Chill on the Surface

While developing a proposal for my next book, I had the opportunity to interview many families who are stuck in the mental health/criminal justice systems. This has involved interviews of mothers and fathers mourning a life that could have been, desperately searching for a way to tear their child out of the system that has captured them. Sitting in institutions with no treatment, just holding cells…a prison of sorts. 

My goal is not only to capture their achingly tragic stories and explore solutions to the mental health quagmire in America, but to tell the story from within the minds of those suffering from serious mental illness. Being bipolar myself, this is the most important angle. We need to listen, we need to care. As I sat with one young man, we connected on such an integral level. It traveled to the core of my soul. We explored our similar experiences, struggles, dreams. At one point, he looked up at the Heavens with a mouth agape. “What are you thinking?” we asked. “I’m just so happy to be here in this moment….to be heard….to listen.” 

Being one of those suffering, I have inadvertently forgotten to imagine what it is like for the loved ones of those with serious mental illness. The pain, heartache, mourning, frustration, fear. Living moment to moment wishing for a different life. Fearing bringing their children home, not knowing if they will have a place to help them or a home in which to live. Yet, they handle it beautifully. 

Much like these parents, brothers, or sisters, I still struggle through rough times in life. Being bipolar and well-medicated means I can look so calm on the surface. Yet, medication is not a cure, it handles symptoms. There is no cure for me, for us. Beneath the surface, so many of us are trying desperately to function and handle the day-to-day trials and tribulations of this life we hold so dear. 

One night this week, I reached out to a dear friend via text.

Know what sucks about mental illness? Even if others don’t see it, there is a constant struggle to stay afloat. 

Her response: Like a duck—chill on the surface, paddling like hell underneath. 

To all of those families and those suffering….keep paddling. We are here for you.