When I was little, I was sure there were monsters under the bed when I was falling asleep each night. Now all grown up, I‘ve wondered about what we see in the dark. What lens do we look through as we try to define our true sense of self? We believe that our real identity is seen when we are being authentic. Newsflash: nope. Authenticity isn’t about being, it’s about doing. Authenticity is an active choice, not a passive state. We aren’t authentic because we feel we are an honest person. We’re authentic because we do honest acts.
Authenticity is about authoring our own story. It’s a wonderful thing to be authentic because we are always, at every moment, just one spoken word and one action away from our truest self. It is hope-filled and empowering to know that we’re in charge of our affirmations and aspirations each day. Being genuinely authentic is the vehicle that carries us toward our dreams. It defines our identity and records our humanity.
Authorship isn’t about joining a book club. Inscribing in our book is a solo endeavor. It is our pen, it is our page and it is our obligation to set down our life’s plan and then to act. Even those who love us may mean well but they view the world (and us) through their lens.
So when it’s dark, we can see monsters under our bed. But in the dark of night, we can see the stars illuminate the sky. When it’s bright outside, we can shield our eyes from the harshness of the light. But in the light of day, we can see our loved one’s smile. Consider this: pick up your pen and become the author of your best self. Mental health authenticity in three words: Live your story. If you do, in the darkness you’ll gaze at the stars and in the light, you’ll see a loved one’s smile.
Except for the fact that I didn’t own the Bates Motel, for a long time I felt just like Anthony Perkins, hearing crazy voices from the room upstairs. For many years, the fact that I had bipolar disorder filled me with a corrosive and crushing shame. I lived with an endless narrative loop in my head that was harsh, cruel and replete with self-reproach. I avoided getting treatment for far too long for this reason. Let me share with you the unforgettable teachings of my bipolar patient.
My bipolar patient teachings
This all changed when a warm and wise woman who suffered from bipolar disorder came to see me for a consultation a few years back. She relayed her story to me and it was remarkably similar to mine. Years of self-loathing and fleeing from accepting her diagnosis. I felt that it was a privilege to be invited into her inner world and empathized with her struggles. Rather than seeing her as damaged, I saw her merely as being scared. Rather than seeing her as pathological, I understood her vulnerability. It was her humanness that resonated with me. And then, what I had previously been blind to came into clear focus.
For years, fueled by shame, I had been running away from myself, trying to stay one step ahead of my “badness”. But what this admirable patient awakened in me was something I had known all along. We humans can have kindness and compassion for others that we don’t often enough bestow upon ourselves. I thought that surely I could find a way to rewire the way I spoke to myself, replacing the voices of self condemnation with ones imbued with the compassion and humanism I felt toward her. This was obvious, but back then it felt revelatory. Sounds trite but it was empowering to realize that I held my identity in my own hands. This finally allowed me to usher in an affirming sense of self.
A healthy inner story
I had found my way out of the darkness that had plagued me and was able to claim an inner story line that was healthy, undeniable and freeing. This has required me to continue to make active and conscious choices to picture myself through a lens colored with decency and fairness. My road toward health has not been a spectator sport.
During challenging times, I sometimes still hear the self-imposed crazy voices originating from the top floor of the Bates Motel. But whenever that happens, I reflect back on that brave patient of mine and remember the kind narrative she elicited in me. It works much better than living in a world where Norman is messing with my mind.
Any one have narratives (like mine) that have caused grief?
When I was young, I had a turtle in an aquarium in my room. It didn’t move around too much but when it did, I’d watch as it slowly swam about, occasionally pulling itself up onto the little rock that served as it’s island, in search of food.
One step at a time toward mental wellness
It took my psychiatrist almost a year and a half to stabilize me on medications for my mood swings. That is not a very unusual amount of time but it sucked. I know how I survived. For those 18 months, I regressed on the evolutionary scale and became a primitive reptilian creature. My brain’s cortex vanished and during that time, my deep, reflexive, subcortical brain structures automatically took over. That little turtle hatchling, swimming toward some unseen rock was who I became. I did not have a single sophisticated thought in my head about what awaited me that day or the next.
The fog lifts and my treatment worked
Quite simply, survival was deep in my DNA. Without any reflection or plan, I did nothing more than show up every day. That’s all I did. After this interminably long time period, the fog lifted, the waters became clear and I finally felt better. My treatment worked.
All we can do is paddle through our waters when relief can’t be found, when comfort eludes us and when inner peace is nowhere around. We can summon our courage, take a leap of faith and simply put one flipper in front of the other, each day, every day and swim on. One step at a time toward mental wellness.
Do you find that one step at a time is the way to go go or…big.leaps?