Over the last few days, I have learned some valuable lessons.
First and foremost, I was reminded this week that I am extraordinarily blessed to have a diverse cadre of superior friends and family members.
I also learned a valuable lesson about ladders, not to mention a very painful experience that drove home the importance of why access to affordable and quality health care is so important for our national security.
But having so much down time has also allowed me to reflect on at least two other subjects: balance and perception.
During this presidential election season we have all heard a bunch of rhetoric about “self-reliance” and about “being in this together.” But which philosophy is correct?
Just like working with a ladder, the most important lesson is too often forgotten: it’s all about balance.
And we lose our balance when our perceptions become too narrowly defined.
A week ago, I broke my left arm in two different places while helping my sons with their landscaping business. The injuries, although significant, will eventually heal.
These last few days have been tough. It’s amazing how much you take for granted the use of two working arms. For example, try zipping up your pants with one arm. Or opening a bottle of pain meds; typing or driving a vehicle with a standard transmission.
Most people understand those limitations. They instantly empathize, and are quick to offer assistance. After all, my injuries are very obvious. My arm is either in a sling or set into a wrap-around corset to keep it in place. I have visible wounds on my legs and my elbow.
Strangers ask what happened with sympathetic voices, and they often share with me their own similar experiences. My friends laugh with me about how the accident happened. It’s okay and acceptable to make jokes about it.
We are comfortable with physical injuries. They do not frighten us. Shit happens.
Anyone who has ever smashed their elbow into a 3-inch-thick slab of stone knows that it is a painful injury. They know why you need to take it easy and sometimes need the use of medication to cope or just sleep through the night.
I say all this because these experiences provided me with a very stark contrast to my much less obvious injuries; the disease that is invisible to the eye, that is masked by perception.
On balance (no pun intended) my mental illness is far more painful than a broken arm. But you can’t see it, and I am reluctant to show it to you.
Imagine a disease that rarely allows you to sleep through an entire night. A disease that constantly impacts your perception of the world around you; a disease that clouds your judgment, alters your reality and makes it almost impossible to get out of bed.
Imagine an intense level of pain that without medication would have you think every hour of every day about ending your life; a disease that inhibits your ability to maintain relationships and function as a productive member of society.
Imagine having a disease that is commonly ridiculed and often dismissed as nothing more than “feeling sorry for yourself.”
I live with the challenges of that disease every day. I fight it with every fiber of my existence, only to know that it will never go away; that there is no cure or remedy.
I refuse to allow my broken arm to alter my life. This last week has been one of the busiest and most challenging weeks of my professional career, and I have risen to each and every challenge.
Am I bragging? Yes, but only to make a point. This is the way the overwhelming majority of people who suffer from a mental illness operate. They struggle through each day. They go to work. They mask their pain. They pay their bills. They follow the law. They take their meds and follow their doctor’s orders.
They wince when they hear the words “sicko, whack job and nut case,” but they swallow and stay silent for fear of being labeled, judged or excluded.
They are just like you. They are your neighbors, your friends and your co-workers. They did not choose to become sick any more than you would choose to fall off a ladder. They are some of the most self-reliant people you will ever meet. They have abundant courage and determination.
We all have limitations. The trick is learning to balance and to expand your range of perception. With those tools, you can fix just about anything.