By Laura Ostrow
In a recent moment I will never forget, someone very special to me told me something that was so infuriating, saddening and beautiful all at the same time. In her darkest moments, she had the strength to identify how she no longer felt whole and how she felt that each day, some other part of her was falling away. She said to me in an almost inaudible whisper, “It’s like I am a ghost.” She went on to say, “I’m just not myself. Sometimes I am, but it feels forced and like I’m watching everything from a tunnel.”
This, my friends, is just a small peek into the dark room that is mental illness. We will all face it to an extent at one point or another in our lives, but there are some things that cannot be expressed merely through words. We often find it hard to explain what is going on inside our heads, or in our heavy hearts. How do we put into words the empty weight we feel from the suffocating hug of anxiety? How can we express that we are just…sad? How can we explain these feelings, when we ourselves have lost sight of any reason? After a while it becomes a blur, and before you know it, life is passing by and you’re not a player. Picture that dark room, too dark to even realize your eyes are open, but yet you sense that there is so much going on. There are so many thoughts and feelings, like small strings intertwining and rushing around, getting caught, and weaving a haphazard maze of a web. But you cannot make any sense of it. You cannot turn on the light, and it just keeps getting faster and faster, spinning without stopping to let you understand, until it is too late and all is silent again and still dark. This special woman had the courage to try and put this confusing maze into words, reaching through the dark to try and explain the struggle within.
This is mental illness, and although it can be felt very differently and there is no one definition, the one constant of mental illness is that there is none. There is nothing to hold on to.
So when she wrote to me those words, “It’s like I am a ghost,” all I could picture was her curled in on herself, whispering to no one this realization that she was not grounded, she was not whole. I pictured myself as her anchor, trying to hold onto the last wisps of her to the ground like the tail of a balloon while the wind fought to take her away from me. I saw her as a ghost, slowly becoming one with the wind and the sky, disappearing from me. And I thought, “No. You cannot have her. You are a selfish beast who takes until there is nothing left to take. You cannot have her like you once had me.”
How can you explain to someone you love that they matter, when every kind word feels like a bubble in a champagne glass—there for a small bit, observable but holding no weight or impact? And then it rises from the depths of the heart, where it could not find something to anchor itself to, through the dark chasms of the brain that is too busy fighting with itself to notice, and up into the abyss; unnoticed, and just gone. How can you make someone listen? This is what I said to try and shake her into solidity somehow. It is what I would say to all of you out there, struggling silently to stay grounded.
YOU. ARE. NOT. A. GHOST. You are very much alive. You are you. You fill up space and make it beautiful. You have the ability to feel the slightest touches, the rain, the wind and the sun. Your nerves are alive and constantly sending signals around you. Your blood is coursing through your veins in synch with the metronome of your heart. Your eyes are seeing new things each day, and your heart is receiving whether it knows it or not right now. You are very much alive and on this ground to stay. You’re grounded because of your world around you. You Matter.
You Matter. I love you.
For all of the ghosts out there, floating and desperately trying to stay close to the ground: keep trying. Don’t watch yourself float away. Fight back. Bang on the door and let yourself in because you’re invited to your life. Because your mind needs your help. Your heart needs your help. And you deserve to be whole again.