Community

Imprisoned Splendour

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

TRUTH is within ourselves;
it takes no rise From outward things,
whate’er you may believe. 
There is an inmost centre in us all, 
Where truth abides in fullness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception—which is truth. 
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Binds it, and makes all error: and, to KNOW, 
Rather consists in opening out a way 
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,     
Than in effecting entry for a light 
Supposed to be without

—Paracelsus, Robert Browning

 In life, there are secrets and revelations. Things that isolate or emancipate. Secrets are not always kept deceptively—sometimes we simply choose to respect our own privacy around sensitive matters. It often happens that life keeps secrets from us. We spend our lives piecing together clue after clue until we finally discover who we are.  

Many of us live with secrets that, at some crisis point, inevitably turn into revelations. Whether welcome or unwelcome, revelations arrive suddenly and are usually life-changing, like the one I experienced a few years ago.

My secret was bipolar disorder. I didn’t want anyone to know I had a mental illness. I was afraid it would jeopardize my relationships and livelihood. Why was I so reluctant to share this significant part of myself with my family, friends, and coworkers? After all, they should be my natural support system, right?

Stigma shames those of us who live with mental health diagnoses. It unfairly erodes community support to those who need it most. Prejudice is fear perpetuated by stereotypes and narrow-mindedness. Bipolar can be an overwhelming disease, all-consuming at times. It has a negativity bias, meaning that when we are symptomatic, we feel bad about ourselves and our world. Society’s projection of shame only serves to keep us entrenched in that prison.  

As with some types of cancer, mental illness can be terminal. If stigma is reduced, however, the number of people dying by suicide will go down because the key to preventing this tragic end, according to evidence-based prevention programs, is connection. Connection counters the painful isolation that is characteristic of many mental illnesses. For this, we need empathetic people and empathetic communities.

This critical shift requires a dismantling of stigma. It is a social justice issue.

When I began to recover from a severe mixed episode (simultaneous depression and mania) in 2013, I decided to do something daring and new as part of my treatment: I decided to be open about my illness. This was extremely difficult given my nature as a private person, but it was a last-ditch effort to change the course of my life. I joined the board of NAMI Whatcom, earned my certification as a Peer Counselor, and started speaking and writing publicly. My goals were to give and receive support. I was searching for hope.

The more frequently mental illness is talked about, the more likely it is that peers and family members will connect with services and one another. Connection increases participation in community, which enriches everyone. Hearing people’s stories of hope is inspiring and empowering—whether the person speaking is Mariah Carey, Dwayne Johnson, Demi Lovato, Carrie Fisher, Rick Springfield, or you and me. Moreover, research shows that knowing someone successful who has experienced a mental illness is the number-one way people overcome their prejudice.

You can imagine (or may know) how hard it is for happiness to squeeze itself into the chaos and pain of a mood disorder. Nevertheless, the human spirit is resilient and strong, and happiness can squeeze in. A lyric by Leonard Cohen reads, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I found hope along my journey. I started to unexpectedly recognize happiness through the veil of my illness. Although this respite can be transitory (due to cycling), my stretches of wellness are now longer and the times of suffering less severe and more manageable. I’ve learned that I can have bipolar disorder and be happy at the same time. 

If you have bipolar, don’t give up. If you have any kind of mental illness, don’t give up. You do belong and you can contribute. Your life is valuable, and you can experience periods of wellness and moments of happiness that will carry you through times of distress. You may have cracks, like everyone does, but you are not broken. You may not feel as stable and whole as you would like to, but remember, it is through the cracks that the light gets in. 

While Cohen’s lyric is beautiful and applicable, poet Robert Browning had it right, too: Cracks reveal the truth inside so “the imprisoned splendour may escape.” 

In life, there are secrets and revelations. Whether you choose to talk about your mental health journey, remember to share the revelation of your light with the world.

Don’t let that be a secret.

Marie Marchand has served on the Board of NAMI Whatcom since 2014. NAMI Whatcom, an affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, provides no-cost education and support programs to people affected by mental illness. www.namiwhatcom.org, 360-671-4950.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 and Text 741741

Past Columns
Saying Goodbye

December 11, 2019

Cold and Alone

December 4, 2019

Big Money Politics

November 13, 2019

A Win for the Birds

July 24, 2019

Road to ‘Nowhere’

June 26, 2019

Game Changes

April 24, 2019

Salish Sea Science

January 23, 2019

Cherry Point Amendments

January 16, 2019

Invest in the Future

September 26, 2018

A Desperate Call

August 29, 2018

Criminalizing Protest

July 18, 2018

Threshold Fund

June 13, 2018

Pathways to Homeownership

April 25, 2018

Yes on I-1631

April 11, 2018

Divide-and-Conquer

October 11, 2017

Schools and Planning for Growth

September 27, 2017

Events
Today
Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Coffee Brewing Class

2:00pm|Camber Coffee

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Splitboard 101

6:00pm|REI

Sparkling Wines

6:30pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Celtic Christmas Concert

6:30pm|Anacortes Transit Shed Events Center

Marina Albero Trio

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

O Christmas Tea

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Tomorrow
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Holiday Favorites

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

The Naughty List Market and Cabaret

2:00pm|Broadway Hall

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Songs of Peace with Kulshan Youth Choir

5:30pm|First Congregational Church

Bellwether Premiere Wine Social

5:30pm|Lighthouse Grill

Holiday Party

6:00pm|Camber Coffee

DSA Movie Night

6:00pm|Academic West

Winter Pop-Up with Taylor Shellfish

6:00pm|Aslan Depot

Peaceful Poetry Reading

6:30pm|Village Books

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Storm Music Extravaganza

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Peace, Love, and Ukuleles

7:00pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Avalanche Awareness

7:00pm|Backcountry Essentials

History Holiday

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Good, Bad, Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Friday
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

The Naughty List Market and Cabaret

2:00pm|Broadway Hall

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Connelly Creek Nature Area

Toys for Tots

10:00am

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Holiday Tea

11:00am|Willowbrook Manor

Holiday Craft Bazaar

3:30pm|Lynden Library

Drayton Harbor Shellebration

4:00pm|G Street Plaza

Gingerbread House Making

4:30pm|Ferndale Library

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Photos and Stories with James K. Papp

5:00pm|Gallery Pegasus

Wonderland Walk

5:00pm|Washington Park

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Kids Night Out @ Western

6:00pm|Western Washington University

Lost Feast

7:00pm|Village Books

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Darkness and Light

7:30pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Christmastime is Here with Skagit Symphony

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tarnation and Holiday Games

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »