in clear skies
i walk under my umbrella
and where my cover cannot reach
the streets are bombed by the mind’s raindrops
as i watch the cement under attack
i can hear the seagull’s call,
the seas of mothers strolling through the market,
the whining toddlers asking for ice cream,
and open my eyes to a serene summer’s day
Serein is a meteorological phenomenon where there is rain even though the sky is clear. My mind has been serein since I was 14.
I have been forgetting myself in deep waters during a thunderstorm; but I have never been struck by lightning, I have never physically felt the storm that drags down my mood. I have grown internal rainforests out of all the nourishment my raining mind has been giving away through the years of feeling nothing but pain; or more like floating in the pain, not feeling anything but emptiness, and raindrops.
Only this spring, my rainforest cut itself down out of sheer impossibility: it could not live merely off melancholy, it needed a little sun in order to grow ingredients for the average forest. So, my forest tumbled down with drama, and one specific evening, I found myself walking in the middle of a busy street in a specific neighbourhood in Northern Helsinki. After that, I have been trying to heal the wounds the overflow of rain caused to my roots, with different experts of the field. Now, I am finally in the middle of the process of getting a diagnosis.
My rainforest’s probable bipolarity has put me in a number of difficult situations this year. How to tell my boss why I could not handle being all alone at work; how to tell my parents I, a straight A student who is always so calm and collected and full of potential, was seeing a psychiatrist; how to tell my friends why I was acting a little differently than usual. How to tell myself that I had not failed as a student, as a young adult, as a daughter, as a friend, as a human being, even though I had a mental illness?
Mental health is widely and commonly recognized in the western world as a vital part of our overall well-being. Many services are offered to employees, students, parents, anyone; getting help has been made seemingly easy. Today, there is quite a lot of public discussion on mental illnesses, and even public personas are coming out with depression, anxiety, and so on. So why is it still so hard to accept that you yourself are one of the people with a mental health problem?
First of all, getting help is not as simple and quick as it might seem to be. When you are severely challenged by a mental problem, it just might be that your sense of reality is not as clear as it used to be, and that it feels extremely effortful to take even the tiniest step towards helping yourself out of the bad situation. For me, it took a handful of good friends and both of my parents to support me and guide me towards the right path for help; and when the nurses and doctors and health centres and hospitals kept on changing, it took, again, all of my support network to keep my rainforest from sinking to hopelessness. Even then, even when having caring people around me through the numerous appointments, the help did not merely appear and cure me. I, even if lost in a thick fog of roots and leaves and mud and puddles, had to seek for it all by myself, get up in the morning, take the bus to the hospital, take the stairs to the waiting room and sit down in the clichéd psychologist’s armchair, and talk about my childhood, my relationship with my mother, and my mood shifts. These visits would leave me empty and tired and dark, and then I would have to go on with my day as if all was fine.
Second of all, even though mental health is a popular subject nowadays and certainly not quieted down about, it is still easy to associate mental illness with a certain sense of weakness or failure. It has been estimated that even as many as every fourth person encounters mental health problems throughout their life, but there are no statistics available on how these people deal with going through these difficult times. How do they know when a certain sadness is beyond normal melancholy, how exactly do they reach out for help, to whom is it appropriate to talk about the viruses of the mind?
Why can we still not bring up a mental illness in a discussion without most participants of the conversation being uncomfortable with the topic? Why can we not tell our bosses that the reason we cannot do more than two shifts a week is that our depression takes up all our energy? Why is it acceptable to talk to anyone about injured legs and heart surgeries but not about our bipolar minds?
For almost ten years, and more actively for five months now, I have been in a rainy battle with whatever one would call what I have; depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, or all that, or perhaps just the effects from being a Highly Sensitive Person; there is no knowing for sure. I cannot even say whether I want to have an exact label for what causes my rainforest to keep flooding, but what I now know is that I want help with gaining control over the rainfall, and that getting that help and staying helped is possible – well, only after surviving that tiring initial fight to make someone listen and take you seriously.
So, briefly, my plans for the summer are being put in different boxes to see if I fit the symptoms, having my psychiatrist’s phone number near in case a crisis happens, taking my new mood stabilizers that play with my brain-forest chemistry, and trying my best to get comfortable with having mental health problems and still being an accepted and able person, and still being me. I also hope that one day, when I open my eyes to a rainy day, I could feel rainy, and when I open my eyes to a sunny day, I could feel sunny; and that my rainforest would not be flooded anymore; and that I could tell my boss and friends the real reasons behind my eccentric behaviour and meandering excuses for skipping social activities; and that panic attacks would be equal to asthma attacks in conversation.