This weekend I learned that I could function at a relatively high level, even if for a limited number of hours at a time. I even stood up and participated in a discussion in front of about 200 people. It was a short blurb, but it was spontaneous, I made myself understood, and even received several positive comments after the fact. I attended a Rotary District Conference, and found that I did not have to hide in my protective box. My labels weren’t showing either…This Woman Has a Mental Illness and is a Domestic Violence Survivor. I was simply me, proud Rotarian.
I was afraid to join Rotary because I didn’t see what I had to offer. It made no sense to me that a shattered woman with bipolar disorder would be welcome to be part of a group of “normal” adults. I’ve helped at many events over the years (Greg is a Rotarian), but never really thought about joining, figured my labels would glow as if they were burned onto my forehead. But my friend Kristi, who happens to be the District Governor’s wife, was very supportive of me. She helped me to see that any of my self-perceived flaws were not relevant. As long as I was willing to participate in a positive manner, there was no need to be afraid. So about a month ago I was inducted. But still, I felt like I should just melt away in the corner during the meetings…who would really care what I had to say? Besides, in the past it was drilled into my head (pre-current husband) that I was stupid, useless, crazy, etc. I’ve always tried to stay as invisible as possible. That’s one of the consequences of domestic violence, you eventually believe you are who you are told you are. I went from a very high functioning Office Manager of a computer reseller with multi-million dollars in sales, to a blubbering idiot who couldn’t do anything without being told how to do it (what to wear, what to eat, what to say, etc).
So back to the conference…I can’t tell you how many days before the conference I practiced saying “I’m retired,” “I’m a jewelry designer,” “I stopped working to stay home with my kids.” I tried to figure out how to answer the inevitable “So what do you do?” question. But it never came up. Again, I was just me and that was all that mattered.
During one of the meetings, we were split into groups which discussed different aspects of what Rotary does. My group talked about Projects. I thought about what types of services were available to survivors of domestic violence in my small town. I knew we had a shelter, but what other support were the women offered? I thought of all the things that I wished someone would have helped me with, and all the support I did receive, and was there anything our club could do to help these women. I had no idea how to even start or suggest a project, and asked that question. I said I was a domestic violence survivor and was hoping there was a way our group could get involved with helping in that area. In addition, I said I had bipolar disorder and wanted others with the illness to know there is hope, and also wanted to find a way to help eradicate the ignorance of those who didn’t understand or were afraid of the mentally ill. Nobody batted an eye or looked at me funny, my head didn’t spin around and I didn’t fall over foaming at the mouth. Instead, I had initiated a discussion of what was the best way to start projects.
Each night I went up to our room before my husband, because I had reached my limit of normalcy. There was too much aural input, too much acting intelligent. It had been a very long time since I had to function at that level for that long. I just had to be in a quiet room by myself. Sunday I was exhausted, and was unable to do anything else the rest of the day after we returned home.
But I did it, I peeked out of my box and slowly pulled myself out. And for a few days, that highly functioning person who used to exist, climbed out of the safe box and fully participated in life.