It wasn’t until almost my 39th birthday that I found the help I needed for my mental illness. Until then I struggled with trying to succeed academically and professionally against the relentlessness of an illness I didn’t understand. I understand now that I am angry at how compromised I have been by the unpredictability of my capacity to function in this life.
Acceptance of my own illness has come slowly and, I now know, incompletely. Until this morning, I thought I had accepted my fate. I am armed now with tools to work with it, and I have made great strides. But deep within me is a burning anger, and all I can do is face it head-on and move through it. I have to, because now I have my daughter’s mental illness to face.
Mental illness comes with stigma and suspicion, but sometimes it bestows upon us great gifts. I know that I would not be who I am without the demons and the soaring insights that have marked my life. For the most part, I like who I am. The anger comes from wondering who I could have been. Though I would like to jump to acceptance, the anger still burns in me.
Since my twenties, I have loved the poem “Integrity,” by Adrienne Rich. It’s quite long, but I will quote part of it here.
Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere –
even from a broken web.
I long to see the polarities within me as angels and accept the genius in the web I have woven. Maybe there is such a thing a fierce acceptance – an acceptance that makes room for a little anger and a lot of strength.