“There are things I’ve done I can’t erase.
I want to look in the mirror and see another face.”
That lyric from Tom Waits resonates with me.
Lately, I’ve been grappling with guilt.
When you have a mental illness, it can make you do a thousand things that you wouldn’t normally do. It can temporarily change you into a different person, and one you’re not necessarily all that proud of.
I’ve hurt people.
People I care deeply about.
I’ve checked out, gotten angry, drifted off, sunken away from, shut down, walled up, and completely disappeared throughout the years.
I’ve pushed people out of my life. I’ve pulled myself so far away from friendships I once held dear — I can barely make out the footprints.
I built a fortress, in a tower, on an island, smack dab in the middle of the North Atlantic.
John Dunne was a fucking liar.
I’m proof of that.
And man, I’ve gotta be honest. I’m pretty well fucking sick of it.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to both protect and sabotage myself at the same time.
I’ve taken people for granted, I’ve said things I wouldn’t normally say and I’ve done things I wouldn’t normally do.
I’ve been a liar since I was a kid.
I can remember telling kids at the basketball courts that I was a black belt in Kenpo karate.
Not because I wanted to impress, or be noticed, or anything else.
You see, all of my lies have been designed to do one thing — keep me safe.
The bullying I was subjected to as a kid was all around me. There was no place for me to escape from it.
At 39 years of age, I still don’t feel safe.
The trouble is, as an adult, that feeling has continued to impact people that I love and care about.
Which brings about the one million dollar question:
How do I reconcile the damage I’ve done to others? Not only within them, but within myself.
The medical professionals will tell you not to blame yourself, “you have a sickness”.
But, “you have a sickness” is cold comfort to somebody who has been directly affected by my actions and emotions. And it doesn’t help me resolve my own guilt.
How can I possibly make amends for that?
I have no idea.
What I do know is that I take responsibility for every inch of it.
I have to.
For those of us out there that have reached this point in their illness, the point where you can stand back and look at your health history as a whole — it can be such a freeing moment. For that moment you’re rational enough to understand what you’ve been through, or what you continue to go through.
And that’s pretty special.
However, mental illness doesn’t just leave one victim behind. It’s leaves many.
The damage it doles out is as multi-layered as it is complex.
It’s not just that I got sad and anxious and checked out for a decade. It’s that I got sad and anxious, and did everything I could to be with the one person I think I can trust.
Dozens were left in the wake of that scurry to ill-gotten safety. Feelings were hurt. Lives altered. And loves lost.
The good thing is that I’m now taking serious steps to ensure that never happens again, or at the very least to ensure that my illness is not the causation of such heartache.
I’ve said “I’m sorry” so many times in my life I don’t even think it means anything anymore to the people that need to hear it.
So, I will say this instead.
Every single day I will endeavour to better understand and address the challenges I face so that nobody ever has to be hurt like that again. I have a team of professionals that are actively working with me to make that a reality.
There are people out there who feel the same I do. Guilt is just as much a killer as anything else. It can weigh you down. It can sink you. If you’re carrying it, I urge you to be honest with yourself, and those around you.
Reach out. Find help. It’s there.
For those who have been left in the wake of illness — there’s help for you too. So often, the people who support us and love us the most, are the ones that get hurt first.
It’s a difficult thing to wrap your head around. I’ve said before, that mental illness can be messy, for some. Please understand, that you did everything you could. And that you shouldn’t carry guilt, either. Nor, should you blame yourself.
Mental illness is just a big tangly bag of wires. And like most things, it takes time to straighten out.
These days, I’ve traded my island for a peninsula.
And one day, hopefully soon, I’ll move into the city.