You hear this emergency airplane instruction a lot as a metaphor when it comes to having children and trying to hang on to a sense of self. But life has a way of dropping 20,000 feet when you least expect it—whether you have kids or not.
One moment you'll be drinking a Bloody Mary and thinking everything's okay—and then, BAM—your world tilts, nothing looks familiar and it feels like you're doomed to crash.
I've spent more than half my life battling some sort of anxiety or depression. My mental health passport has no shortage of stamps. The pages are crammed with multiple prescriptions and various diagnoses.
That's all there used to be, until I decided to do the writing. Now I shape my own story. When I share the lows, the blues, the mood swings, some of the power comes back to me. Especially when people tell me they can relate, or that it's helped them feel less alone.
The sadness, the weakness—they are so strong when you have a tendency to get down. Mental illness is a sinister seductress. She'll lead you down a spiral staircase into the darkness if you let her.
These days I do my best to resist the allure. I take medication, even though it has side effects. I talk it out, even though I'm an introvert. I chart my moods, even though I'm not a Virgo.
I make sure to carve time out for myself, too. I read every day, because it makes me feel good and takes me out of myself. I make dates to go out with my friends at least once a month. I listen to music that transports me somewhere else.
But, you know what? Despite it all, sometimes none of this works. A bad day or a perceived criticism or a surge of hormones can undo it all. Sometimes the sadness is stronger than the strategies.
And having the best, supportive family in the world is just not enough. That sucks. And tough to take. Because it's not their fault.
But it's not mine, either. It's just the way I'm made. It's not a defect. Having anxiety or depression or PMDD— it's just a part of me, like my freckles and my fair skin. It's what I'm wrapped in.
So I just push on. I purposefully write my way out of the gloom. I hold hands with my nerves. I let the tears come, because I respect the place where they come from.
And I put on that dangling yellow mask every chance I can, even when it's not an emergency.
I don't wish my differences away anymore, because I know this is something I'll most likely live with forever. But I know now that I can manage it and get through it with the support of family and friends.
I used to try and protect my daughter from any hint of it, but it's impossible to hide my heart from my heart. And being my psychic twin, she will immediately sense when something is wrong. I'm honest with her now; I tell her that I'm sad, or that I need some space.
In my bleaker moments, I worry about what I've passed down to her, but I can't control any of that. She will bloom no matter what. And if she goes through any of these things as she grows up, I will understand her and love her the way only I can.
I also want to continue to be a mental health advocate, since I firmly believe that everything I put out into the universe, I get back.
Today I received word that an article I'd pitched to a paying parenting website was accepted. It's called "When Motherhood and Mental Illness Collide."
How about that?
I'm proof that you can survive a collision with mental illness. We all can, with a little help.