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Breath & Shadow

Fall 2008 - Vol. 5, Issue 4


written by

Lisa Coburn

Eyes closed, I listen as patches of my psychiatrist's words filter through the haze.


"...Extremely treatment resistant. I think we should consider shock therapy."


My eyes fly open. "Shock therapy?"


I study the diplomas dotting the wall as he explains the procedure. Messily scribbled crayon masterpieces break the monotony of academic certificates. "I like you Dr. E," one child raves in lime green writing. I would like him a lot better if he weren't talking about screwing with my brain.


"Let me think about it."


Outside, I suck in gulps of air. Not fresh, but enough to chase away the stale smell of the office - a smell that assaults me with scattered memories. Their ghostly fingers tickle my tired brain - gloriously manic times where I believed I could fly, desperate, tortured darkness where I thought of ending it all with a bullet.


I shake my head. Why can't I just go home, bake some cookies for the kids, and attend the PTA meeting like a normal mom?


But I'm not a normal mom. Today, the need to be alone drives me away from all human contact. I wander through the local Confederate cemetery and stop at the foot of the cross shaped grave holding over one hundred Confederate soldiers. Their silence welcomes me. They never tell me it's all in my head. They never insist on discussing treatment, hospitals, and bipolar.


Yellow daffodils, pink and red tulips, belie the carnage that stained this ground with blood so many years ago. I think of myself. Outside, I look so pretty, so put together, yet inside, I am dead - like the soldiers in this mass grave.


The bones of my illness lie scattered beneath my silent exterior. My family often stands at the grave of my soul, enjoying the beautiful flowers, never touching the woman buried beneath the suffocating dirt of depression. It isn't their fault. I love them so - yet an invisible barrier separates us. I reach out, trying desperately to touch them, but I feel cold earth instead. Can they see it? Will they understand how very much I love them? How I'm trying to be whole? Please don't judge me, I silently plead. Sometimes my mind doesn't let me do what my heart wants.


A newborn butterfly lands near my hand as I absently stroke a tulip. I have to smile as I study its fragile wings, soaking up the sun. That butterfly had to go through an extreme metamorphosis in a dark cocoon as it became the beautiful creature it was meant to be. I compare myself to the butterfly. I, too, am in a chrysalis of sorts. My chrysalis of bipolar is dark, uncomfortable, and I want out! But inside, I am changing, growing. Something as hideous as bipolar is shaping me into a beautiful, compassionate human being.


What is forming in this womb of suffering? My compassion for others. Because I know what unrelieved torment feels like, I can better understand and help those who suffer. My love for life and my family grows every day I survive this. Life is precious, and the good days are gifts.


I'm losing my unrealistic expectations of myself. So what if I never bake a batch of cookies or become PTA's Mom of the Year? I love deeply, and I am committed to teaching my children the art of actively participating in the world around them, because I know what it's like to feel like an outsider, looking in on everyone's lives. Someday, I hope they know it's possible to survive and overcome adversity, because they have seen their mother do it.


Okay, I'm not perfect. Who is? Acceptance and determination are replacing anger and resentment against a monster I once thought I was powerless over. I may never be "normal" by society's standards, but I resolve to do what I can to make my life work for my family and me. I may feel dead, but I'm not. A spark of hope still exists. I am not a victim.


Who am I? Bipolar isn't my name - it's only my diagnosis. I am a woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. I am a survivor.


In this life, I may always feel as though I'm in the chrysalis of illness, but I can feel my wings forming. The sun rays of hope filter through the darkness as I am reborn.

Lisa's work has appeared in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, Divine Magazine, Mountain Echoes, Beyond 50, and The Charleston Gazette. She makes her home in Southern WV with her family. A bipolar survivor for over 20 years, she shares what she has learned in prisons, schools, and churches around the state. She currently spends most of her time homesteading, homeschooling, and writing.

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