Being Inspirational Kinda Sucks

Due to illness, I’ve made some really poor choices and the repercussions of that will follow me for the rest of my life. So as I read these messages calling me inspirational and brave, I feel like a fraud.
Publish date:
January 31, 2012
mental health, inspiration, bipolar

For the last 10 days, I’ve been thinking about the last article I wrote about mental illness and I’ve felt worse and worse.

On the surface, I’ve always been aware of the toll mental illness has taken on my life, but it wasn’t until I sat and wrote the article that I really examined my ups and downs.

On the one hand, it’s comforting to know that I’ve made it through to the other side, however, on the other hand, I can’t believe how much I’ve fucked up my life. So many of the choices I made were due to this intangible something that skewed my thinking.

I’ve received tons of amazing and supportive emails and messages since writing that piece. People are calling me brave and empowering and I can’t seem to own it. I keep thinking, There’s nothing brave about this.

I'm scared shitless. I'm scared that I’m never going to be able to get it together and live a responsible and successful life.

Sure, I’ve had great opportunity, my resume before I hit 30 is extraordinary and I’ve been lucky enough to do some really cool things and travel and live. But because of these pockets that I’ve fallen into and spent just as much time crawling out of, I feel like I’m always hitting reset on my life.

So while most people are moving forward and collecting a trail of memories and accomplishments, every few years, I feel like I’m rebuilding from the ground up.

I've been working up enough nerve to send that article to my dad. I never really share what I write unless I think it'll be interesting to him. He's crazy supportive but culturally and generationally, I'm aware of the fact that he just doesn't "get" what I do.

He doesn't understand why I share as much as I do with strangers but not like my mom, who's all about keeping up appearance. My dad is just more of the mind that, "Well, why do they have to know? I understand talking to your friends but why strangers. Help me understand."

And honestly, I can't help him understand. I don't know why, daddy. Leave me alone!

A lot of that could be my own hang-ups about who I am versus who my parents think I am. I've disappointed them a lot. Somewhere around age 18, it all fell apart. That's when my parents knew that something wasn't right with me but didn't know what was wrong. As I've written about before, they just thought I'd suddenly turned into a delinquent. As they became more familiar with mental illness almost a full decade later, my dad "got it" and started to feel guilty about the signs he noticed but didn't understand.

The last thing in the world, I wanted to do was to make my dad feel responsible for NOT knowing about something he had no reason to really know about it. It's not like I was bleeding from the ear and he ignored it. He had no idea what was going on. So in order to avoid making him feel even more guilty, I stopped talking to him about it.

Even after my hospital visit two years ago, my dad watched me break down and fall apart in front of him. He noticed the weight loss and could hear me walking around at all hours of the night. He caught me crying often and that helplessness that flashed across his face made me feel even worse than I already did. I couldn't muster enough, "It's okay, really" to make him feel better and that made me spiral out further.

This morning, I was in the kitchen making cayenne tea and having idle conversation with my father (I live with my parents). Out of nowhere, he asked me the question that never fails to confuse and frustrate me.

"So, what are your plans?"

I knew exactly what he meant but I tried to joke it off, "Oh. I plan on drinking this tea and then doing some Yoga Booty Ballet."

He didn't laugh.

I sighed and said, "I've been looking into going back and getting my degree but I don't want to start over and I really want to find a college that will give me credit for working in the field I studied. I mean, I was an American Studies major with a writing and pop culture emphasis. That's what I do all day on Twitter anyway."

He didn't find that funny either and launched into the, "You're so intelligent. Why don't you want more for yourself?" speech I've heard for the last 15 years.

I usually let my eyes glaze over and start nodding on auto pilot. This time, however, I took a deep breath, stared into my tea and said, "Daddy, I don't think you understand how difficult school was for me. I know I'm smart and I know I have a lot to offer the world but it's not about that. I couldn't drag myself out of bed most days. Not because I was lazy, like you and mom thought, but because I was so depressed. I was so unhappy and scared and confused. I couldn't focus or think straight about anything. And then the times when I was bouncing off the walls, I was terrified of crashing and not being able to make it up. It’s been really difficult for me. And right now, with E, I have so much more to lose. I’m afraid of destroying him in the process.”

There was a minute or 60 of silence before my father said, "I know."

We both stood there quietly and I felt the urge to unload some more but as usual, I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. And as usual, my father didn’t want to upset me any further, so I excused myself and went downstairs to do some writing or stare at the wall above my desk.

There’s so much I want from my life but I’m starting to resign myself to the fact that it’s not going to happen. This isn’t about martyrdom; Joan of Arc didn’t set herself on fire. This is about facing reality.

I feel too old to start over. I feel like it’s too late to start over. There is too much at risk. I can’t risk building things and stacking something just to have it fall apart. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will most likely never be partnered or in a relationship that leads to marriage. I can’t put anyone through me and I can’t put myself through being disappointed or heartbroken. My snap back isn’t as strong as it once was. I know that’s true of everyone but I like to avoid any possible triggers.

I’m lucky to have had Boogie when I did because without him, there would be nothing. But I also feel guilty for having him knowing that there’s this rain and lightning that could open the skies at any time.

My “plan for the future” is to not fuck up anymore than I already have. I have to stay healthy and focused and work tirelessly on being “OK” but who knows what the future holds. That’s morbid and terrible to say out loud but it’s my current truth.

So as I read these messages calling me inspirational and brave, I feel like a fraud. I feel like I should let them all know that this is a constant and consistent state of self monitoring. I’ve made the choice to be better and to do better but there’s still a fear there. There’s still a realization that no matter how much I try, “normal” is a destination that I may never make it to.

I’m tempted to sugarcoat and have some sort of “chicken soup for the soul” moment for everyone else and I honestly do believe that with the right support and treatment, mental illness is NOT a death sentence. I believe that with all my heart. My issue is that due to illness, I’ve made some really poor choices and the repercussions of that will follow me for the rest of my life.

So me finally writing openly about it is never about some “Look how awesome I am now” declaration. If anything, I don’t want people to turn out like me. I don’t want you to look up and realize that life has completely happened without your input. I don't want to inspire people to be like me.

Hell no, I want to caution you against it.