What Do You Do?

There are few questions that I dread like this one.
There are few places more guaranteed to produce this question than a reunion.

I graduated with my counseling degree in 2005. Last weekend I attended the ten-year reunion of my small cohort of classmates, knowing that my answer to “What do you do?” or “What have you been doing?” would be, to say the least, uncomfortable.

Here’s my timeline of the last ten years:

2005-2008: A few internships and a job from hell. A slow slide into worsening mental and physical health, combined with gradually increasing use of painkillers.
2009: First hospitalization for major bipolar episode. Later, first visit to detox and treatment for painkiller addiction.
2010: Worsening depression, exacerbated by heavy bipolar meds. Relapsed on painkillers by autumn.
2011: Extreme addictive behavior, near-death in May followed by rehab.
2011-2015: Recovery, working on living with a dual diagnosis, homeschooling, beginning to write.

It’s not the kind of resume I hoped for when I graduated. I was prouder of that degree than I’d been about any other educational achievement, because it was purchased not only with work but with extensive pain and personal growth. I dreamed about being a therapist, and I thrilled to compliments from my teachers and moments of rapport with my clients.

Many of my classmates are licensed therapists now, and those who aren’t have reasons way cooler than mine. I did not want to look them in the face and explain why I am not a part of the professional community now.

So why did I go?
Why did I answer the dreaded questions truthfully?
Why did I answer not only truthfully, but completely?
It would have been simple to soften the impact by telling partial truths.

I could have said I was homeschooling my daughter, and talked about why, and let them assume that’s what I had been doing for most of the last years.
I could have said I experienced the onset of bipolar disorder, and not mentioned the drugs.

But I didn’t. I talked freely about all of it–the drugs, the psych treatment, the daughter, the recovery, the poetry, this site. I tried to present myself authentically, without being apologetic.

There are two reasons I showed up and said what I said. The first reason is simple: These are some great people, and I regret losing touch with a few of them. My values of humility require that I make myself more available to others and worry less about what they will think about me.

The second reason is, of course, you.

You, the person reading this, whoever you are. You, with your own insecurities that might make you believe you’re not good enough to go out and talk with people you think are more successful, educated, together, virtuous…you, who might not be sure you have something to offer.

Because I know very little in my life, especially when my symptoms get bad, but I know this: No matter who you are or what your story is, I would have encouraged you to go to that reunion.

I would have told you to go, and meet their eyes, and be who you are without apology. I would have reminded you that you are no more or less worthy than any other soul; that you have you to offer. I would have reminded you that something you might say, or just be, could help or inspire someone in ways you’ll never know.

So I acted on that belief. I might not have gone there for myself, but I went there for you. If it was a brave thing to do, it was you that made me brave.

Thank you.

5 responses to “What Do You Do?

  1. Wow, very brave and forthright! Good for you! Most people in my life know that I have bipolar d/o, very few of them know the specifics. It’s hard for people to understand, that is also one of the reasons why I started my blog, to let people know what bipolar d/o is and what it does and how brave you have to be to cope with it.

  2. Brava. Very inspiring. I cut way back on the blogs I read, but missed your well-crafted prose (and poetry). Wonderful post to read now that I’ve returned.

  3. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

  4. penelope kirk

    This post was inspiring and well written. It also made me a bit sad. I have told very few people-my family knows, some close friends. But that’s it.

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