I grew up in a military town. My father, a Vietnam Era Veteran, served his 20 years and retired as a Naval Chief, but never quite gave it up. He continued to work in the civilian aviation sector until he retired, then started his own marine electronics business. He was an engineer through and through, yet underneath it all he was a soldier.
As a kid I grew up with the men sitting around telling war stories to us and each other. When we studied the 1960’s in school, we all could recount several stories of the war in class. While hippies might have had the cool clothes, we all felt more allegiance to the soldiers. My world view, my very identity, comes in part from the military which shaped my family and my town.
We played spies, war, capture the flag, and honed our skills in the forests and backyards of our communities. We were also taught how to stand at attention, salute properly, and how to press our clothes like daddy did. We learned the ranks, and who’s dad was what and where we fit into this chain of command. Above all else, we tried our best to not get in trouble and make our parents look bad!
These were subtle external pressures, not really said out loud, but understood as status quo. Even my mother who lived in the community for 40 years, understood and executed these things well. How then could I not follow suit?
Suffering from Bipolar is a bit like being a solider fighting a war except you have no leave, no rest; You carry the scars, both visible and invisible, with you every day. Over time you see and experience things that themselves rattle your sanity worse then the disease itself. Many times you are like a POW (prisoner of war) and when you escape there is the very real threat you will be taken prisoner again.
Life is the battlefield, and it is littered with mines. These mines are called depression, anxiety, mania, hypomania, suicide, fatigue, and you are dropped in to the centre of the field with no backup and no rescue coming. Like every good spy behind enemy lines, the government will deny all knowledge of this operation, so you’re on your own.
The bad news is: You’re going to step on some of these mines.
The good news: It probably won’t kill you. Probably.
I’ve stepped on those damn suicide mines about 7 times, but I’m still here! These days I can’t take two steps without landing on anxiety or depression. When I look backwards in life, I see a lot of exploded ordinance, and I carry the scars with me, both seen and unseen. But like any good solider, I carry on. I stand up straight, and soldier on through the best and the worst of it.
It sounds grim, and the reality of it is very grim. This isn’t an easy illness to live through, or to witness. Yet I continue on. I hate this minefield, but what I hate most is that there is no clear pathway through it. Coming to terms with this has helped. Coming to rely on God to help steer me through it is the only thing that keeps me going.
(Stay tuned for Part 2)