A short story about mental illness
I recently published a story on medium.com
I’ve included the story below as well. I know I’ve been MIA for ages and it has a lot to do with my uni work which ironically has to do with writing. My end of semester project for writing ecologies was to create a social change text with a message aimed at the public. I chose mental illness which is close to my heart. I’ve dealt with my own issues in the past down this road and I know many people including close family who suffer from a mental illness. My research showed me that regardless of whether we are more aware of mental illness these days and better informed, there is still the same stigma surrounding mental illness. The stigma has got to stop. 1 in 5 people have a mental illness. If you think about how many friends you have on Facebook then it puts that number into perspective.
Anyway this is a short story using GIF’s to aid its narrative.
Are you Okay?
I filled in my mood chart over breakfast and slid it across the counter. My mum offered one of her closed-mouth smiles before drawing her gaze over my feint dot, a mere pinprick that supposedly indicated my entire mental well-being for the next hour. I regularly filled out these moods charts, stacks of them waiting for me. I’d done this ever since my last episode.
Mum slid the chart out of sight. We’d long ago stopped talking about my moods. I was happy today, that’s all that mattered.
“Can you give this gentleman a tour, please?”
I looked up at my tutor, as he headed towards another class, leaving a body in his wake.
“I’m Jake,” his hand was warm, his lips tugging up at the corners.
“Hey,” I offered a carefree smile before shouldering my backpack and skipping towards the escalator. Days like these I feel light as air. Even normal. So I showed Jake around, did my best to make him feel at ease at the campus in the big city and let my happiness devour me.
Mum hardly glanced at my chart, offering a pat on my hand. In fairness she’d seen the saddest I could get and this was…somewhere in the middle of sad. It’s a stupid way to describe a mood, all it means is I don’t have the energy for anything today. I shrugged on my backpack and shoved in my headphones.
I’m not surprised I feel shitty. Frankly my mood no matter how radical has never surprised me. I could have won the lottery and yet I would be questioning every aspect of my life, including my existence.
Jake waves from the entrance, I offer him a nod as I push forward. His face falls. I shove on. I’ll make it up to him tomorrow when I roll the dice on my mood again. I know I have a good day coming, today is just not that day.
Neutral. I hate this word. It is not me. Still I draw a dot in the middle of the chart. A zero if you will. I imagine my body drawn across these four points, a force pulling all four limbs with equal vigor.
Some psychiatrists don’t believe Bipolar people can be neutral, we are always one end of every spectrum, black or white, never grey.
Jake has been biting his lip for the last hour throwing me wayward glances when I finally shuck off my headphones and confront him. He skims a hand through his hair, “You seem different today.”
“As apposed to what? You barely know me.” To this he has no response. I finger my headphones and sigh through my teeth, “I have…these mood swings sometimes. Not everyone gets it.” Nobody gets it…I don’t say this.
Later in the day I need to borrow Jake’s phone when mine dies. That’s when I see what his internet search is. The words Mental Illness stare back at me in angry bold letters. If I could cry on cue, if I could vomit…my heart ricochets in my chest and the blood rushes my face.
Jake holds my gaze. “I was only curious,” his voice is deathly quiet and something inside me cracks. He thinks…No, he knows something is wrong with me. I want to run, to hide, to…I swallow, “I have bipolar,” the words barely make it out. My fists bunch. “I can’t always control my moods”-A tear escapes the dam that is working overtime to keep a whole lake of tears at bay.
I rein in my face.
“Is that what the charts are for?”
“I saw them in your journal,” Jake stumbles. “I’m sorry.”
“No…I”-It’s weird but I have close friends, I have loved ones and yet I can’t even confide my deepest darkest secret with them. I am fucked up inside.With Jake…He’s a stranger. So I say it aloud for the first time. I voice all the pain, the fear, the medication I took for years that didn’t work, the extreme behavior and finally the psychologist who said I had Bipolar disorder right before my mum burst into tears. A part of me floated away as I told him, lifted off of me and lightened my body. I was weary that it wouldn’t last.
I was right.
I stood over the bridge overlooking the highway.
I want to say that I blacked out in this moment. My fists closed over the railing; a short railing that couldn’t keep a determined person out. Invisible. Congested. Tired. Alive. I couldn’t cling to one feeling. I didn’t know if they were even emotions as they squeezed my heart and roared in my veins.
I closed my eyes and let the traffic coax me on, focusing on the blaring horns, a breeze whipping past my face and footfalls, so soft, like the pitter-patter of raindrops.
I didn’t dare open my eyes, knowing the wind was playing tricks on my mind.
Something inside me splintered. My eyes peeked open, I inhaled a lungful of air…those luminous eyes met mine with a fierceness I think I’d always seen but never acknowledged. Those eyes. So sure. So aware.
He approached me like a frightened animal, until he was inches from me. If I were him, I would grab me, force me back, away from that ledge. Still he waited, watched. His hand went to his pocket, pulling out a square, unfolding it to reveal my chart with its angry black mark. I made it minutes ago and slipped it through his door on my way here. It was a habit now, to pass on these charts, I think I left one for my mum too, even if she’d stopped caring.
“I finally figured out what I need to say to people I care about,” Jake said.
“Oh,” I shrugged, failing at nonchalant…I was standing on a ledge after all.
He fixed that luminous gaze on me, “I need to say the words nobody else will dare say.”
I cocked my head to the side.
“Are you okay?” he said.
I stared at him a while, Are you okay? I played the words around in my head, tasting their tang on my tongue. Then I nodded, “I like it. Who are you going to say it to?”
“Everybody, but…I’m going to be sincere. I’m going to watch out for signs,” he looked down at my chart. “By paying attention and making sure no one is left behind. We all have problems. Nobody is perfect, but I think you are.”
I stifled a laugh, “Even though I’m fucked up.”
“You don’t know why you feel like you do and you need…someone…to help you, to care.”
“What about the other people who are fucked up?”
“I need you to help me help them. I need you.” He reached his hand out, palm open. I put mine in his and let him guide me towards him. Off that ledge.
I had never been able to cry on cue, in that moment the tears cascaded down my face, gloppy, hysterical.
I turned to the voice. “Mum.”
She paused paces away, my chart crumpled in her fist, her chest heaving, her eyes bloodshot. “I ran as soon as I saw,” she panted. Seeing the chart in her hands, the fear in her eyes…All this time I thought she didn’t care.
I never wanted to walk over this bridge again.
For further reading: I recommend Mood Mapping by Dr Liz Miller published in 2009. It’s very useful for coping with mood swings and understanding them.