The Fight You Don’t See

May is Mental Health Month. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a Mental Illness Survivor. That I fight The Piggyback Guy every day.

But, what does that mean? How does that look, in practice? How does that play out? Can anyone tell?

Well, in my case at least, the only one who really knows — who can see the fight — is me. Here are just a few examples:

  • It’s when I’m doing something mundane like driving or the dishes and, suddenly, with no prompting, a memory pops into my mind of a specific time when I said something embarrassing or mean or feel like I did something that made someone uncomfortable. It plays in my head like a movie. Every detail as if it just happened moments ago (when, in fact, it was many years ago). It’s like an involuntary reflex where I re-live every part of the experience and embarrassment. Like someone has grabbed the back of my head and forced me to look at a screen of just one example out of many of what a horrible person I am. A deep shame grows inside and I silently start judging and convicting myself. I utter silent curses. Sometimes, if no one is around, I may pound a fist into my thigh or slap my own face. A punishment for long forgiven bygones. The Piggyback Guy has convinced me I deserve this.

  • There are times I wake up in the middle of the night. Mind racing. Can’t fall back asleep. Determined I’m going to forget something important or that I’ve let someone down but not sure what or who. I’m terrified. My heart is racing and I’m having trouble catching my breath. It takes me a while to figure out, despite the fact I’ve been living with this for pretty much all of my life, that I’m having a full-blown panic attack. And I know from experience that if I just wait, it will stop — just as suddenly as it came. But, in the moment I’m pretty sure the only way it will is if I kill myself. This is what The Piggyback Guy tells me and, at the time, I believe him.

  • I can’t drive by myself over any bridge without imagining what it might be like to suddenly wrench the steering wheel to the left, jump the barrier, and send my car falling with me inside. A movie in my mind plays every frame. I imagine what I’d be thinking, how I’d be feeling, what people might think or say when I’m gone. Never happens when I have other people in the car with me. Only when I’m alone. Or, when The Piggyback Guy is there. And he’s always there when I’m alone.

All of these happen. Daily. Often, many times a day. I’m pretty sure no one around me can tell. Most of the time no one is around when they occur.

And, I know I’m not alone. I know from speaking about it to other mental illness survivors that it happens to them too. Maybe not exactly the same things or thoughts but similar enough to let me know I’m not alone. These are the types of things we deal with while getting through every single day of our lives. A battle so many wage. A fight no one sees.

So, this month especially, take some time to simply be more aware of this. Just based on the numbers we know, you have someone in your life who, like me, is living with this. Living like this. Maybe that is you. Every single task, choice, decision, effort, and breath is happening with things like I described above also going on.

See them.