Here’s one story.
She was an attractive black woman which made me moderately comfortable. I didn’t know what to expect after all so this was helpful.
She started with a compliment on my appearance. I rattled answers about my career—it was beginning to take a viable shape; my family—they are the quintessential nuclear unit; my education—I had more than one degree; a love life I was, well sort of, navigating. She smiled proudly like a young auntie or an older sister or cousin. Then her expression turned quizzical though her voice stayed even: Why was I here? I felt doubted and doubtful. I started with the easy, the obvious, and a lie: my health insurance covered it. So, why not? I had begun yoga classes. I was eating right and physically actively. Seemed logical. Holistic health right?
“I was working through my mental illnesses and succeeding, so what was the problem?”
It is no easy demon to face who has dressed you and your entire context as “fine.”
The truth was that my version of “fine” was not just terribly dark but destructive, mostly from the inside out so that no one saw it. I actively manipulated that image. I made sure that what was visible was appropriate. When it wasn’t, I lied. I became an excellent liar to the world and moreover to myself. I decided it was “just my personality” to do the things I did, think the thoughts I thought.
“No matter how many times we are reminded that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, we revert back to a narrow idea of how it should manifest, and that is dangerous.”
I was high functioning. But I had shown up at that therapist’s door once I figured out that I wasn’t going to be functioning at all much longer. For nearly a year I planned it. Any days I wasn’t planning, I got excited that my plan needed no more tweaking. Those were “good” days.
One night on my way to yoga, a man walked in front of my moving truck; in the police report he explained that he was trying to kill himself. Ironic that I was leaving my first—and last during that season—yoga session. Trying to find my own rope. He had just been released from the mental institution blocks away and had no address. My life certainly looked way different than his yet we were in the same place.
“It came to me every time I heard a suicide story on the news saying, ‘by all accounts, they were living the perfect life.’”
The perfect life may well be a high functioning life. Addiction is rarely given the same “I would’ve never guessed” response but it behaves as manipulatively; as destructively. As we finally began to rethink addiction; so too, we should probably begin to rethink mental illness and its manifestations.
I think, in a way, How the Body Remembers brings this conversation to its arc if not full circle. How do we perform the physical and psychic traumas? And is it worth knowing? Will it help us–or do we even need to–deal with others respectfully, empathetically; with any kind of real consideration?
I don’t know. Maybe.