I’m starting the weekend off right with a kick ass post that I had absolutely nothing to do with. My internet BFF Lisa, has strung some words together in her typical nonchalantly badass way because I couldn’t. That’s what Band Back Together is all about and that’s what my friendship with Lisa is all about. Shining light in the dark and drearys, sharing stories and proving day after day that we are none of us alone. Also, dick jokes and gallows humor. Obviously.
My five-year-old son started primary school this fall. The move from preschool to big kid school has involved a lot of changes and a lot of losses: two baseball caps, three snack bags, two water bottles, a sock, and a full PE outfit, not to mention a touch of innocence. I never intentionally sheltered my children, but the truth is that most fortunate little kids are sheltered just by default. There’s so much that my son just flat out doesn’t know about, and for that I am grateful.
Yesterday he came home from school talking about lockdown. Lockdown, according to the kid, is what the school does when there’s an intruder. “What’s an intruder,” I asked. “Well,” he says, “An intruder is a man who comes into the school angry and wanting to hurt someone.”
Cue the sound of the bottom dropping out of my world.
It was so close to bedtime, and my ever-sensitive younger daughter was listening in, so I tried like hell to shelve the topic as quickly as possible, in order to revisit it at a more opportune time. An hour later, my son came to find me putting some clothes away. “Mommy,” he said, “why would someone want to be an intruder?”
Fuck the hard questions, yo. I didn’t sign up for this. The other day my daughter asked me if my vagina looked like hers. I thought that was a tough one. I’ll take the vag questions over the intruder questions any day.
“Nobody wants to be an intruder,” I said. “Some people have something called mental illness, and that means that their brain doesn’t always work the way it ought to. Sometimes, that mental illness causes them to make decisions that don’t make a lot of sense. Sometimes it makes them hurt people.”
Without being prompted, my son then said, “Oh, right. Like that time we were downtown and that man with mental illness broke the light in front of us.” I’d forgotten. It was a sunny weekend day, and we were strolling around downtown Hong Kong as a family of four. From out of nowhere, a man met us at the corner of the street, holding a long fluorescent light bulb. He threw it at the ground near our feet. The ensuing explosion was louder than hell, and it scared the bejesus out of me. He then laughed and walked away crookedly. When my kids begged for an explanation, I gave it to them the way I made sense of it myself: mental illness. Why else would someone do something so nonsensical?
Mental illness takes all different forms. My kids know it by the smashed light bulb and they know it by the tears that fall down my face at the most inopportune times. They know it’s a thing that makes people want to enter schools uninvited and that it’s what keeps me on the couch when I’d much rather be playing catch outside in the sun. They know it intimately, whether they realize it or not.
I’m lucky, because I have tools to keep the monster at bay. I’ve got access to doctors and therapies and books. But most of all, and the thing for which I am most grateful, I’ve got support. No matter what my diagnosis, I can’t stroll through downtown throwing light bulbs, because I have a wall of people standing in between me and that. They won’t let me. Thank god, they won’t let me. My wall of people is what keeps me grounded.
One huge section of my wall is Joules. She lives on the other side of the earth, and I’ve only met her in real life for a few minutes. But when the shit hits the fan over here, she’s one of the first people I talk to. She’s been on the receiving end of the darkness lately, and I go there because she gets it. She’s been through it, and she doesn’t judge it. She doesn’t wish it away on a magical cloud. She doesn’t lose patience. She doesn’t yawn and grow tired of it, even as I grow tired of it. She isn’t afraid of confronting it. And, trust me, almost everyone is afraid of confronting it.
These relationships, those founded on shared experience and mutual respect, are what make mental illness bearable. Connection. Friendship. People are the light that we keep crawling towards.
Band Back Together is a community blog written by survivors
who share their stories of darkness,
in hopes of bringing light to others who are suffering.
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