When I was 20, I was watching a movie with the guy I had just started dating when I noticed he was distracted, his eyes focused on my bedroom ceiling.
"Is that a shoe print?" he asked.
My poker face served me well. "Whoa, I think it is."
"How did it get there?"
I lied with the ease of a veteran con artist: "I have no idea."
I did have an idea. I put it there. I put it there in a moment of despair in which I began throwing all sorts of things around my room, crying, and flinging myself on my bed. I also kicked off my shoe, which hit the ceiling with such force that it left a distinct shoe print, a reminder that I wasn't as calm and cool as I presented myself to the world. This exchange became emblematic of all of my adult relationships: hiding my "crazy" and pretending it didn't exist — all the while inevitably ruining every romance with my behavior.
I blamed my addiction for everything. I wasn't crazy, I was an addict!
I struggled with depression and drug addiction from the age of 13. I was well-acquainted with hiding my mental health issues from those around me, especially men. But, over time, the curtain would part and I would begin my usual pattern of sabotaging and self-destructive behavior. Most relationships ended without ever addressing the elephant in the room.
I hid the real problem for a long time by using drugs — mainly heroin — which turned off my feelings just enough to pretend I could function in the real world. Once my addiction became public knowledge at age 23, I blamed it for everything. I wasn't crazy, I was an addict! After every relapse, and as my mental health issues spun further out of control, I clung to this concept. During periods of sobriety, I would seek help through psychiatry and various medications. After much trial and error, one of the medications, Wellbutrin, worked. It worked so well that I convinced myself that I no longer needed it, and thus began a cycle of going on and off of it in between relapses.
The drugs permanently exited my life when I got pregnant, at age 28, with my son. Thankfully, the rigors of motherhood and the overwhelming love I had for this little person kept my mental health issues at bay for quite some time; however, after my son's father and I separated and I began to date again, I found myself in the same old patterns, wreaking havoc and falling back into the dark well of depression.
About a year into dating the man I would eventually marry, I started pushing him away, acting hostile, manic, overly emotional. In an instant I could turn jealous, then icy, then argumentative, pointing out the many reasons I knew he was looking for a way out of our relationship.
There was an urgency to obliterate what we had. I had reached this place many times before. The place where I felt terrified of love, terrified that I did not deserve it nor that I could keep it. But I knew intellectually that I was ruining things, even as I was unable to stop myself from doing so. One night over dinner, he turned to me and said, "I love you and I want to be with you, but if you don't do something to address your behavior and depression, our relationship is not going to last."
My first reaction came from fear and anger, "Why don't we just make this easier on both of us and end things now?"
He took my hand and said, "I don't want to end things."
In that moment, something clicked. I heard him. He echoed the sentiment from partners past who had struggled to maintain normalcy with me, but never voiced it. For the first time, I felt willing to stay, to not run, to stop letting that uncontrollable part of my brain chemistry bulldoze my life.
It doesn't mean that I never have low moments, but when I do, I am not immobilized by those lows.
Facing my addiction seemed easy in comparison to facing the mental health issues that were threatening the most substantial relationship I had ever been in. What was as I so afraid of? I was afraid of being called crazy. I was ashamed that I could not meditate/yoga/exercise/12-step my way out of this. I felt weak for not being able to handle this on my own. Somehow, being called a junkie was less shameful than having a mental health issue.
But I had tried those things — the yoga, the meditation, the 12-step meetings, the talk therapy. I had been clean for almost a decade, I had become a mother, I functioned in ways I never thought I would, and yet the dark cloud of my uneven mental wellness overshadowed everything.
So, I went back to therapy. I went back on Wellbutrin. I focused less on the shame I felt over having to address my mental health issues, and more on the relief that I did not have to exhaust myself by white-knuckling my emotional well-being.
I no longer concern myself with the possibility of remaining on medication indefinitely because the benefits have been immeasurable. It doesn't mean that I never have low moments, but when I do, I am not immobilized by those lows.
The medication has afforded me the luxury of being able to use yoga, meditation, and exercise in ways that actually work for me. I am no longer behaving erratically, hell-bent on destruction, and I do not seek harmful ways to numb the depression. Instead of running from my "crazy" for as long as I did, I wish I had done myself the favor of facing my mental health issues, squarely and without judgment, many years ago. Although it took me a while to get here, I am eternally grateful for my husband, who helped me face what had been standing in my way all along: me.