Owning My Story

Wow, I must apologize for it being almost an entire month since my last post! I did not intend to be away so long, especially with the blog being so new and needing to "build my audience". I'm sure I've already broken all the cardinal rules of blogging, but nevertheless, here I am!

Life has been good. Busy, but good. I'm actually in a very good place in my life, and have been enjoying a season of much peace and rest for my soul. I cherish this time, because it has not always been like this for me.

The premise of this blog is to write about various facets of my life, and how I rely on my faith to navigate me through those various facets. One of the biggest areas of my life happens to be my marriage...a marriage that is in a very awkward stage that I call "unfinished", due to my husband's struggles with mental illness.

Among the many other facets of my life...motherhood, music, faith, etc....my marriage stands out as one of the most challenging. I've discovered that, not only is it challenging to live out, but it is also challenging to write about. Me, who loves to write and has written almost everyday of my life in private journals for over 30 years. I should clarify...it's challenging to write about my marriage publicly.

There is still stigma attached to mental illness. Even though it is a very real sickness, it's not in the same category as, say, Alzheimer's or cancer, or diabetes, or ALS. I don't want to minimize anyone's experiences with those illnesses, and it is not my intent to do so. However, the fact is, none of those illnesses carry stigma in quite the same way. They have their challenges, yes, definitely. But there is also a certain amount of respect and dignity for those dealing with those illnesses, that those with mental illness do not receive.

Often times, instead, there is judgment, ridicule, isolation, fear, and lack of understanding, empathy and patience. It's just hard. So hard. I am grateful that over the past several years, more awareness is being brought to the plight of those who suffer with mental illness. Unfortunately, it often takes a high profile tragedy to get our attention (Robin Williams for example). But it's still an uphill battle.

One of the questions I get asked quite often is "did you know he was bipolar when you married him?" Should that make a difference? Maybe if I had known, I might not have married him. Because surely I would never knowingly marry someone who is mentally ill. Right?

Why do people ask me that?

Yes. Yes, I knew. He was diagnosed at age 16, and we married when we were 28. He had a history of having been hospitalized more than once after his diagnosis. So yes, I married a man with a history of mental illness.  But I also happened to marry a man who is kind, sweet, creative, loving, sensitive, talented, interesting, intelligent, spiritual...and a different race than me.

Mental illness is a touchy subject.

However, it is part of my story. Even though I myself have never been diagnosed with a mental illness and do not walk that journey personally, to be intimately involved with someone who does is a special challenge in and of itself.

And I know that I am, by far, not the only one who can attest to that.

I recently read an article written by a gentleman named Brad Hoefs who happens to be a pastor with the same diagnosis as my husband, Bipolar I. (In case you didn't know it, Bipolar Disorder is like a spectrum. There is Bipolar I and Bipolar II, each with varying levels of severity) I just discovered him, and look forward to reading more of his journey and his writings. Anyway, in this particular article, he talked about the power of owning one's story. He shared his personal journey of "coming out", so to speak, with his own story and struggle with bipolar disorder. I was touched by his courage, his honesty, and his compassion.

I was also inspired.

I've never hidden my husband's diagnosis, and have been fairly open in talking about it. He was always open about it, so that gave me the freedom to be open too. But our story, just like him, is in actuality WAY more than a bipolar diagnosis...it has taken so many twists and turns over the years that I sort of just stopped talking about it because it was just too much to get into. With the exception of a few close friends who are intimately acquainted with me and who know full details, I have not really opened up much publicly about things. But I'm in a season of life where I feel like it's time to change that. How that will look, I'm not exactly sure. But it's more than just wanting to talk about my marriage, or my husband, or mental illness, or even trying to "raise awareness"...I feel it is almost like, a calling. I've felt that gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit urging me to "tell your story." Somehow I have the feeling that it's not just about me, or my husband.

I admit, I've wrestled with that. Like I said, my marriage is "unfinished." I'm kind of in the middle of the story still, and I am not so sure how it will end. There are certain aspects that I am not yet at liberty to share...much of where I'm currently at in this particular facet of my life is touch and go. In many ways, I'm in sort of a limbo...and I've been here for awhile. But, as Brad Hoefs found out, "...I truly believe that telling your story, messy parts and all, empowers you to move forward in your life." I am ready to move forward in my life, and in my marriage, whatever that may look like. I'm ready to own my story.

So...I hope you'll join me as I continue to walk this journey. I will endeavor to be more faithful in posting.

Food for thought:

What is your experience with mental illness? Is it something you or someone you love struggle with?

How do you cope?