Friday, May 13, 2016

swinging and bending, part 8: Elastic Heart

"And I will stay up through the night

And let's be clear, won't close my eyes.

And I know that I can survive

I'll walk through fire to save my life.

And I want it, I want my life so bad

I'm doing everything I can

Then another one bites the dust

It's hard to lose a chosen one

You did not break me

I'm still fighting for peace.

Well, I've got thick skin and an elastic heart,

But your blade—it might be too sharp

But I'm like a rubber band until you pull too hard,

Yeah, I may snap and I move fast
But you won't see me fall apart
'Cause I've got an elastic heart."


{somewhat} continued from this series.  

I am no stranger to mental illness.  

Physically, Mental Illness hurt--the raised welts left by a wooden spoon or a hard plastic brush on my small naked backside and thighs subsided.  The stinging red finger marks pulsing with my own heartbeat across my cheeks as a teenager faded.  The headache that was a result of being hit more times than I can count on the head by a heavy college textbook while I sat hovering on the floor, both arms wrapped around my face to withstand the blows only took a couple of hours and 800 milligrams of ibuprofen to melt slowly away.  

But the emotional pain Mental Illness inflicted, those are wounds of a different nature.  Those are the wounds that do not fade--they create.  They create three children with no sense of self, no ability to express healthy emotions, no idea of what they need or how to ask or even have room in their lives for needs even if they could ask for them.  

I sat at the dinner table and watched as Mental Illness hurt my sibling with their words and their hands.  I stared down at the cooked broccoli on my plate, silently pleading with my sibling to just agree--to anything--so it would calm Mental Illness and the storm could pass.  When I began to work through some of these scenes years later in therapy, my silent pleadings for their submission morphed into internal roaring as loud as a lion's--an indignant rage over the knowledge that I had been witness to the breaking of the soul of an innocent child, one I loved so deeply yet could not protect.  

I heard Mental Illness tell my siblings and I why they were choosing to leave our family to be with another, full of self-lies so thick and deep they were convinced those lies were now reality.  Months later I watched Mental Illness sweep back through the home with promises of a fresh start, of trying again, of this time being different.  My ears heard the words but my heart knew--these would fall short and fail as they had already so many times before, as soon as Mental Illness was triggered and rose to the surface once again.

Mental Illness used God to shame, to manipulate, to twist, to control. It wanted the outside of our family to look a certain way to deflect from the inside chaos.  It told my siblings and I that we were only lovable if we played this part--cutting our hair to depict our righteous dedication, wearing clothing that covered the bodies they had created in the way they felt was appropriate and pleasing to God.  Otherwise we were not Good, and Mental Illness made sure we knew it.  

Mental Illness was addiction, divorce, rage, shame, lies, self-loathing, deep chasms of insecurity, manipulation, jealousy, control, and unending amounts of fear.  Mental Illness took every ounce of Safety and replaced it with internal chaos and torment.  It wreaked havoc through my childhood, destroyed a marriage, shattered a family.  In its path of destruction it left pain, confusion, fragility.  

A book once described me, the role of the All-Good Child of Mental Illness,  as "a porcelain soul with tiny fractures," and when I read those words I cried and cried.  They were my worst fears written on paper, naming what I had suspected for so long:  I was broken.  

I have worked and dug and inspected the darkest corners of the fractures inside of me with a magnifying glass.  I have laid out my most terrifying vulnerabilities on a table and offered them up as a sacrifice to Healing.  

I fill the cracks of my own fractures created by the lies of Mental Illness with Truth about my worth, with gentleness and forgiveness for my shortcomings and mistakes, with calling myself out on even the slightest shred of dishonesty and forcing myself to admit to myself and others when it exists, with admiration for not quitting the often-draining work it is to Heal, with acknowledging and often clinging to the beautiful and bright pieces of my experiences, with expressing gratitude for the Life I have been given, and the gift it is to know I can make choices that not only defy the laws Mental Illness tried to place upon me, but to completely abandon those laws and forge a new, healthy path.  I fill the cracks with having boundaries for every relationship in my life--including the one I have with myself, these boundaries creating the ability for me to feel Love all of its forms while also continue to maintain living in a space of emotional integrity.  I fill the cracks with God, and a self-love that can only come from Him.   

I have looked at my past with an objective eye, taking my siblings and I out of it and looking at Mental Illness for who and what it is--two souls even more broken than my own fractured one.  Forgiveness and unending amounts of Love poured out for Mental Illness, when I could view it this way.  Understanding and compassion replaced blame.  

Then I brought the three children back in, and saw us as innocents who--regardless of the broken state of Mental Illness--deserved better, more.  I gave myself permission to allow the emotion for these three who deserved better to take over and drag me Anger, Fear, and extreme Sadness.  I sat inside of these rooms of often suffocating emotion and felt every inch of their walls.  As uncomfortable as it was and at times continues to be, I know I cannot leave the room until I allow it to be as consuming as it needs to.  Only then does it pass, I rise to the surface, and can move on.  

These three children grew up to sit with therapists to help them search for a reality outside of Mental Illness.  They constantly worry and check in with one another, terrified Mental Illness has found its way inside of them.  Any anxious thought, any insecure feeling, any moment of depression has them second-guessing.  They wear Mental Illness like a shadow.  Is it their turn?  Will the shadow catch up and envelope them?  Their ability to gage what is normal is forever skewed.  

For years they have clung to the hope that with time, work, and loving themselves and each other through this, they can break the cycle.  They cling to this hope still.  It is the only thought that keeps the shadow where it belongs, sitting on the outside edges of their lives.  

My sister, my brother and I, we are the ones who Know.  We have sat next to each other on the couch in the middle of the night, wearing pj's and rubbing blurry eyes, our young, bewildered minds trying to make sense of Mental Illness as it fought, yelled, pushed and shoved only feet away from us.  We have heard each other's tears through the adjoining wall.  We have had a front row seat to the screaming, the locked doors, the damage control, the hammers breaking through walls, the uncontrollable sobbing, the consequences, the open-hand slaps, the silent treatments, the barefoot chases on snowy afternoons, the shattered mirrors, and the betrayals.  

We have cried to each other as adults over the pain we experienced, still trying to make sense of it all.  We have called in the middle of the night, showed up on doorsteps, taken last-minute flights and fought for each other to sort through the shadow of Mental Illness and cling to the Light and Love we can feel, and the Worth we see in one another.  We bond over the Knowing--a deep, interwoven bond that at times finds us tethered together, unable to decipher where one of us ends and another begins. 

It is from this tethered place that I write.  It is tough to find boundaries here.  When one of them is in pain, I can not help but feel it with them.  When they are breaking under the pressure of the memories and the faulty core beliefs placed upon them by Mental Illness, I feel the pull of their breaking as though it is an actual part of me.  When the Shadow that has followed for years finally looks as though it may be catching up to one of us, I know I must do all I can to push it back where it belongs.  Internally I struggle between the person I have been, and the person I have worked so hard to become.

I do not know what this last-minute flight will bring.  I do not know if the Light I can still see and the Love I will always feel will be enough.  I worry it will not, I worry I'm too late.  

But I have to try.