My thoughts race like a Porsche reaching high speeds with no brakes. I don’t care. I push the gas pedal down harder. It is not enough. I can feel myself on the edge. I want it. I need it. I reach out to touch the impossible…
Now I am drowning. I can’t breathe. I see people around me laughing and smiling. I smile too so they can’t tell. I can feel myself on the edge again. This time it is different. My thoughts have betrayed me…
A smile is like an iceberg, only the tip shines and hides the rest below. My smile is my greatest truth… and my biggest lie.
Those living a life outside of cultural norms, often master the art of smiling. My mental illness has taught me the power of a smile and its strength when facing stigma and fear.
Attaching stigmas to mental illness cripples not only the people they are attached to but the society they live in. Fear of judgement and rejection are, at times, more debilitating than that actual illness. People tend to fear what they do not understand. Mental illness is not understood by most, so instead, it is feared. Now, those who live with a mental illness are living in fear while those who do not live with it, fear those who are. Fear manifests itself into forms of hate, judgment, rejection, and stigmas. Silence is the greatest food for stigma. Break the silence, break the stigma.
Being diagnosed as bipolar in my early twenties has set me on a journey toward finding self-love, acceptance, and self-identity. Most people can say they would like to experience self-love and acceptance, that is a given. Self-identity, on the other hand, comes with additional stigmas and tends to be more of a struggle, at least for me. My Bipolar manifest itself as rapid cycling, meaning I do not know if I am going to experience Tigger, Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh, or all three at once.
Not only was my self-identity at risk most days, but I also found that my sexual identity was at risk as well.
Perhaps, “at risk” needs some explanation. I grew up in a very loving upper class, wealthy family. Little to nothing was ever spoken of homosexuality in the household. Small conversations here and there that were spoken often had a gentle but negative connotation. Very similar to the conversations of mental illness. Basically, you did not want to be “one” of those people and people like that deserved sympathy. Neither mental illness nor homosexuality was spoken of unkindly, just not supported.
Shortly after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I kissed a girl for the very first time. Sorry mom and dad, but all bets were off.
Not only was I diagnosed with a very stigmatized mental illness, but I also began to question my sexual identity as well. Yet, was it the disorder talking? Was it truly me? How could I tell?
Before kissing the girl for the first time, I had just left a tremendously abusive four year relationship. I had a respect and attraction to and for the female body. It was a quiet attraction, one that I convinced myself was nothing more than appreciation. The girl, who I shared a kiss with, knew of my abusive relationship. She stayed up many nights talking with me after each episode of abuse.
We were in Latin class together at the University we attended. Our study sessions began at a local cafe. As we took turns walking each other to our vehicles, the key fumbling, nervous laughter, and soft touches of the fingertips began to build. Soon, our study sessions were taking place in our dorms. The accidental touch of a hand or brush of a fingertip became more frequent. Our hugs goodbye was held a little longer and tighter. I never questioned what I was feeling toward her. The building of anticipation was, in a sense, natural.
She led the kiss, her experience showing in her confidence. The first kiss was soft and brushed my lips gently. I think it was her way of testing out my reaction. I did not understand what I was feeling but it felt too good to argue with. When she went in for another kiss, I cupped her face between my hands, pulling her closer. She took my invite and away we went. Lips, tongues, hands, it all became a flurry of the senses.
When our eyes met, no words were needed to know what we wanted from each other.
We took turns leading the kissing. There was no sense of dominance or control. No sense of obligation. I wanted to please her and she wanted to please me. Her lips kissed their way down to my shoulder. They lingered on a healing bite mark left from my last relationship. She softly pressed her lips to the raised indentation. She knew who left it. She was the one that washed and cleaned it when I showed up at her dorm, bruised and bleeding.
As we experienced each other’s touch, my racing thoughts were tamed. Her kiss put the breaks back into my Porsche. Her touch put air back into my drowning lungs. For a few moments, my life was not being judged. My illness had no stigma attached to it. I was simply a young woman unchained by norms and expectations. When I was in her arms, I no longer questioned my self-identity nor my sexual identity.
I was me.
I’m selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I’m out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.
– Marilyn Monroe