“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
I stumbled across that piece of Neil Gaiman’s commencement address today, and it suited my mood. Partly because I couldn’t really decide what to write about but I didn’t want to skip a day, and partly because of a conversation about mental illness and failure that I had with a friend yesterday.
He brought up the fact that he felt his life was a failure. And usually I can find something positive to say to things like that, but I didn’t want to give him a bunch of BS, so I told him the truth. I struggle with that too. He and I have similar stories: loads of education that was hard-earned, but that is now not going to use because we are at home receiving Social Security Disability benefits. And we need those benefits, because neither one of us can function without medication and regular visits to a psychiatrist. Before I had disability I went without insurance and medication for long periods, two of which ended in the psych ward. That is the reality of mental illness: it has to be treated like any other illness or it’s dangerous. But like any other treatment, psychiatric treatment isn’t without side effects. I’ve had meds that made my weight balloon up, ones that made me constantly nauseous, ones that gave me headaches, ones that gave me “cognitive difficulties”, ones that kept me awake for days, and ones that made me sleep for days. Finding the right medication combination for a person is really an art, more than a science, and that is one of the things that makes working difficult. The other thing that makes it difficult is the illness itself of course.
I don’t always know that my mood is off. A lot of the time I think something is physically wrong with me because I will be sore or tired or have a stomach ache. But those things can signal depression too. Several of the times I’ve been fired have been for having too many sick days, and that’s more than fair, because I’ve thought I was sick, or maybe stressed myself sick, more times than most people. During my practicum semester at the middle school I had the stomach flu NINE times. And I wasn’t faking, my stomach did act up; I was very stressed out and unhappy and those are conditions that make for all kinds of symptoms to show up. I knew I had a mental illness when I went back for my Master’s, I just underestimated it. I assumed that because things had been quiet for a long time that they would stay quiet. I hadn’t really challenged myself in years, and it turned out to be too much. I can run on caffeine and hypomania for a while, but that takes a toll.
I ended up taking a part-time semester after the stomach flu semester and almost didn’t finish my degree. I probably shouldn’t have, seeing how much use it’s getting. But I had plans. That’s where the whole “my life is a failure” thing comes in. I had plans. My friend had plans. Being mentally ill was NOT part of those plans. I don’t know how to tell him his life isn’t a failure because it’s hard to find purpose in mine too. Yes, I know, I’m a mom and a wife and those are important jobs, but they aren’t all I intended for myself. In that semester that I cut down to part-time I took a creative writing class in order to still have financial aid and it was the most fun I had throughout my whole Master’s program. It was the most motivated I was too, I actually did assignments ahead of time. It’s been interesting to do this every day, because once in a while I remember little things like that class that was kind of an accident. Maybe it was a “mistake” that I needed to make, so that now, when I’m looking for purpose, I can remember that there’s something I enjoy?