As someone who lives openly with bipolar disorder, I take pride in being able to share my experiences as well as educate others about mental illness. Unfortunately, being unemployed (and this blog being the primary source of my attention lately) I had been starting to feel very two-dimensional.
After all, it seemed like all I ever did was talk about mental health, write about mental health, and think about mental health. I admit, I started to wonder if I was even capable of carrying on a normal conversation (particularly with strangers or people around my age) without talking about this (now, several years in, slightly tired) topic.
A week ago I was lucky enough to find myself beginning a journey to go on vacation to Florida. Being sick and tired of my normal, anxiety-driven controlling behavior I decided that for this vacation I would do something different. I would relinquish control of all the activities involved to others and simply be “along for the ride”.
For someone like me that is difficult, at best. Still, I was determined to spend this vacation worrying as little as possible, something that became tricky when I hit a bit of a road block.
I was in Florida at a friend’s house attending a barbeque. I had also been awake for 36 hours because of the way my flights had worked (and my inability to sleep on an airplane due to general discomfort and terror) and there was that moment that I always dread, the one where I meet someone new and they are about to ask me what I do for a living. I had just finished answering the lead in, “where are you from?” question when the woman I was talking to said, “oh, that’s nice,” and walked away.
This was like a get-out-of-jail-free-card. She didn’t care what I did (or didn’t) do. I went to bed with a smile on my face, not just because I hadn’t slept in thirty-something hours, but because nobody had cornered me into telling them my life story.
It felt so good being able to focus on other people’s lives and stories that I felt relieved when, three days later, the issue of my mental health still hadn’t come up. I was lucky that no big melt-downs had occurred on my end (thus not requiring me to explain myself) and though I was concerned for a minute that I was hiding in some way, the truth was that the big draw was not constantly feeling the need to explain (or defend) myself.
In addition to how much time I spend thinking about myself and mental health in general, it can be hard in my daily life to see people tip-toeing around my needs, or taking time out of their lives to take care of me. As much connecting as I have done with the mental health community, I have kind of drifted away from everyone else… leaving me feeling estranged from what it means to be simply human, no more, no less.
In the last several years I have a hard time thinking of any milestones where my own mental health wasn’t an issue, so being able to take a vacation from the constant worry and explanations that surround my own mental illness was an extremely significant experience for me. Basically, going to Florida was, for me, like being able to step out of my own head and focus on the world around me again. I really must say, it was magnificent.