10 years ago today I left work to go to the hospital.
I left plans for my students, but I knew if I didn’t go, I would not live out the week. I went back, for a year, but ultimately didn’t really return to teaching. I left my career, my pension and my health insurance for a chance to live. I’m not sure, today, if it really worked.
Today I’m 42, which is the answer to the ultimate question about the meaning of life, but I’m left feeling empty and more alone and broken that I have in a long time. My mom called me to tell me the story of the day I was born. As soon as she got off the phone, I started crying. I’m not what they were hoping for. I am so full of unrealized potential, it probably explains why I am overweight. To be fair, I’m not actually hallucinating evil spirits, so I guess I am one up on my 32nd birthday.
I have no job, for a whole bunch of reasons, mostly related to the fact that no one will grant me an interview. My resume is not exactly the stuff dreams are made of anymore. I don’t really have much of a life. I feel so separate from my friends, with their careers, and their holidays and their homes and all of that. I even feel completely estranged from the community of mental health advocates I was part of in my city, because I rejected their med-free, all psychiatry is evil orthodoxy.
I get that I am just feeling sorry for myself today. Birthdays are either wonderful, or a super opportunity to ruminate on all the things that have not really worked out for me. I’m not actively sick. I haven’t been in months, which I think I should feel grateful for. This is the down-slope of recovery. I’m not sick, but I am bent under the weight of the consequences of living with serious mental illness. This is the baggage portion of the program. The airlines lost everyone’s luggage during the ice storm, could they not have lost mine?
6 year old me: It’s my birthday!!!!! Are we having cake? Did I get new markers? Yay!
32 year old me: Screw this. I’m done.
42 year old me: Both of you, shut up. I have no idea what I am doing here.
When you are really sick, the focus is on getting you past the point where you might die. Hospitals, doctors, therapists and your family just want you to ‘be well’ and get out of the acute phase, which is a good goal. Dying makes getting on with your life more complicated. Unfortunately, there is not much after that. I’m well, I’m just miserable because the fallout from being ill makes for a really depressing life.
Part of me thinks, stop whining. You have food and shelter, and a computer and internet. You have cats and a husband and a Christmas tree (that really needs to come down, come to think of it). I just can’t stop wanting. Wanting to go to work. Wanting to have purpose. Wanting to be something. Wanting to be able to answer the question “so, what do you do?” with something other than “I read a lot of news”. I wonder if this is just me.
I will be charming at dinner tonight. I will tell funny jokes for my friends. I will pull off looking good in public. It’s what I do.
I just wonder, on my 52nd birthday, how am I going to look back on today? Was it the end of a bad period, or the start of some fresh new hell? Was it just a day in a long line of really depressing days? My 32nd birthday was momentous, in that my whole life changed. I went from being a teacher to being a crazy person, full-time. I don’t want to go back to being a teacher, given that I really wasn’t that good at it, but I do want to be something.
Oh, that was a really loud siren. Two fire trucks just went past my apartment. I think at this point, I have to say, objectively, someone is having a much worse day than me.
I will pull myself together and bake birthday blueberry muffins. In times of need, acquire carbs. It is really the only sensible response. Wait, maybe the unrealized potential is not the only reason I don’t fit into those pants…could also be the drugs. Really, is nothing simple? Muffins. Yes, muffins. When I turn 52, I will remember the muffins. My muffins are that good.
Happy Birthday to me, Simone De Beauvoir, Dave Matthews, a fabulous woman in a Facebook group I’m in, and all of the other people, born today, who are awesome.