No longer afraid
Something enraged me last month.
This story isn’t about that something. It’s about what happened afterward.
I told my husband I was enraged. He didn’t get why, saying multiple variations of, “It seems reasonable to me.”
I was floored. “Understanding this is so intrinsic to understanding who I am, if you don’t understand what’s wrong with this, you don’t understand me!”
I sometimes forget he wasn’t there for my mother’s full descent into schizophrenia. He is so intrinsic to my now, I feel like he’s been part of my every now. History says otherwise: He was there only for the very end, and then mostly from a distance.
His not knowing felt like a betrayal at first: How could he not know?! How dare he not know?!
Fuming to myself later, it struck me that the key culprit in his not-knowing was my not-saying. I’d collapsed decades of struggle and heartache into single-sentence statements: “It was like running the penultimate mile of a marathon over and over and over again.” I’d somehow expected him to extract details from my broad strokes, despite his never having run a marathon before.
If I hoped for him to understand, I’d have to share the details.
But sharing the details meant revisiting them.
I didn’t want that.
I never wanted to return there. To then.
Shortly after my mom died, I aggregated everything I’d written about her–outside mail–into a single 90,000-word document. I transcribed without taking real note; I was still too raw with grief to mark the words in my heart or head as my hands flew over my keyboard.
Back in now, I thought about that lengthy document as I considered my quandary. I wanted my husband to know what it was like to be there–not here, remembering–but I didn’t want to do the work prerequisite.
I decided that if I was strong enough to live it in full, I was strong enough to revisit it in sum.
I decided, too, that there might be benefits to sharing the story as more than a synopsis with an audience wider than my husband.
But, really, mainly, I compiled my series of posts about then for him.
I was afraid. My hands shook, I couldn’t sleep, and an entire tree of tangled roots and terror filled my belly.
Still, I didn’t recognize anything I felt as fear until later.
Until I’d posted the final piece in my series and felt the lightness of no longer being burdened by it.
As I watched my mom devolve into untreated schizophrenia, I wondered in horror if I was looking at my future self. There’s a genetic component to mental illness, and I knew my genes were overflowing with the currently dormant codes for probably every mental illness that ever was, is, or will be.
I felt the hopelessness of being utterly unable to help my mom.
I could not save her.
I. could. not. save. her.
I encoded this message wrong, so that I remembered the erroneously coded message whenever I thought of my mom.
I didn’t think: I couldn’t save my mom from mental illness.
I thought: There is no salvation from mental illness.
I might never have understood my coding error had I not revisited then through eyes of now.
Through eyes that have since read thousands of blogs and seen that there are as many ways to experience–and cope, and grow with–a thing as there are people who live it.
Through eyes equipped to see not only my mom’s suffering through those hard years, but also her children’s loving tenacity.
When I began my journey through the past a couple weeks ago, I did so on unsteady feet. I felt as if I was simultaneously looking into the past and the future: not only my mom’s descent, but my own slow, inevitable downfall to schizophrenia.
By the time I posted “The End,” I was free.
I was no longer afraid.
If I become ill, my journey will not be my mom’s.
I don’t know what it will be, if it will even be.
What I do know is that I’m surrounded by people whose love is matched by persistence: by siblings who loved our mom through it all and who would love me no less for any illness I endured. By a husband who would have walked that old road with me had our paths converged earlier, and who has chosen to walk the road ahead with me knowing–and accepting–that some versions of what-lies-ahead are less kind to me than others.
My mom refused treatment for many reasons. I can’t know what treatments I might or might not try, or what might or might not work should I ever receive a diagnosis like schizophrenia.
Should it come to that, I will try, as I have since seen many bloggers do. I will try, and do so enveloped in both love and understanding. The rest is unforeseeable, but that–that is foreseeable, and certain no matter which version of what-lies-ahead comes to pass.
In the warmth of that certainty, I find I am no longer afraid of things that might yet be, or much concerned with them at all.
I find I am no longer afraid of schizophrenia, or the future.
What began with rage ended in awe:
I am no longer afraid.
Note, fear of mental illness was never fear of the people who live it.
It was fear of the illness itself, and what it could do to me:
what I’d seen it do to my mom.
Also, soon after rejoicing my newfound freedom,
I found this article and rejoiced again.
Many outcomes are possible!