Over the course of the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time looking at old photos of family. The ones that hit me the hardest were not the ones of the grandfather I just lost, but those of the grandmother who has been gone for almost 20 years.
The pictures showed her as a smiling child, and then as a laughing teenager. One of my favourites shows her straddling a bicycle, with a big smile on her face. Another is of her in her wedding dress, smiling shyly into the camera. What strikes me most in these photos? That she was smiling, and laughing, and happy.
Or at least she seemed happy. Because I know that, even then, she fought the demons that come with Bipolar Disorder.
The pictures continue into the years spent raising her children, doing the things that a mother does, through weddings and birthdays and anniversaries. The smiles seem a little fewer and farther between – but they’re still there. The laughter comes through in some photos, but in others she seems to be slightly withdrawn, as if she were lost in her own thoughts. Later on, she is with her grandchildren, still smiling, but also looking a slightly uncomfortable if one is in her arms.
The pictures from these years make me a little sad. Because I know the things that they don’t show. The visits to doctors and stays in psych wards, the endless meds that were supposed to help, but never seemed to do the job. The piles and piles and piles of stuff that filled the home she and my grandfather shared, because she could never stand to throw anything away. The odd things she would do, like vacuuming at 3 a.m, or going through other people’s trash to find “treasures”, or just wandering around town and visiting random people at random times of day. The weeks of highs, through which she would be laughing and animated, and the months of lows, when she would retreat into herself until she was almost catatonic, staring and rarely speaking.
But mostly I remember the fear. The hint of anxiety that was there when she was youger, and grew until it was all consuming and all powerful by the time she died. She couldn’t stay alone, because she was afraid. She couldn’t stay in a car alone, because she was afraid that the power locks would lock her in forever, alone. Her fear of hospitals, where she spent more and more time in her later years. It was horrible to watch, and it is terrifying to think that my fears may, someday, take over my life just as hers did.
When I come upon a picture of her smiling and looking at peace in her last years, I realize that I do a lot of things – including writing this blog – because of her, and maybe even for her. I will not live my life in fear. I will not let people fear me, or ridicule me, the way I know people did her.
I will live a full life, and love without judgement, enjoy the things that make me smile, and regret nothing. I will not let my fears consume me, but face them head on. My demons will not take over.
About Jessica Wilson
My name is Jessica Wilson, I’m 35 years old and single. The single is (mostly) by choice, the 35 is not. I am mom to 5 furbabies, have become an avid runner, and own and operate a small business. I’ve been dealing with mental illness for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety in my early 20’s, and continue to struggle with it or manage quite well, depending on the day. It very obviously runs in my family – my grandmother was bipolar, and mental illness can be traced back at least 3 generations on my maternal side, in various forms.