“Try to be a Rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
I’ve never been very good at expressing my opinion in public. I think that, like my illness, the reason is partly genetic and partly environmental. If I say something that is remotely controversial, and let’s face it almost all opinions are, I might feel empowered and strong in the moment that I express it, but soon the self scathing voices inside my head might tell me that I, and therefore my opinion, are worthless and pointless and that I should shut up and retreat back into my shell.
When I am well, I don’t want to stay in that shell, I want to burst out and shout about what’s in my heart. It’s a start/stop seesaw and it’s exhausting. Inflamed me has opinions that rush out and scream at the world, so fast that they trip over each other in their haste to be free. I communicate like a toddler walks: too fast, head first, soon falling flat on my face.
My natural state is to veer between silence and shouting, then to destroy any evidence of said shouting that I possibly can. Even I used to get confused about who I really was and what I really thought and felt, so I can’t imagine what those around me must have experienced: probably a combination of frustration, pity and embarrassment on my behalf.
This is just one area of my life where I have to work hard to find balance: a middle ground from which I can live steadily and consistently, finding a way to move from ‘survive’: hanging on to the side of life with gritted teeth and bloody fingernails, to thrive, which is what a fire does when it’s fed, and which can be far too bright for me unless it is well contained and there is lots of water around. The truth is that the opinions and beliefs that come out when I am ‘up’ are always based in my truth. I just need to find a way to communicate them steadily, so that I can feel safe and secure, and so that those at the other end of my words can clearly understand them and trust that they have been put together by a calm and considered mind.
It’s terrifying for me to put my thoughts and ideas out into the world. I know that I am opening myself up to so much criticism and cruelty. I may be judged, I may never be able to secure a decent job again because potential employers may discriminate against my illness, a possibility that I have guarded against by staying largely silent about it until now. I’m also placing myself into a possible position of some kind of authority, which could get very difficult in times of despair, and downright embarrassing in times of inflammation. What if someone uses my Rainbow Mind system and then gets really ill and their life ends? “Well Katie, what if you were a cancer survivor and you shared something that had really helped you with another patient and they ended up dying. Would you go back and not try to help them?” These are the sorts of conversations I have with myself.
It would certainly be a lot easier in a lot of ways to just use my wellbeing system for myself, and find work that is not too taxing, that makes me feel useful, that remunerates me and enables me to do the things I enjoy. I’ve been through a lot because of my illness, so why shouldn’t I rest now, and try to find peace. Why should I endlessly engage with a subject that causes me so much pain and discomfort, and put my words and thoughts out into a world that might pull them, and me, to pieces? The answer is simple, because I can.
Over the past few years I have spent many months in India, working with young women in a home there. I found purpose and true joy with those girls, and they became family to me. The youngest girl I lived with, who has just turned nine, is an orphan because of mental illness and specifically the lack of help that was available to her Mother when she was born. Her Mother was never diagnosed but from what I have been told she suffered from a similar illness to mine: possibly genetic, and definitely made worse by the culture she found herself unmarried and pregnant in. She seems to have suffered from a post partum psychosis during which she abandoned her child, very probably without realising she had done so. She was last seen ‘roaming the streets.’
I think of Subashree and her Mother whenever I have moments of fear about putting myself into the world as a woman with a mental illness. I remind myself that I am incredibly lucky to have the ability and the resources to help myself and to share my learning in order to try to help others. I know that a simple twist of fate or realigning of the stars could have switched our situations, and that I am seeing that woman’s little girl grow up, albeit from afar, when she has not been able to, because she was born into a society that doesn’t yet have the level of understanding and acceptance that the one I was born into does, and presumably because none of the people who later reported her ‘street roaming’ tried to help her. There is a chance that my work may one day be able to help a woman like her, or a child who may be struggling. Suba told me last time I saw her that she wants to be a Doctor “To keep people alive.” If she can overcome her challenges, then I owe it to her, her Mother and everyone who has ever been kind to me to try to do the same.
My own Mother is never far away while I do all of this, and she has been my greatest supporter all the way from the conception of my colour idea so many years ago through its sometimes painful trialling right up to its final birthing into the world. I know that I am very, very lucky, I know that I want and have to be brave, and that even if I do fall flat on my face, I have true friends who will help me get back up again, and who will sit quietly outside my shell while I lick my wounds, passing the occasional love note in, so that I know they are still there.
Most of all I hope. I hope that whoever my work reaches will be kind to themselves, to those around them and to me, because I am trying to do my best with what I have been given, and at the end of the day that’s all any of us can do.