Growing up, I lived in a happy home. I was raised by adoring parents, and harassed endlessly by older siblings that I knew would protect me from any monsters under the bed. I mean, my big sister literally ran back into our burning house to find me before the firefighters could get there. My brother taught me how to take any guy down before I even knew the difference between boys and girls. There is no other word to describe myself other than blessed.
But, then we grew up. My dad saw more deployments, my mom died, my sister got married and then divorced and married again. My brother saw his own mental health tsunamis, lost his way, and then found a wife of his own. From the age of 15, I was pretty much on my own when it came to decision making. I navigated being a teenager with little guidance, got my first job without any prompting, and was living independently at an age younger than any of my five older siblings did previously.
It was in the very first semester of my freshman year of college that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Following my diagnosis, my relationship with my family suffered a massive rift. Shortly after, I was given the diagnoses of both PTSD and OCD. It rocked my world, but didn’t necessarily surprise me. My family couldn’t seem to wrap their head around it. I wasn’t the same person anymore.
Almost two years later, I am again an entirely different person. Well, at least to them.
You see, I’ve got a couple suicide attempts under my belt now, and the scars on my arms have multiplied by at least ten. There is a dark vertical line on my wrist, and some remaining deficits from my overdose are present in my speech and motor functions.
In October, I was also diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which, to be quite honest, didn’t do much in way of personal opinion, either.
After the events of these last two years, I admit that I must look scary to them. My scars might be disturbing and the behavior they’ve heard about might make them question everything they once knew about me. I can’t say I blame them; I also can’t say it is easy to forgive them.
I learned a really important lesson when I woke up in the ICU. Though not literally, water may be thicker than blood. Friends, when bonded closely enough, may actually be family. And family, though genetically identifiable as part of you, may not be family at all. They can be strangers you grew up with under the same roof. I only say this because when I woke up from that coma, the face waiting for me was my best friend’s – and the texts and calls on my phone were not from a single blood family member, but from friends who had heard what I had done…and they weren’t judging or lecturing or talking to me in pity. They were supporting. When I entered the BHC, those same friends called and visited me without prompting.
I wish I could say my blood had done the same. However, with the holidays here, it breaks my heart to admit I know now, with a surety, where I stand in regard to the people I am genetically similar to. I don’t have a home to go back to. As I watch friends pack their dorms for the break, eager to see their parents and siblings, I am preparing to move to the next state. I did not see my family at Thanksgiving, I will not see them at Christmas, and I don’t suppose I’ll see them again for quite some time.
And that’s fine.
I don’t say that because I don’t care – because I truly, wholeheartedly do. I have cried and panicked and contemplated suicide all over again in the face of this realization. This realization that I am on my own, and that I have been for awhile now.
I say this because it is the only way for me to heal. They feel that they need to protect themselves from me and that is fine, but it is my turn to protect myself from them. It’s time to not be lectured or questioned for being sick, or not to be spoken to as if I am broken doll with a lack of faith. I don’t choose to be sick, but I choose how to cope, and this is the only way I see at this point.
I have friends willing to give up nights of sleep and their spare bedrooms to support me. I have friends who will hold me in the wake of mixed episode, unfazed by the screaming, and refuse to let go. I have friends who will wrestle pill bottles out of my hands and glue my bleeding arms shut and call 911 when I’ve finally given up.
They are my family, even if they are not blood.
And that’s okay; I can live with that.
If you’re alone this Christmas, know that you aren’t truly alone. I’m thinking of you as I lay here, watching the snow fall outside my window. The people that were supposed to love you, the ones that may have failed you, do not define you. You are strong, and you will never truly be alone. I love you, and I am cheering for you every step of the way. You can do this.
All my love,
P.S. Merry Christmas, and remember to keep your head above water.