A Letter to My Loved Ones at the Holidays, From Your Relative With a Mental Illness

I haven’t seen or talked to many of you in a while, and it’s not because I’ve been any busier than usual. It’s because I feel broken again.

I have been dreading your polite questions because my impulse is to lie to you. When I see you on Christmas Eve, I know it would be more comfortable for everyone if I smile and tell you everything was good. I want to tell you that this year was happy and uneventful; I haven’t moved or had a child or gotten a new job. Same old, I would like to say. But nothing about this year has been typical, and I love you enough to be honest with you.

I won’t tell you everything, though. When you ask me what I’ve been up to, I will probably leave out all the tests, the trips to urgent care, the fights with my insurance company, and the humiliation of having to beg for help with my declining mental health. I won’t talk about the shame I feel or the things I’ve done to cope. The day-to-day realities are too painful to talk about over a cheese plate, and I’m not ready to see the looks on people’s faces when I admit that parenting while mentally ill is the biggest challenge of my life. I won’t try and describe the grief  I am processing as I accept that my disorder is not a thing of the past like I had hoped. I know you had hoped that, too.

Instead, I’ll tell you that getting the help I needed this year was incredibly hard but that I managed it because of the people who listened. I’ll tell you my daughter is growing and thriving but mainly because of the strength and support of my husband who remains unfathomably loyal and loving. I’ll tell you I am adjusting to living with my mental illness rather than trying to make it go away. I will color it all with the gratitude and optimism I coach myself on every day.

I worry that after I tell you these things you will talk about me with judgment or pity. I picture you in your cars driving home with your significant others and sharing your appraisal of my sanity or fitness to be a parent. I need to honor my life by telling the truth, though. The version I share with you will have been carefully curated with your comfort in mind, but it will allow my reality to finally be visible. Maybe it can help you become more visible, too, in some way.

I’ve been turning over your questions in my mind even though you haven’t asked them yet, and now I’m ready. When you ask me how I am, my answer is going to be “still here,” and that has to be enough.

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