* Trigger Warning *

Mental illness has good days and bad. When things are good, life is all about maintenance strategies and finding things you love to fill life with joy. The really bad days, being in crisis, are about basic survival. I’ve written many blogs about my maintenance strategies because most of the time they’re my saviours. These strategies allow me to hold a job on a team I love, participate in volunteer charities, take archery lessons and have dinner with friends.

Crisis is a different beast. There is a line in the sand somewhere, an indistinguishable point I cross when my whole existence becomes about survival. The hobbies, the joy, the will to survive, they all disappear. I was in this place a few weeks ago. Breathing was hard; I constantly thought about going to sleep and never waking up, longing for the emptiness to end. I stared at the wall or my computer or out the window but I didn’t take anything in. I was blank, void of emotion or thoughts, just existing and counting the seconds until I could sleep again.

In these times, none of the maintenance rules apply. Healthy eating? I was just trying to consume more than tea. Time is slippery in a crisis – I wake up at eight and then somehow it’s two in the afternoon and then suddenly it’s dinner and all I’ve consumed is a few cups of cold earl grey. Vegetables? No, solid food is the goal. Meditation? When thoughts keep straying to the sinking, empty feeling in my chest and the overwhelming burden I’ve become to my family it is not advisable to be left alone in silence with them.

What is hard to understand both for myself and for people around me in these times is that crises for me are chemical. Once in a while my brain goes off the rails. Levels of some hormone crash or spike and happy, busy Sarah, she disappears. A zombie wakes up in her place, alive but wishing she wasn’t. And in these times, there is frankly nothing, and I mean nothing I can do about it. There is not a “think positive” solution, there is no pulling up the bootstraps. My brain is malfunctioning, plain and simple.

The one thing I always do is call in the professionals. If someone you know takes a nose dive like this, encourage them to call their doctor as soon as possible. If this is a new behaviour encourage them to head to the nearest mental health emergency room, such as CAMH in Toronto. When you cross that line in the sand it’s time to call in the reinforcements. Until the new medications kick in just remember; don’t take their negativity personally, try to get your friend out of the house, hug them long and hard. This is not your friend’s personality, it is an illness.

I recently started seeing a new doctor. A wonderful older man who likes to chat with me about his latest book about obscure subjects, books he thinks I’d like. He fits me in within hours of my call, he listens closely to my disjointed thoughts. He writes me a new prescription and he sends me home. Within days, even hours, the fog lifts, the clouds part, the laughter returns. When he follows up the next week, he comments that on that day, I greeted him with a genuine smile. This is proof to me that my illness is not weakness, it is not laziness or cowardice. It is legitimate, it is treated with medicine, it is real.

If you wrestle with the beast too, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

About Sarah Lindsay

Sarah Lindsay is in her mid-twenties and lives in Toronto with her boyfriend and their dog (who also has some anxiety issues). Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005 at the age of 16 and is still trying to figure it out. Follow Sarah’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog, or additionally you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her new website: SarahsMoods.com

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