Blog Post 3:
is one of the many treasures I found in Lisbon, Portugal during a street art tour. In case you go to Lisbon, here’s the link for the tour group: Lisbon Street Art Tours. They are AMAZING!!! And in case you can’t see what’s written below the happy face, it’s this:
“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
When we tell the story of something painful that we experienced, that we survived, and only that story, without anything before it or after it or around it, there is a danger that exists. It’s the same danger inherent in defining ourselves with any identity that is smaller than this one: “sacred being sharing space and time with other equally sacred beings”.
With identities, the danger of course is that we come to define ourselves as narrowly as others have; that in an attempt to connect deeply with a few, be it for reasons of safety or survival or sanity or celebration, we diminish or devalue the possibility of connecting with many.
With stories, the danger is that a story in our life becomes the story of our life. The immense is again made small. And no matter how tremendous the injustice, no matter how agonizing the pain, we are greater than it. We must be. For if we are not, sorrow and savagery appropriate not only all our power, but the power in everything else as well. Joy is severed from the reason for its existence. Love is unable to heal. Tenderness is belittled to such an extent that a thousand caresses are no match for the damage inflicted by a single claw.
It cannot be. Each creation’s power rightly belongs with them. Birds should be the sole rulers of their wings. The night’s master should never be fear, but its own exquisite self. That the dawn has become synonymous with the return of light in the spiritual and emotional sense, bespeaks not only the power that has been usurped from the stars and the moon, but also of the divorce between the unseeable and wonder, between the unknown and magic. It bespeaks a mis-teaching of the generosity of the darkness which holds tears and dreams and secrets and prayers without ever once saying: “Enough. I am full. No more.”
In Lisbon, the same city that shared with me this:
also shared with me a storytelling event. One of the storytellers talked about his brutal childhood and young adult years. When he finished, he said, “That’s my story.” He was 23 years old.
It was not his story. It was part of his story up to that point in time. But it was not his story.
Before I explain any aspect of my experiences with bipolar disorder, and most especially the depression that comes with it, I want to be clear that neither one are my story. They are part of my story. But they are also part of so many others’ stories that the use of the word “my” feels wholly inaccurate. Bipolar disorder, depression, and all other mental illnesses are part of the story of being human.
Depression has many weapons in its arsenal, and one of the cruelest is isolation. You lose your desire to talk to, look at, breath the same air as anyone else. The stigma surrounding mental illness avails itself of that same weapon, but in an even deadlier way: No longer isolated only from family and friends, stigma isolates you from the whole of human experience. Through the shame that keeps so many silent, there comes a sealing off of time and space. You exist in a vacuum, severed from history, from its embrace, and from one of its most basic truths: You are not alone. All that you have felt and experienced has been lived by others.
If you follow the path of history in reverse, from as far back as you can up until this moment, you will also find that, for better or worse, all you have felt and experienced is still being felt and experienced by others. The present offers the same embrace as the past: You are not alone.
If this is the story of mental illness:
the gray dots are where my story and your story fit into it:
That is, if I magnify the size of our stories many, many times over.
If this is the story of being human:
this is where the story of mental illness fits into it:
So for those who are feeling isolated and stigmatized, for those who are silent, keep the knowledge in your mind and the truth in your heart that whatever burden you bear, you do not bear alone. On the other side of silence is help. On the other side of stigma is a seat that has been reserved for you at the table of humankind. And on the other side of fear is freedom, and it is only in freedom that we can offer every single gift we have to give.
In the hopes that we will all know that freedom, I share with you two more treasures that Lisbon shared with me, and one small poem that the night gave me in exchange for a prayer.
From the night:
This is the moment I waited for
A new beginning immense and whole
When you emerge from fear and silence
To freely inhabit the substance of time and space.
And from Lisbon once again:
Carrie Reichardt: yellow smiley in a frame
Utopia: woman with the ladybug on her face and big red carnation
Dj Lu | Juegasiempre : soldier holding the flower
Jacqueline de Montaigne: birds on the red door
September 16, 2019