Can we learn to truly LIVE with mental illness?

In college I became familiar with this quote by Jonathan Swift:

“May you live all the days of your life.”

It seemed to go well with one of my favorite lines from the movie Auntie Mame:

“Live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”banquet2

Combine the two and the message is pretty clear. I dove into it head first and tried to make these my mantra. I wanted to feel everything deeply. However, I quickly learned that in feeling deeply there were no normal occurrences. Only incredible highs and devastating lows.

I also discovered a quick and strong anger with the ability to hold a grudge with perfect recollection until the end of time.

And beyond.

But hey, that’s just because I’m a passionate person, right?

After all, life is to be LIVED!

In my case, and probably many others as well, this drive to live a passionate and deeply meaningful life was more a matter of mental illness than of excitement for all the good I could find.

tornadoWhen one tries to suck every crumb out of the banquet of life, it often just ends up sucking for those closest to you. Instead of adding meaning and depth, I think I managed to just gulp the life out of every corner of the room – including those loved ones caught in my tornado inhalation.

I’m not sure how Ann, Alex and Nick survived more than 20 years living in this exhausting vacuum. At minimum, it made them overly cautious about things they did. No one knew what would set Dad off and how intense his reaction would be.

Because I wanted to feel every feeling in life, they had to squash some of their self-expression to avoid Dad’s thunder and lightning.

Not a very fair trade when you think about it.

tornado of light

Manic phases of bipolar can be pretty amazing.

The depression part of it, not so much.


Enter medication.

medicationI can certainly understand why people with some of these scary disorders have a hard time staying on their medication. Trading sharpness and clarity for cloudiness and confusion feels like being shackled and imprisoned.

Being a deeply feeing person who no longer has the ability to feel makes you want to scream inside.

That is, if you cared enough to scream.

In fact, the first two times I was prescribed medication, I stopped taking it after a few months because I really didn’t like how it made me feel.

That may have worked okay for me, short term.

But it didn’t do anything for Ann, Alex and Nick. They still needed to stay in their own corners, just in case.

Often, I think the mentally ill are on medication to help make life for those around them more manageable. It can help restore some order and constancy. Those caring for the mentally ill have a base to return to, a safe zone where things are under control and they don’t have to walk on eggshells.close-family

I love my family enough to do all I can for them to have this security. Their happiness is more important to me than my own. That in itself is my happiness.

So this time I have stuck with it. We have tried many different medications and many different combinations. It really is a matter of trial and error. And trial and error opens the doors of madness and unimagined pain.

Whereas before I could attend a concert and have the music fill my soul, or attend a conference and leave fully charged, already making changes to become a better person, now I sit and feel detached, unsure of my surroundings and wondering really why I am there. I stare at others in the crowd almost amused at the concept that they really are finding fulfillment in this. I find myself wondering if there really was a time that I felt as they did.???????????????????????????????

Probably not. I would imagine that I used to feel more.

Recently I have gone from what I call loud apathy to quiet apathy. Loud apathy is a big “whatever”, not really caring much but being just overall snippy. It’s a kind of sarcasm of the mind, more than the mouth. There are still emotions, they are just apathetic emotions. I can still feel.

However, quiet apathy is really the absence of all feeling. There is no growing scream for help. There is no desire for help. It is as if I am already gone, but not to anywhere at all. I’ve just left where I am.

limboLimbo. Nothingness. Free of all feeling.

I would imagine that these are the two extremes: one being sucking every morsel of life off the banquet table, and the other not even inhaling at all.

I refuse to accept that life needs to fall into either of these two categories.

I simply want to live all the days of my life.

And I know I can.

Because it isn’t about ME living all the days of MY life; it’s about US living all the days of OUR lives.

When ME is replaced by WE, it’s hard to remain in limbo for long. I can come back from where I never went; I am here instead of nowhere.

I may not be gorging myself on the incredible banquet that is life. But I’m at the table and able to taste small portions.

But that’s okay. Everyone knows that a balanced diet and moderation is the healthiest way to go.

Amazingly enough, I am completely satiated now in a way I never was before.

From my new quieter vantage point I can see that the company gathered around the table is more important than the menu anyway. I’m grateful to not be eating at the table alone any more. banquet

Enjoying the meal as a family is infinitely better.

In our own way, Ann and I feel that we truly are living all the days of our lives.

Do you?

If not, slide over and make room at the table for those you love. Enjoy the conversation as well as the meal.


3 thoughts on “Can we learn to truly LIVE with mental illness?”

  1. Hello Greg!

    Once again you have captured so articulately and elegantly wonderful concepts related to our journey here on earth. My theme lately has been the commandment to love our neighbor. It goes to what you have talked about above – substitute the “me” for “we”. True joy comes when we are able to serve those around us – making them happy and looking out for their well-being, brings us happiness. Thanks for your article.


    1. Amy,

      Thanks for your thoughts and insights. It really does come down to loving others and paying more attention to their needs than focusing solely on our own. If Ann, Alex and Nick are happy, then I’m happy. It stretches beyond our immediate families to our greater family, one person at a time.

      Keep doing what you are doing.


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