He Kept Saying, "Just Stop. You're Ruining Everything."

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You never forget the first time you're confronted in the workplace by an undeniable feeling of ickiness. Sometimes that ickiness directly follows someone telling you that you're not okay how you are.

For me, it was my boss, and he was asking me to stop talking about mental illness. Not just in general, but specifically, he wanted me to stop talking about mental illness and how I experienced it.

I had been talking with a coworker, explaining my first book and how challenging it was to write, and my boss walked over and said, Leah, I'd be more comfortable if you wouldn't talk about that at work. And you might want to think about not talking about it at all. He further explained he was just concerned for me and how I would be perceived.

At the end of the day, this is an easy one to talk about. Who cares what an old boss thinks? The real stuff around my heart center is much harder to share.

We are all the walking wounded, as Dean Koontz once wrote. This world is a hospital ward and everyone is doing they best they can. I do really believe that.

But when someone wants you to simply cease being who you are because you make them uncomfortable and they fear you'll make them look bad, I want them to, well, I don't know … try harder to be better. Make your Best Bestier, please.

Image: Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Twenty years ago, my then-husband would ask me to just stop. Just stop, he'd say. You're ruining everything.

And it was true. I was ruining everything, but there wasn't a way to stop. I didn't know then that the only way Out was Through and I had to keep going. People will eventually reach their destination, leaving trashed cities and entire civilizations destroyed in their wake.

By sheer determination, I extricated myself from that relationship and moved forward, which sometimes felt like two miles backward and seven miles sideways before regaining a few hundred feet over uneven cobblestone streets, every footstep won like finishing a marathon.

I was sick in both body and mind since the age of four. All kinds of body ailments followed by depression, anxiety, and a bingo-card full of other things. When I married my then-husband at age seventeen, I wasn't in love with him, but I was pregnant and it seemed to make sense. Not the most auspicious beginning.

By the time things were well and truly falling apart, we'd put almost fourteen years in, trying to patch over patches of patches, but the seams just kept unraveling. I was experiencing many forms of mental illness and I wished more than anyone I could just stop.

Thinking how our kids, then ages 8-14-ish, must have felt through that time really pains me. Their mom has a mental breakdown, flees to a different state, goes in a mental hospital, and when she comes out a few months later, their dad is already engaged and telling them to call her Mom. Like she's a new, better, Real Mom. The old one is broken and needs replacing and let's just all pretend that she doesn't exist.

I can't imagine how hard that must have been for them. Did my ex really not understand how that would feel to them? I have to think he didn't. He must have thought he was doing the right thing. I hope.

I was out of state for less than three months trying to find my head, during which time entire lifetimes happened. It was practically infinity.

He moved with them to a different city and put them in new schools, away from their friends and support system. Our children stayed with and grew up with him. He repeatedly told them that I was unsafe. Unstable. Crazy. And you don't want to be like her, right?

Two years later, my husband and I moved nearby where they lived, then to a place in the same town, then right down the street. We moved into these huge houses we couldn't afford, but the kids wouldn't even think about living with us in one of the many unoccupied bedrooms I kept ready "just in case" because that would go against their father.

I was unwilling to drag them through a court process and sometimes I wonder if I should have, just to prove to them how much I wanted them with me. My heart kept hoping they would spontaneously decide to live with me on their own and one day they'd stroll through the front door, dropping bags and boxes and backpacks full of school books and declare they saw through his angry, twisted words and wanted to move in.

He repeatedly told the kids that people don't change. Your mom will never change, people don't change, he said. I think about what that message says to them - You can't/won't ever change.

It's total crap. The only thing people do is change. Over and over, change is the constant. If you can't change along with them, you get left behind, where you yourself change and get more bitter.

Keeping your perception of someone in a box on a shelf in your head, taking it down to peruse so you can get angry or feel sad every so often and then carefully placing the lid back on before sliding it back on your brain shelf is not going to help you see how people are changing. It's only going to tell you who they were, according to you, for one slice of time however many years ago.

This is a recipe for old, bitter, wrinkled people who raise their fists to the heavens in anger when the paper is thrown on the grass instead of on the mat. Or a recipe for people who die young of cancer and heart attacks because of the build-up of black ick in their hearts. Or it could be a recipe for meatballs. I don't know. I'm not a chef.

Even more than all of that, I care that the way he spoke and continues to speak about me to them, with his head shaking and uttering the word Crazy under his breath, has made it nearly impossible for any of them to want to be like me. Being like me is the worst thing that could happen.

But they are all like me in lots of ways. One has my eyes. One has my creativity. One has my gentleness. A few got my empathy and compassion. A couple got my sense of humor. And they are all made of fifty percent me whether they want to be or not. Whether he makes them feel bad about that or not.

And now the kids are adults. Some of them are having their own kids. And some of them have their own brushes with mental illness and wow, that's got to be the very worst of all the worsts, because now they are like me in this one major way and it feels like a failure.

A big, fat, failure to be like their mom.

A failure to experience mental illness of any kind.

You better just buck up and act like nothing is wrong. Better to numb yourself with whatever is handy for your entire life and pretend you're okay than ever admit you might need help. Medication and doctors are for wusses. Just stop.

Why can't you just stop, I imagine him asking them.

Mental illness is not a character weakness any more than having high blood pressure or migraines is a character weakness. It's simply faulty chemicals which play havoc on your emotions and body systems.

Hopefully, if this is one of your issues, you're surrounded by people who encourage you to seek out the many ways of physical and emotional healing that are available. Because, Friend, things, and you, can change.

When you can't accept who you are and what you're feeling, you get more ill. When you can't use your voice to talk about it, you get more ill.

When you have to try to prove to others that you really, seriously feel bad on the inside where they can't see it, you get more ill. When you have to pretend you're something you're not, you get more ill. And when people see you as always ill and never changing, you get more ill.

Life is this delicate balance of embracing what is, what we can see, what we feel, what we know, and being able to visualize what could be and what we want for the future. I had to fight so hard to become well and happy. I had to fight for every single inch of smile and every tiny patch of joy. Hardly anyone believed it could happen. It was an uphill battle and maybe because of that, I enjoy it all the more.

My wish for the world is that we could leave room for change for anyone. Believe they can be better. Help them be better. Watch them fail or fall for the 115th time and still hold that space for them.

But then someone goes and kills innocent, beautiful people while at worship or someone flies a plane into a building and I understand why not everyone holds that Changing Space for others. It's all that destruction to good people that happens and sometimes, you are so very weary of waiting for someone's Best to get Bestier.

Once I reached the summit where my joy was waiting, I realized I could have had it at any point along the climb. That is what I try to teach others now.

You don't have to wait to feel happy.

You don't have to wait to feel like you're good enough.

You are perfectly imperfect right now. You just have to choose to see it that way. I've had some more battles the last few years, but because I know that secret, they haven't felt much like battles at all. I insist that things not only can, they will change.

Things will keep getting better. I might get sick. Someone close to me might die. There will be a natural disaster somewhere. My husband could lose his job. But things will keep getting better anyway, and I'll still be really happy because I decide to be.

Happy and Joy are states of mind. It means I look for the gift, no matter what's happening. It's kind of a game now. I believe the Universe wants to bring gifts to me in every situation and my job is to find them. And so I do.

I didn't believe in God for a long time because I was hurting so much and in so many ways, but He found me anyway and told me He believed in me. (He is a He to me, but you can call your Higher Power anything you want and that's fine. I think the important thing is that we have some kind of foundation we can draw help, support, and power from when we need it.)

We do such a bang-up job of sabotaging our own happiness. We've got those internal critical voices that sound like our parents or exes at their worst, plus all the nonpositive energy that exists on this earth bumping up against us at every turn. Some nights I'm just plain exhausted by the time I crawl into bed after a day of trying to see who people really are and could be and finding the joy where there doesn't seem to be any.

But I'm happy and I'm changing a little bit every day. If you hope to be a better version of your own Self tomorrow, I'll try to hold that space for you.



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