Last week was a time to get away. I had been looking forward to the time for weeks. Any time I get to put work down for an extended period of time to be present with myself, my wife, and family, that is a great time. We were going out of town for a few days, and I could not wait to leave.
Monday of last week I got food poisoning. I don’t get food poisoning. I did not expect to get sick, so I naturally did what anyone in that position who did not want to get sick would do, I pretended I was fine. Vacation was saved! But I wasn’t fine.
We were playing cards when my wife asked if I was okay. I told her I was fine, but then she felt my head. I was burning up. She validated that I was sick. I felt like an 8 year old being sent to bed because I was staying home from school. I took a glass of water and retreated to sleep.
We got home from vacation and I wanted to jump in to work. I felt I should be rested because of the time away and I was excited about all there was to do. I got up on Monday morning, ready for the day, and by 9:15 I was thoroughly convinced that I had messed up. I was exhausted from being sick. All of the momentum I thought I had was gone. My bipolar was acting up. I was buried in a pile of meetings and things that had to get done, and I felt like I was unable to do anything.
I met with a person who had a psychotic break recently. We spoke for an hour, and at the end of that hour, I had heard her journey, and understood mine.
Over the course of the last week, I had come to doubt myself, what I was capable of, and if I was ever going to be enough. I had changed the way I thought about myself, and instead of just acting, I was worried about whether or not I was good enough to do the thing I was thinking acting on. The person I met with had simply said, “I’m still me.” Inside I was touched because I wanted so badly to see myself in that moment as still me.
For years I was treated as something instead of as someone when my bipolar disorder flared up. Suddenly I was a problem to be fixed instead of a person to be loved. The questions would begin: Did you take your meds? Did you get enough sleep? Are you eating well? Did you exercise? The answer was yes to all of the above, but I was sick and needed time to recover. When none of the questions gave the inquisitor the answer they were looking for, they would just tell me there was nothing they could do.
In that place, I needed someone to tell me that I was still me, still the person they knew, and that a bad day did not define me. I needed to know that things would be okay, and that I was still perceived as being me in the midst of whatever I was going through. I needed to be told that I was not defective. I needed to know people cared. I needed to know that even if I felt broken, I was still me.
I have come to give myself more and more of that perspective recently, but I still struggle when work has piled up and I feel like I am immobilized mentally. I still struggle with shame when I feel like I have not lived up to my own expectations of myself. And in some ways, I think that is okay. Because under all of the struggles,the expectations, and the shame, I am still Brandon. I am still the person I was before food poisoning, before a trip, and before feeling like I was unable to work on Monday morning.
In that moment a few days ago, I realized the magic of My Quiet Cave. The magic is that I’m still me, even when I have bad days. She was still herself. And the rest of our Overcome participants, Cave Group participants, volunteers, leaders, board members, friends, partners and colleagues alike, are still themselves when things don’t feel quite right. In the midst of friends like that, it is easier to hear “You are still you,” and it becomes easier to say, “I’m still me.”