After putting up protective walls to avoid revealing my true self, I finally felt comfortable in sharing stories about my adult son’s bipolar diagnosis.
Life is a series of teachable moments. I am definitely a person who wears their heart on their sleeve and sadly it has been crushed over and over. I tend to be surrounded by crises. Whether it involves my own son, my friends, or my job, it is always there. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t want a little piece of normal life, and sadly, I am not even sure what that means anymore.
I look at life so differently now. I can’t help but overcompensate by being a nurturing person to everyone around me. On a subconscious level I think I don’t want anyone to ever feel the pain and isolation I have gone through, and if I can help minimize that for someone then I am going to do it, even at the expense of losing a little piece of myself. I know this is not normal thinking but when has anything in my life been normal?
Helping people fills the void and isolation I constantly feel from dealing with this diagnosis with my son. Ever been in a room full of people and feel completely alone? That’s what most days used to feel like. I am not ashamed of my son and I speak very openly about him, but I often find that people will change the subject. When it continuously happens you start to become extremely guarded.
It has also brought upon a lot of insecurities. I have discovered that I am afraid to let people get really close to me. I have formed a protective barrier around myself. Especially when it comes to men. I fear the judgment. I never know when, or what, to tell someone about my son. I often question why someone would date me when they can date someone who has a more ”normal” life.
I never used to feel good enough. Superficially, I appear confident, but inside I am afraid if I tell them about all the dark truths of the journey with my son they will judge me or prey upon my vulnerabilities. I tend to get caught up in the “what ifs”. What if they just feel bad for me? What if they just like me for ‘what’ I am and not ‘who’ I am? What if they see the hell I go through?
A few months ago I had a conversation with my best friend who told me that if I never put myself out there then I will never find true love again. It really got me thinking. Not just about the true love part, but just learning to be comfortable with my true self. At the end of the day, I got to be me. Those who want to be in my life will stay for the right reasons and those who take advantage of my kindness will have to live with themselves and karma. I can’t walk around in fear of the ‘what ifs’.
I am a true believer that everyone comes into your life for a reason even if we don’t know what that reason is at the time. Recently I met a person and as we started to become friends I was very open about my life with my son. Anytime I go into the emotional tragedies about my son’s diagnosis, I can feel a tidal wave of anxiety flush through me. I usually wait and watch for the negative facial expressions, but oddly there were none.
For the first time in a very long time, I was very comfortable sharing my stories about my son’s bipolar. The good, the bad and the really ugly. I could actually be ME. My true self. I didn’t have to pretend. Their reaction wasn’t judgment or awkwardness. They just listened and gave support. I finally felt safe.
It had been a long time since I felt safe with anyone new in my life. My walls were slowly coming down. My insecurities slowly started to fade. They started to make me believe in myself again. I am not defined by my son’s diagnosis. I am a mother who loves her son. Having people believe in you makes you start to believe in yourself. They see me. The real me. And that is a good feeling.
Julie Joyce is a Chicago Police Officer and the mother of an adult son who suffers from bipolar disorder and ADHD. Over the years Julie has been a strong advocate and volunteer with National Alliance for Mental Illness, The Balanced Mind Foundation, and has assisted with the creation and implementation of the Advanced Juvenile Crisis Intervention training (CIT) for Chicago Police officers. She is certified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Hostage Negotiation Team as a Crisis Negotiator, has conducted presentations on mental illness for Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Office and has had the opportunity to speak to legislatures on the need for special education funding. Julie has also conducted educational presentations for DCFS on interventions for kids with mental illness. Along with her son, she was interviewed on NPR, WBEZ, for the “Out of the Shadows” series which focused on juveniles and mental illness. Currently, Julie spends her time raising awareness and advocating for people living with mental illness.
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