Welcome to the Mental Illness Paradise Island: It is all Inclusive
Mental Illness is a thief. Like poison ivy, it attaches itself to our persona, strangling our lives. It ultimately robs us of our sense of Self.
How can we disentangle the Self from that existential knot? I propose a strategy called “islands in the illness.” Think of those precious moments you experienced vitality and hope. Sometimes they are triggered by a job promotion, our kids falling in love, or an unexpected call from a friend. On other occasions, they result from a weather change that positively affects our mood or the blessing of a new medication. They are “islands in the illness,” a welcome solid ground in our shaking existence.
The Island Activity Schedule
But what to do on the “island in the illness”? Indeed, you deserve to sit on the warm sand, face the blue sea, and savor a fresh coconut. I will join you! Though we earned that enjoyment, I fear we may miss an opportunity.
Think about climbing a lighthouse on a stormy day. You can see the turbulent waters with a sense of security from the top. Amazed, you hear the waves crash against the rocks and, in awe, look at the whirlpools turning like liquid ballet dancers. Then, you turn on the gigantic lantern and offer a saving light to the sailors struggling in the treacherous sea. My question is: What internal light can you ignite in moments of security and enjoyment on your “island in the illness”? How can this clarity enlighten others’ lives? How can you transform pleasure into wisdom? And how can drawing and sharing wisdom become your joy?
A Map to the Island
We wonder, where is the north star guiding us to shore? A strategy for turning our experience into wisdom is to draw a map of our “islands in the illness.” Through years of trial and error, I have learned that my Illness follows a pattern. From May to September, my mania ignites. The sun and warm weather accelerate my internal combustion engine. I feel like a mustang running free through meadows. Those are some of my most productive months. I feel creative, write, read, and think. But I have also learned that my renewed energy may demand the stiff price of insufficient sleep, grandiosity, and a lack of judgment. I must be alert, adjust my medication, ask my family to monitor me, and hit the gym. In this illness tug of war, I have devised an imperfect strategy of caution, reflection, pleasure, and wisdom. Paradoxically, once mania and its pleasures appear, I arrive at my “island in the illness.” Filled with renewed energy, I engage in the pleasure of riding my bike, hiking, and playing volleyball. However, I find moments to search for the wisdom that will carry me for the rest of the year.
And if there is a Hurricane?
Last week I watched a documentary on the work of two hurricane photographers. While people rushed to escape the storm, they headed directly toward category five hurricane Irma in September of 2017. Their bodies seemed to be floating in midair as they took pictures amid 160 miles gusts. And then, as if somebody had unplugged the storm, all was quiet. One of them said, “we are in the eye of the hurricane.” Exhausted, they sat in a dilapidated garage. And what did they do? They began a profound conversation about their recent experience. They discussed life’s fragility, courage to face the storm, and the responsibility to share the devastation with the world. Then, nature plugged itself again, and the tail of the hurricane arrived with even greater force.
From Repose to Response
Who inhabits the “island in the illness?” The You, you have been longing to meet. Island times are a unique opportunity for asking wise questions such as “What have I learned?” “What can I teach?” That curiosity will demand tremendous courage. But it will transform your moment of repose into a moment of response. Why did the Israelites receive the Torah in the desert? They required a time and place of quietness and reflection for wisdom to flourish. Your “Island in the illness” is your private Mt. Sinai. Climb to the top and reveal your wisdom to the world.
Awake in the Island
Mental Illness provokes numbness. The chronic pain of the mind is unbearable. Soon, we stop feeling as a way to endure. We must resist sleepwalking our schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. That’s a luxury we, the mental illness community, can’t afford. The world needs our wisdom.