“Please be buttery beige”

May is Mental Health (Awareness) Month.

The birds start singing in the blackness of 4 o’clock. The sunrise catches in the prisms hanging at different levels in the window, scattering light across the wooden floor.

She wonders what colour today will be. “Please be buttery beige,” she prays. Buttery beige days were neutral. She coped; she controlled.

Bipolar 2 spectrum (long and rapid cycling) with depression predominate. The diagnosis gave her drugs she didn’t like; therapy she did (but could no longer afford).

She is rapid cycling again. Tears. Rage. Binge. Anxiety smothering each feeling with dread. Her mental health colour-coded by emotion. The hidden switch flipped on.

These are scary times. What if she didn’t stop crying? What if antidepressants are always like the sugar placebo pills in drug trials? What if she is too broken to be fixed?

She chants her newest mantra, “Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think.” Thinking made her head hurt, opening the door to all her demons. What they whisper at night, she believes by day.

She avoids mirrors. She doesn’t recognized the woman who stares back. Puffy, red-rimmed eyes. Wrinkles. Splotches. Visible scalp as her once thick hair continues to float away from her. Slouching. Hurting. Some days she wants to smash the mirror into shards, but then there would be a hundred reflections.

Left with the “why can’t I,” she remains removed from the main stream. She feels so anxious trying to write a resume. She loses things. She get overwhelmed so easily. She forgets (on purpose?) to make phone calls. She isn’t following her list: walk; journal; do yoga; get out of the apartment. Every day, she says, “tomorrow, I will.” The false optimism that makes her get up everyday.

She wills herself out of bed, heading to the kitchen to make coffee. A routine memorized through years of use that now gets short-circuited.  She forgets to turn on the kettle. She goes back to the same cupboard three times. Each trip forgetting one thing she needs. She forgets she is making coffee. She wonders, “Is this the drugs, the disorder, the loss of brain cells?”

She starts crying while the kettle boils. A brackenish blue-green day with grey spots and blue stripes. Not the day she hoped for. Not the day she needs.

Mental Health America’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Month this year is b4stage4: “to focus on how people can address their mental health early, rather than ‘Stage 4’ when symptoms are more severe, and recovery a longer process.”

Tell your story. If the stigma of mental illness is shattered, then perhaps people will seek treatment or seek it earlier. That really can make a difference to how strong and life-altering symptoms become, and the time it takes to make what was shattered whole again.

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