Hey, guess what? The SMITH book comes out tomorrow! In anticipation of it's release, I am excited to have one of it's contributors Carin Ekre Anderson guest posting for me today! So without further ado, please help me welcome this amazing and talented writer!
Impossible. Sad. Hurt. Stuck. Lonely. Tired. That was me years ago. At the age of 10 I knew I was different. I cannot describe how, but I just knew. By 15 I was having anxiety and mood swings and wearing the picture perfect mask that a varsity cheerleader and medal winning vocal soloist thought she should. It is a good thing I’m loud, because when I couldn't keep my different in check anymore I screamed it from the rooftops and demanded help. How I wish other teens could be as loud. I know I am one of the lucky ones.
It took a decade for me to find any kind of lasting stability. I have recounted some of my most vulnerable and transforming moments, some hopeful, some funny and some sad, in the anthology Surviving Mental Illness Through Humor. A cacophony of very brave writers contributed pieces of their lives so that we can show the hope we've experienced and the hilarity of our normally abnormal lives. We hope to help anyone struggling, and we press on to break the stigma that a mental health diagnosis carries so that getting help for oneself is no longer seen as “brave” but just normal and healthy. I am bipolar, and I am personally doing my damnedest to be sure that it stops being a dirty word. Believe me when I say that getting side-eye from ignorant people is not something one needs whilst trying desperately to find where all the puzzle pieces fit.
By the age of 25 I had finally found the right doctors and medication to feel like I might actually be able to do this life thing without totally falling apart anymore. Through years of counseling, self-medicating, learning, breaking, getting up again, falling down again, and one self admission to the Grace Unit, I stumbled. Now I am here: a wife, mother, daughter, sister. A writer, guitarist, keyboardist, singer and songwriter. I am all these things because I fought to find all that good stuff through the brackish muck that my mind and ever failing body produced.
Just a few years after I made peace with my mental health diagnosis my body woke up one day and said “Surprise bitch! Now I am destroying myself in a painful, debilitating and humiliating way!”
OK so that is not actually how it happened, it was much slower before my optimistic façade shifted and I had to admit that there were some really big awful things looming ahead. Shortly after the birth of my son I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA). Basically my immune system went bonkers and began eating up healthy cells instead of germs. Within a year my abilities had already become limited. I couldn't always walk right, my hands began to swell and lock up, and I was pretty much always in some sort of pain. I felt I was in a fighting ring with the champ. Blow after blow left me stunned and more hurt than the one before. I lost my job, I could no longer play my guitar, and I couldn't always care for my son or our family home. The word devastated is as close as I can come to describing how it all felt.
Once upon a time I had to say “I’m a little crazy,” and learn to accept it. Now I had to say “I am disabled.” I was exhausted and hurting constantly. I was short tempered and depressed. My first illness had found a friend, and let me tell ya- they were besties. The pain fed the mood swings and vice versa. For two years I stayed in bed for every single minute I could. I cared for my son when he needed me, I cooked meals, I hid and sobbed, I isolated myself from friends, I wondered if I should walk into a beehive to spare my family the eventual resentment that I assumed comes with having to wipe someone else’s ass. Instead I borrowed a page from 15-year-old-me and found that “everything is awesome” mask she had so carefully crafted all those years ago and I slapped that thing on, telling myself that this was the only way to be Leo’s mama without ruining him.
At some point in this deep depression I began talking to God again. What I had to tell him wasn’t pretty and most likely falls under the category of blasphemy. With a heavy heart I called my friend Reggie, who happens to be my former youth pastor, and told him about my crisis of faith. I expounded on how angry I was at God for ALL OF THE BAD THINGS and how I felt abandoned, betrayed, hurt and how I was certain that it was a really asshole move to tell God I was pissed at Him. He chuckled. The chuckle became a full blown laugh. I was lost, “What the hell could he be laughing about? This is some serious shit”, I thought to myself.
When I could hear him breathe normally again I snapped at him “How is this funny?”
The rest of the conversation will stay in my heart forever, and is what brings me here, writing my heart for all to see.
“Carin. Just tell Him. He sees all your struggle, anger and suffering, so you may as well shout it out loud. You aren't being mean to God, you’re being honest. God already knows what is in your heart. Remember that we are made perfect in weakness.”
But I didn't want to be perfect. I liked my life fine before.
“You may not see it now, but there is so much you are already learning from this. I want you to write like you used to…”
I cut him off “I can’t do ANYTHING like I used to!”
“I’m sorry,” he quietly said, “maybe try a little at a time. Like a list. Make a list of all the silver linings you see. Maybe you’re realizing you appreciate the days when you hurt less, the things you can do on those days, or the things you get to experience with Leo now that you’re home full time. I don’t know what they are, but I know they’re there.”
We talked awhile longer, and I still felt confused when we hung up but just a little less angry. For the first time in a long while I had a goal that consisted of more than just survival. I began a list. At first it had only a couple lines, but eventually it grew to pages. Eventually I started writing a book, The Art Of Walking, which might just be finished in about ten years due to my snails pace-but hey, I’m doing it and I’m not feeling sorry for myself. Reggie had unknowingly made me train my mind to always be on the lookout for where joy could be found. I was always looking for that little spark of light in the darkness. This little exercise also showed me I could still do things, I just needed to stop biting off more than I could chew and do things in tiny manageable pieces. Most of my abilities were still there, I just needed to cherish them and stop thinking I had to finish everything in one sitting. Unfortunately my heart still ached to make music. I missed it like it was my faraway twin. I couldn't find a way to do it on my own, and I didn't know where to find an opening that consisted of “chick singer who can play one sloppy tune on the guitar per half hour, unpredictable swing in abilities from day to day, vocals always strong, may forget lyrics.” I doubted anyone would take me seriously or give me the opportunity to try, so I just carried it on my heart. I told no one but God, and I wrote about it in my prayer journal. This went on for a year, and one day I wrote “God, I know I am made to make music. I know you would not have given me the talent and take away my ability. There has to be a way, but I can’t find it on my own. If I am to be making music you have to send me the opportunities.”
About two weeks later my male bestie Bryce, an epically good bass player, called with a great new idea.
“Red, we should start an acoustic show.”
I rambled through the lists of my limitations and he cut me off-
“It doesn't matter. You can play a little of everything. You've learned a little keyboard right? You can do a little of that, and some light percussion-I have a hand drum. We can make it work.”
God’s work isn't always done by God, a lot of times it’s done by people. In a later conversation Bryce would tell me that it was on his heart that he just couldn't see me not performing, that he knew I was made for it.
After awhile another musician friend, Chad, (an amazing guitarist) approached me to be female lead vocals in his band LOLAH. He assured me that I could play as much or as little guitar and keys as I felt I was able on any given day. My reintroduction to playing full rock shows was at an outdoor festival. The wind whipped my curls around my face as I sang “Me And Bobby McGee” with such joyful loud abandon that I thought my heart would burst, and I was certain the light in my soul was evident. At the end Chad hollered to the crowd “I think we’ll keep her!”
I have been down, but never out. My friends were moved to bring me back, to writing, to music, to life. No matter who or what imposes limitations on you, they’re wrong. You may have to go back to the old drawing board and find a new way to be you, but YOU are still there. If you suffer from mental illness you are not alone, there are many of us, as evidenced in the SMITH book, but if we can find the light I am confident you will as well. If a doctor says you’re disabled, that’s okay. Take your time, regroup, and push on.
I am here to tell the world that limits and diagnoses do not define us, nor can they hold us back. I am doing more than I thought I ever would. The days I received my mental health and autoimmune diagnoses I would have sworn my life was over. Little did I know it was just beginning. I am still sick, but now I am not so tired anymore.
I can do all things through God who strengthens me.
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Carin Anderson is a married to the love of her life, Jesse, and is the mom to her wonderful four
year old son Leonidus. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 15. She spent the
next ten years searching for the right medical team who has now helped her live her life on a
balanced path with the right coping skills and medication. With the support of her big loud
amazing family she has found peace in life and enjoys her many hobbies of being a musician,
singer, songwriter, and a writer. She is most happy to just be herself.