“Stretch out my life
And pick the seams out
Take what you like
But close my ears and eyes
Watch me stumble over and over”

 – Mumford and Sons, “Lover of the Light”

The way her black hair and piercing grey eyes posed such a stark contrast to the clinical white of hospital garments and sheets.  That is what comes to mind when I think of her. It is bewildering that I found her there, locked in that psychiatric ward. Those dilapidated halls seemed an unlikely place to develop a deep connection with another human being.

To someone lost in a world of mental illness, a relationship can seem like a dim light flickering off in the distance – somewhere out there, but almost certainly beyond reach. I resigned to hide my illness out of fear of judgement. Abandoned by those ignorant of mental illness, I grew accustomed to being alone. People fear what they do not understand. And so I was fortunate to meet an individual who understood, as she had lived through experiences similar to mine.

I was drawn to her. She was vivacious with a sprightly laugh. She was fearless in social situations. I admired her ability speak the hard, uncensored truth. And she never missed an opportunity to employ sarcasm, even in the most inappropriate situations.  Above all, I was drawn to her kindness and candor.  She was the kind of person who would make great sacrifices in the interests of others.  Our bond grew stronger with each passing day.

Until I met her, my world was torn. Mental illness had robbed me of my hope of once again living a normal life.  Her world was even more torn than my own. Her youthful facade veiled a long dark past.  I saw beyond her past, beyond her illness, to the person I knew her to be. We shared a mutual acceptance of one another.

“People you’ve been before
That you don’t want around anymore
That push and shove and won’t bend to your will
I’ll keep them still”

 – Elliott Smith, “Between the Bars”

I remember the nights we set off to town, the neon signs shining onto the pavement, and we spoke to each other in soft voices.  There was always a softness about her. She was soft but hard, gentle but strong. Her doleful stare silently confided the wounds she bore. So I carried the burden of those wounds with her.

When the hour was late, and when all conversation had been exhausted, we would look up at the black sky and point to the tiny lights speckled above. We were lovers of those lights. The starlight was symbolic. Perhaps, we too could shine through the darkness and overcome the harsh realities we faced – stigma, rejection, shame, despair and uncertainty.   The comfort and solace we found in each other empowered us to persevere. She had taught me to see myself through a much less critical and distorted lens, so I was reinvigorated with confidence and hopeful that together we could forge a bright future.

One warm summer night, she kissed my forehead and told me everything would be all right.

And then as quickly as she had entered my life, she vanished altogether.

That was five years ago.

I learned from the authorities that she had gone missing.

This post is a tribute to a young woman who changed my life. She played a significant role in my recovery. I still think of her. I still miss her. To this day, the sight of a starlit sky makes me pause, and I reflect, if only for a moment… how lucky I was to have joined her as a lover of the lights.

About Andrew Woods

Having been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder and OCD at the age of seventeen (while attending the University of Victoria), my struggle with mental illness has been a full spectrum experience. I have made much progress since my last hospitalization (three and a half years ago). I returned to university, eventually earning a degree in Economics and a diploma in Business Administration. Today, I have aspirations of following a career in writing and communications. Currently, I spend my time as a mental health volunteer, working as a mental health navigator, exhibitor and communications support volunteer.

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