Like a newborn baby, skin so soft, eyes so wide open or in precious slumber, hair silky from a fresh bath, swaddled in cotton–I awoke to life, to a New Day. It was just after three days unable to breathe, unable to do for myself. I was in a cocoon of unknown.
Hope is a waiting, a pressing into the unseen. Hope is gentle, yet fierce. Hope is essential to a life touched by mental illness.
In the most unexplainable places, it finds you. I found my first seeds of hope in the throes of full-blown mania, in a hospital with white walls which looked like the days of the oppression of Communism. I found it when the last bit of strength had seeped out of me. I found it on the third day of tubes, sponge baths and diapers. And yes, I found it even as it found me.
Yet, it was a new kind of hope. If you had talked to me just three weeks before, I would have said hope was in full bloom. Although I didn’t know it at the time, for months I experienced hypomania. This is often a very creative, active, ‘feeling alive’ time for someone with my mental illness; bipolar disorder.
In the previous months, with three small children, I wrote 28 chapters of a memoir and completed the corresponding book proposal to have it published. I helped plan a time of understanding story for five hundred women from Eastern Europe and Russia. I launched an e-book. I felt like I was experiencing the rebirth of my life.
The heartbreak. The mania. The visions. The delusions. The hospital. The ICU. The sudden departure. The completely, irrevocably different life. The pressing in of despair. The shallow restoration of sleep. The battles for mental life. The utter lostness.
Mental illness comes upon you often unaware. It wears its dark cloak and reaps what it does not sow. It says, ‘now it is I who define you.’ It puts its long bony fingers around your throat and chokes out the life. It whispers in the dead of night how your destiny is now determined.
How can you survive such an onslaught? How can you stand when all is crumbled about you? How can you walk ahead with none of the familiar things to guide you?
Hope is intricate. Hope says emphatically ‘you are more.’ Hope meets each sinister thing and begs to be seen. Hope shows forth its desires for life.
In those days in the hospital, all of my life was reduced to taking a shower by myself, having an appetite to eat something and communicating my basic needs in a foreign language. It was no longer the dreams of life as I longed for it to be. It was the post-apocalypse and ‘how now shall I live?’
And it is here, when hope comes. If there are no dark pits, no shadowed ways, no gasping for life, there is no need for hope. Its birthplace is the darkness.
This, too, is mental illness. It is the skin of promise of a new life being born. It is a life which can come to be if there is simple trust in a greater plan. It is the longing of everyone who faces a mind they can no longer trust. It is the clinging grip of a battered soul which has lost so much. It is the other part of the story. The one too few lift their voices to speak.
Against all odds and human logic there comes a shocking truth. It is a radical thing to embrace, but our hearts cry out for it. Mental illness can be a friend which leads us home.
We are more than our tragedies. When the dark days surround us, we find hope. It is one which will not disappoint. It surprises us every step, even in life-altering days. It caresses our soft, newly born cheeks. It smiles and we find the face of God.