A Word on Wednesday: Anniversary

We tend to think of anniversaries as accomplishments. We mark them mentally as we remember the day when it began. Marriage anniversaries make us think of our wedding day and love we have shared each year since. Work or other service anniversaries remind us changes we have worked through and contributions we have made.

Anniversaries of a loved one’s passing is another accomplishment. Each day, week, month, year is one where we learned to walk in grief and carry it forward. Some are even lucky enough to carry it with grace.

It is coming up on the 13th anniversary of my diagnosis as Bipolar, NOS with psychotic features. I acknowledge this anniversary with fearful anticipation. It’s never been a good time to have a mental illness. But, in 2010, I landed in a a middle-class cushioned place of loving support and accessible professional services to nurse me back to health. I recognized it as a luxury then and, in the context of the current state of mental health care, appreciate this luxury even more now. Today, mental health care in this country is in crisis. There is a shortage of mental health professionals at all levels up to and including the critical psychiatrist who is qualified to treat mental illness with prescribed and monitored psych medications. Meanwhile, the pandemic, which is nearly three years out from the onset of lockdowns, exasperated symptoms in people already living with chronic mental health conditions and contributed to the onset of new diagnosis in others. There is a greater demand today than there was before and fewer medical resources.

Still, even with this current state, I acknowledge this anniversary of diagnosis as an accomplishment to acknowledge. Thirteen years of surviving, at times strongly, at others weakly. This is because, regardless of the symptoms, I woke up day after day and carried the management of this chronic condition with me. There are far far far more good days than bad.

With the retirement of my psychiatrist, I am learning to trust a new process before me: piss tests and sterile exam rooms in a corporate health system that has replaced the soft couch across from a trusted face. Health care is dynamic, ever advancing at rapid pace. It is scary, but I have little choice, as I know I cannot forgo medical treatment.

The future really is greater than anything imaginable and is full of surprises. The only way to get to the future is to own the day, take it for the opportunity it is. From where I stood thirteen years ago, it was completely out of mind to imagine the life I have today. Yes, there is heartbreak, disappointment, failures, dead ends, and other suboptimal conditions. But, there is love, so much love and joy. I live for the sunny days and shade trees, the hugs and laughs shared.

My advice to anyone experiencing symptomatic mental illness, HOLD ON! Trust the treatment process. Wake up, shower, and put on your face. Even if the only place you make it to today is from your bed to your couch. Wake up. Over and over again, day after day, as long as it takes. As the children’s book said you can’t go over it, and you can’t go under it, you have to go through it. And that’s my advice, go through it. Trust the treatment process. Just hold on for one more day. That is one step closer to your next anniversary. Over the past thirteen years, there have been so many surprises and celebrations. So many moments of awe.

We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Some good, some bad no doubt. Yet, I live with intention to find out, to continue to wake up each morning, shower, put on my face, and step into the day. But also, I live in fear of losing mental stability. I push through that with intention as I recall the words of God: “Be not afraid.” He tells us this over and over again in the bible. “Be not afraid.”

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