When you manage mental illness, you have to learn to separate the emotions of the illness from who you truly are. The sadness isn’t you, the chaos isn’t you, it’s all symptomatic if the illness. You have no choice but to experience it, but you can block it off. Compartmentalization is your friend. You have to learn to look at it as “this is something I’m experiencing right now” instead of “this is who I am.”
I’ve been going through medication changes, and it’s hitting me. Now it’s not that bad, but there’s definitely an increase in stress, an increase in disorganized thoughts, a lingering sadness. I’m doing my best to put these feelings in a place where I can disconnect them, and strictly look at them as an experience. I know in theory that they aren’t me, but it’s hard not to identify with them.
Years ago, I had a burning ambition. I thought I was managing my illness well, I had overcome my alcoholism, and life was looking good. I believed at this point that I could be a motivational speaker. I thought I had my shit together enough to write books, give speeches, inspire people. I made YouTube videos, I posted all over social media all kinds of motivational and personal development clips and sayings.
It basically crashed a few years later after the death of my mother in law. I have a problem with death. I don’t know if I grieve or if my grief is short lived. I can’t tell at all what my method of grieving is. Everyone has one, I’ve just been unable to pinpoint mine. What I do know is that there was chaos in the wake of her death. My wife was absolutely devastated. She was pregnant with our second child and soon give birth, and then almost died in the hospital. It was an incredibly tumultuous time in my life.
Over the next few year, Covid would come, business would close, turnover of artists in the studio would happen. Short staffed, out of money, and still grieving a major loss, I was spiraling into the most intense and damaging mixed bipolar episode I had ever experienced. Only I didn’t know it. I lost faith in myself, faith in my business, and faith in life itself. I almost lost everything, my marriage included. It knocked any sense of motivation and positivity out of me with a wicked blow.
While I’ve picked up many of the pieces, I’ve never regained the faith and belief that I can be much more than I am. Sickness overshadows my actions. I feel like I’m not in any kind of position to tell anyone how to live their life when I prove that I almost sink mine every few years.
But I know that’s illness. In theory, at least. Though it doesn’t make it any easier to move beyond those feelings. Who am I to write books on development? Who am I to give advice on life? Who am I to coach people on living their best life when there are days I’m still haunted by ghastly images of nooses and ten story falls?
I don’t give up. I don’t quit. Pangburns don’t quit. I’ve picked up writing again, but it’s different. It’s more raw. It’s not mired in the language of positive affirmations. It’s written as I feel it; that life is hard and hard times are inevitable and trying.
I’ll continue to take the emotions I feel, and the suffering that follows them, and push them to an experiential place; a place where they don’t rule me or my life. It’s not easy, and I don’t know if it will ever be, but I’ll hope. We press forward. We persevere. And though the mountains we climb and descend may stretch for miles, the climb gives us strength for the next mountain. All we can do is keep climbing.