to be “better”.
One of the realizations I came to, over the course of my own struggles with mental health, was that the whole idea of “better” is far more complex that we think. I had an acquaintance who had a very binary viewpoint – you were either sick, or “better”. But what is “better”? “Better” than what? When are we OK?
The fine nuances of mental health issues are often difficult to explain to those who don’t have the lived experience of mental illness. In the worst of my own struggles, which have been lifelong, I experienced months of debilitating depression, punctuated by brief (sometimes a single day) episodes of mania (which actually felt really good to me). I knew (know) what rock bottom feels like for me. But then come the subtle gradations of “better”.
“Better”, at one point, meant being able to wake up and not immediately start crying. At other points, “better” was being able to read more than a few sentences at a time (those of you who have dealt with severe depression know that the focus required by reading can pose a tremendous challenge). “Better” could be an easing of anhedonia, when running started to feel good again. “Better” could be when a friend’s pithy comment made me laugh out loud. And that doesn’t take into account all of the “better”s in between.
For the last two years or so, thanks to a correct diagnosis and a completely new medication protocol, I’ve been able to operate from a point of fairly consistent stability. On the whole, I would say I’m doing much “better” than I was before. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better “better”, and, ah, there’s the rub.
For me (and, I suspect, many others who deal with mental health issues), there’s always the question of being completely “better”. As one very oblivious friend of a friend once asked me, “are you going to be cured?” The short answer is no. The more complete answer is that…well, it’s way more complicated than that.
For now, here’s where I stand: today I got up and walked the dog and made coffee and I’m OK, because however I feel I’m still me, and that’s what’s important. Tomorrow I may struggle to get up, or to get dressed, or to answer the phone , but I’ll still be OK, because even in challenging episodes I’m still me, and that’s what’s important. The future might bring me different gradations of “better” (and almost equally, “worse”), but I’ve learned to trust that this sense of self, of being, of living, of believing in my own me-ness, is what’s important. Because if I can keep my feet firmly in this foundation, even the most painful struggles are possible. And I’m OK.
To my dear friend, if you are reading this, I want you to know that whatever “better” may be for you, you are OK right now, because you are you. My world is a better place with you in it. And you are loved.