I feel like a failure sometimes. I had a late start to my career, given my mental illness. And now I work in mental health. Being a mental health peer specialist is great, but also…I feel like this is the only job I could handle. Because this is the only place where I can publicly disclose my condition, and be praised for it even.
Indeed, I am not a failure. I have triumphed against all odds in spite of my illness, schizoaffective disorder. I am disabled, yet I work full-time. I am now an advocate, dedicated to helping others and fighting stigma.
Part of me feels like this is enough, but part of me also wants more. I would like…success. A higher salary. More prestige. Recognition. Is this prideful? Vain? Should I instead settle for less, merely being satisfied with what I have?
Perhaps. But I think my notions are noble. I would like a higher salary, because of my mother. She is in her late 60s, and still working her hardest. I see how exhausted she is, and I wish nothing more than to see her retire in comfort. Yet we have no savings, no “nest egg” to rely on. She and I work together, hand to mouth, paying each other’s bills, sharing money so that we both can live in comfort.
She is my best friend too. She has seen me in all my hours, from birth to present, and has shown nothing but unconditional love. She sacrificed everything in her power to give me the life I had. She scraped pennies together to put me in a private school, when I became suicidally depressed in public school. She gave me viola lessons. She bought the video games and toys that my brother and I wanted, sometimes paying $8 each for packs of Pokémon cards we begged for.
And even now, she continues to drive me wherever I need to go. For a long time, I’ve been unable to drive due to anxiety, potential sedation and overall sensory perception issues. But rides with her in the car are the best. Over the years, we’ve racked up thousands and thousands of hours merely chatting. Talking about life, our pet peeves, stresses, wishes, desires…
I wish she could retire.
This is far more important to me than “finding a boyfriend.” I do not need romance or “true love” from a significant other to create completeness in my life. I already have it. It’s a great time, when I see my mother on the weekends. We’ll watch a movie and have a barrel of laughs. We go to the grocery store together. Occasionally we’ll go to a restaurant.
And then there’s my mother’s dog, Moonie the corgi. A very kind, chill dog. He is an added expense admittedly, especially because he is old at thirteen, but he brings joy and much wisdom to our lives. Animals are pure love, and they challenge us to slow down from life and really be present in the moment. At times, pets can be the best medicine.
I admit that many, many people do not have this experience of parental love as I do. Certainly it is unfair, because everyone deserves this kind of experience. If not for my mother’s love and support, I might have ended up locked away in a hospital unit. Or living in assisted living, my face flat and my body obese from medications. Maybe I would have ended up homeless, living in a shelter with fifteen cots to a room, a target of extortion and bullying given my passive nature.
In any case, given my extensive, long psychiatric history, doctors and the government would not have had high expectations for me. I could have easily been shuffled around in the government assistance system, living my life out without the freedoms that working people enjoy.
It is this reason that mental health advocacy is so important. People suffer, and many are estranged from their families because they are difficult to care for. I hate saying this, but this is likely the perspective that the “unafflicted” have. We are an “annoyance.” We “stifle” other people from living the free lives they want. We get pushed aside, housed in homes or hospitals where others don’t have to worry about us.
Certainly, it is a difficult situation to discuss, and some people are in need of more acute care. But why do those in need also have to be stigmatized and insulted? People have to learn the skill of speaking their opinions and needs without offending others. Instead of using “you” language…
“You’re getting in my way!”
…people could speak more “on the I.”
“I feel overwhelmed.”
In any case, I want to care for my mother as she gets older. Because she cared for me. I love her, and I don’t want to see her lonely and alone in a home. I want her to retire in comfort.