R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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I’m taking the gloves off tonight.

For the record, I’m sober and in a pretty good mood.

A college friend responded to my last post, openly sharing about being bipolar and how humiliating that can be when people come to define you by your inconsistency, by your ups and downs. I was very struck by what she wrote:

“It’s to be expected. But it’s embarrassing.”

Tonight, my family went to a concert in which my niece sang, led by a deaf woman who has an incredible voice and who has trained herself to sing again after losing her hearing. This is mind-boggling.

Here we go, connecting the two: people understand what an astounding triumph this woman has achieved. She has overcome the physical challenge of deafness to become a singer again. She inspired all the students with whom she performed and the entire audience who heard her sing.

My friend equally kicks ass. She lives with a debilitating condition that most people cannot comprehend. She raises kids, loves people, follows Jesus, and lives as a light in a dark world while her brain chemistry sabotages her. But few people stand in awe of her achievement.

They can grasp overcoming deafness, even though their hearing works fine. But they can’t see the wonder in what my friend is pulling off.

I’ve said this to people before: you act like I don’t have it together when you should actually be giving me a fucking medal for living with what I have and still doing what I do. Yeah, things got awkward after that. I got a bit of a pitying look. I clearly lost respect in his eyes.

But tonight, I’m going to say this again, because people need to get it: I don’t want your pity, I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, I don’t want you to pat me on the head. I want your fucking respect for living with something you can’t quite grasp and still managing to be a force for good in the world.

Blunt: I think about dying about eight times. A week? No, more like a day. On average. I’m not supposed to say that. That’s going to make you feel very awkward about me. I expect to lose several subscribers to my blog for saying this directly (or for using the “F” word, one or the other).

That’s life for me. On the downward cycle, it can spike up to a lot more times than eight. On good days, it doesn’t cross my mind. But that’s just one challenge. I have this swarm of hornets that flies around inside my head and sometimes they just attack. I’m trying not to have negative thoughts. I’m praying not to have negative thoughts. And then all the painful, humiliating, discouraging, and traumatic experiences of my life come raging through my brain.

No, don’t feel sorry for me. Be impressed.

There are people who overcome worse shit than I have and do more with their lives. Absolutely. I’m not claiming the grand championship of living with shit. But I am saying it’s pretty damned amazing. I wouldn’t really wish this on anyone, yet there are moments when I do imagine that certain people would get to walk in these shoes and deal with these thoughts for twenty-four hours.

It’s a little controversial–some would say stupid–that I’ve never tried anti-depressants. I’ve figured out my own ways to maintain my mental and emotional health. This is my path. I only regret that some have felt a stigma about taking medication to help with their mental health because of my choice. That was never my intention. I hope I’ve made it clear that if you struggle with mental illness, you need to find what works for you to be okay and function. Period.

I played these cards closer to my chest earlier in life. First, it takes a while to realize that other people aren’t living with the same challenges. Then, it quickly becomes apparent that you’re a freak and people don’t get it, at all. The next stage is figuring out in whom you can confide, whom you can trust to handle knowing what you’re really going through without their dismissing and completely losing respect for you.

I hit my fourth stage a few years ago. Some folks like me, like us, need to hear that they aren’t alone. They need to know that the voice in their head which says, “No one is as screwed up as you are” is lying to them. But you can’t just tell them, “No, that’s a lie.”

“Yeah, says you, mentally whole person.”

The only way I’ve found to help is to say, “I get it. I’m there, too. God loves us exactly as we are.”

But I think at fifty, stage five begins now.

A ton of us live with stuff like this. Not all the same diagnosis, but exhausting and sometimes paralyzing without any clear external symptoms that “normal” folks can recognize and validate. Some of us hide. Some of us acknowledge it. Some of us try to cope through means that prove self-destructive. And remember, many give up.

Cue back-up singers with lead-in to chorus:

“Just a little bit! Just a little bit! Just a little bit! Just a little bit!”

I believe stage five is this: I’m done apologizing for having to cope with something that isn’t my choice to people who don’t ever experience the same challenges I have simply to make it through a day.

I would appreciate respect for carrying this off as well as I do.

But most importantly, I’m here for the people who feel ashamed, who say “It’s to be expected but it’s embarrassing,” who are humiliated because they can’t function at the same level others can.

You are amazing. You kick ass. Are you reading this? Are you still here? Then yes, you are, and yes, you do. Stop judging yourself because others–who don’t get it–judge you.

You have my respect.

15 thoughts on “R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  1. David Palmer

    Thanks for writing vulnerably and genuinely and powerfully once again, Mike! You are amazing, as are all those your post describes. I am super impressed with you and anyone else who handles challenges that most people don’t realize, experience, or understand. Huge respect for you my friend, and for them!!! <3

  2. Kelly

    You have always had my respect Michael! We have been friends a long time, like our mothers. You are one of the strongest people I know, with your goals, thoughts, beliefs and so forth.
    Thank you for your so eloquently put words. No matter the topic, they always humble me and make me think
    Love ya!

  3. Sandy Norris

    Back in college I thought you just might struggle with something along the lines of what I struggled with- I ‘m not sure why. Maybe something you said to me in a conversation once. Because of that, I always found comfort when you were around- I didn’t feel alone! Thank you for sharing your life so openly. You have my deepest respect—and thanks!!

    • Thanks, Sandy. I’m very glad to hear that’s true! I hope I can offer that to everyone who deals with this stuff like we do.
      I’m learning not to worry as much about people’s judgment as I get older. It’s a hard journey, but I think we’re going in the direction and I’m glad we’re both still on it.

  4. Nancy

    Very, very well said! You definitely have my respect! It’s a hard road to live. I have often wondered what others thought about me and my awkward ways. Sometimes I still worry about what others think. I wish I had the courage that you have to be so open. It’s such a blessing to others.

    • Thanks, Nancy. Personally, I love your awkward ways.

      I’m still not comfortable calling it “courage,” but I think it’s a discipline I’ve been developing over many years now. I do hope it helps people. That’s the goal. I guess maybe taking away the power from those who would judge us is a nice secondary benefit, right? Blessings, Friend.

  5. Lisa Engdahl

    You’re an amazing person, Mike, and I count it one of the great blessings and joys of my life to know you and be friends. Thanks for writing about your journey. Love, Lisa

  6. Veronica

    Mike,
    Just had a real bad day at work…had to see 8 groups of elementary school students for speech therapy while my mood was spiraling into the pit of hell…and the worst part was plastering a smile on my face so all my co-workers wouldn’t be asking me “are you ok?” But here’s the good news: I thought of this article and how much you said I was overcoming…like a singer overcoming deafness!! And I realized how much ass I was kicking…and it helped!!! At least, I felt not alone. I felt good about myself. I didn’t add shame to the hot mess that is my brain. That is a lot. Thank you Mike!

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