I admit it…I do not like to ask for help and I certainly do not like to admit when I am struggling. It’s definitely due to my prideful nature and a desire or belief that I need to be able to solve my own problems and be self sufficient. Afterall — it’s not easy to admit that I have weaknesses and can’t do it all on my own. I don’t like to be perceived as weak because often society looks at weakness as a fault. And I don’t know about you, but looking at my faults is not something I enjoy to do. I long to be in control and if something seems out of whack I tend to feel uncomfortable or incompetent.
I have this need to appear like I always have it together. I struggle with the fear of disappointing others. I despise the possibility of letting others down. Whether it’s due to lingering symptoms of a mental illness, addiction or just straight up being human, it’s hard to give up control or admit when there is a problem because chances are things will have to get messy before they can get better and whatever illusion I’ve created to cope will be shattered leaving mountains of ugly pieces.
Since I’ve been writing and sharing my experiences I realize that I’ve been putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to keep saying how wonderful everything is. I worry about being completely honest because when I look at what that really means the questions I become obsessed with spin illogically out of control. I mean, what if I were to admit that I was struggling again? What if I faced the fact that this winter has been wreaking havoc on my emotions? Would people no longer believe what I’ve previously written? Would I be perceived as a hypocrite? Would the people who called me inspirational feel let down because there is a possibility it might mean it’s not always rainbows and roses? How could I possibly bring anyone hope if after I write about conquering illness all of a sudden I begin to struggle?
I wonder… if I am in a bad mood and don’t cover it up well will those who know me immediately think the worst? If I admit I’m struggling will it scare everyone? Freak everyone out? Put everyone on high alert? Will the walking on eggshells begin? The relentless questions lead me to falsely believe that it’s better to keep what I’m feeling to myself because I don’t want anyone to think I’m crazy. You know what’s interesting though? Those who are closest to me know when something is wrong. My husband says I wear it on my sleeve. I am so prideful though that I still won’t say I’m struggling out loud because then it really becomes real. Deep down I also hope there is nothing to worry about and it will soon pass. And most of the time there really is nothing to worry about…I have to remind myself it IS possible to have a bad day or be in a bad mood without ending up in a hospital for a week. But after all I’ve been through I can’t always shake the fear of that possibility. I’ve even lied to my doctor, downplaying certain symptoms–especially after experiencing wellness for a period of time– because being honest made me feel like I failed at staying well. But then it’s also due to a fear that something may actually end up being wrong. And that just scares the crap out of me.
However, during a completely unrelated conversation with my 11 year old about an incident at school he commented matter-of-factly, “When you’re too ashamed or afraid to ask for help then it will never get any better.” Lightning bolt! Of course! It sounds so obvious coming from a child’s mouth. It’s as if God was speaking through him for me to apply it to my own life. How is it I am unable to take my own advice? Or maybe it’s an unwillingness to take it. I don’t know… whatever it is, it keeps me stuck; keeps me from moving forward. I hide and when we hide we end up building walls that don’t really protect…they ultimately lock all the negativity inside until the pressure builds and finally explodes into a million pieces.
Everything I’ve learned over the past several years while getting well points to being open and honest, not just with myself but also with others. However there is a fear that goes along with that. What if the people who have been through this nightmare with me decide they’ve finally had enough? Mental illness is exhausting and frustrating for everyone involved and no one wants to face the prospect of having to go down that road again. But bipolar doesn’t just go away. The truth is the chance of relapse is pretty damn good which means I have to face that fact and accept that I haven’t been fixed. However, I’ve learned that those who genuinely love me will continue to love me even when things aren’t going perfectly.
When that voice of doubt sneaks in it’s only because I’ve become too confident of my own abilities. In reality what I’ve done is I’ve pushed God to the back seat. Things have been really good for a long time. I’ve been able to focus on things that I wasn’t able to handle when I was sick. My belief is I have a lot of lost time to make up for so I certainly can’t stop to ask for help or admit I may not actually be able to do it all. I tell myself I owe everyone at least that, so I work very hard to remain strong and do whatever I can to prove to the world I can do it.
Newsflash!! — That NEVER works out well!
I have to remind myself of my own advice to swallow my pride and ask for help even though it makes me cringe inside. Left to my own devices however, I tend to turn to old habits, patterns, thoughts and feelings. Wouldn’t it feel good to have just one drink? Why not stop eating altogether? Why not just stay in bed and hide all day? I’ve bought into the lie that needing support means I’ve messed up. I’m an all or nothing kind of girl. God either loves me or he doesn’t. How many times will He put up with my screw ups? See how easily I turn on myself? Just the possibility of a relapse – which IS possible- has scared me into believing this time will be the one where He draws the line. I start connecting dots that have nothing to do with each other. I’ve managed to convince myself that struggling equates with weakness and failure which leads me to the conclusion that people will judge me and now God no longer loves me. See how messed up that is?
Recently I asked someone who I wholeheartedly believe God has placed in my family’s life for a reason (and I know He has a tendency to do that for us) for a scripture that would help someone who was struggling with the fear of disappointing God and was desperate to be fixed. He recommended Romans 8:37-38 which states:
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Reading this I realized I had really wanted assurance that I haven’t disappointed God, even if I continue to struggle. It was telling me very clearly that nothing can make God stop loving me. When I think of my own kids I can certainly say that. I am confident that I will love them deeply no matter what. If they were unable to handle illness or struggles on their own would I love them any less? Of course not! I would hope and pray they would reach out to me and I would do everything in my power to help them. Why would God be any different?
A few hours after reading that scripture a song by For Today called “For the Fallen” popped into my mind. In it the singer screams, “You are not what you’ve done and this is not who you are. No matter how far you’ve run you have not gone too far.” It’s not coincidence that at that moment I felt like he was screaming that directly at me. God knows that often I need it extremely loud and clear in order for me to pay attention to His message despite my pride and thick-headedness. Yup, it came at just the right moment.
So what’s the point of all this?
I’ve become too comfortable. I’ve allowed myself to believe I am strong and can stand on my own. I tend to worry that if I admit to struggling then people around me will finally decide I’ve gone too far — it is too frustrating and stressful for them to deal with therefore they no longer will. I realize I put that on God as well. Will a moment of questioning my faith or His love for me cause Him to finally turn His back on me? I’ve been telling everyone to call out to God and to ask for help but somehow I’ve convinced myself that it no longer applies to me.
I want everyone — including myself — to know that we ALL struggle and it is OK. It is important to be honest and to be able to ask for help, swallow our pride and accept love and support. My story can show others it is possible to live a productive life with a mental illness, but it will never be perfect. We can’t look to others for our hope…the only real hope is found by looking to God. He created us. He offers us salvation. He is in charge and He loves us.
So as I struggle I will do my best to be open, honest and real with those around me as I try to relinquish all my fear and anxiety and give it to God. He wants me to count on Him and trust Him, believing that just because I’ve once again tried to handle this on my own, it is NEVER too late for me to run back to Him and ask for help.