What do you do all day? Not a dumb question.

What do you do all day?             Not a dumb question.

Continuing without a full-time job is nowhere near a luxury, nor is it fulfilling, in the sense of it feeling like an extravagant lifestyle or sort of quasi early retirement. My recovery is a full-time job that, when rushed, quickly topples over and requires resetting again.

Inpatient is effective because it strips away responsibilities to allow clients to 100% focus on healing. Returning home to live independently is a culture shock for two reasons: (1) Clients suddenly orchestrate their own recovery work and (2) Clients reengage with all self-care responsibilities: Employment, family, friend and romantic relationships, new debts and all the other pieces of adulthood. That’s the number one space for falling off the wagon.

Growing has nothing to do with laziness, incompetency or poorly applying what we’ve learned. It requires trial and error – mostly error. Recovery is high stakes because errors undo gains and the self-confidence it took to grow. Mental illness is an injury, and an injury is an injury is an injury. It’s learning to walk a new way, to whatever the extent possible, including managing the burdensome mindset of remembering needs are needs without fault. Our frailty is a universal humanity.

Brain and I are currently rewriting the “MENTAL ILLNESS IS A RICH PERSON’S DISEASE” story. Like the others, it comes from mom, but this one came from a conversation about Autism Spectrum Disorder that fundamentally shaped how I view wellness and privilege.

“Mental illness is a rich person's disease. People like us can afford to treat it but imagine what other families without money have to do when they go without healthcare.”

Her words startled the then high school me, because they communicated a severe ignorance about mental health and grave sense of entitlement. I understand “healthcare is expensive” but burned up from the context.

No disease – not one – is opt-in or opt-out, more deserving of treatment based on privilege and not a matter of convenience. Our system is set up for healthcare to be earned, but it does not mean healthcare ought to be earned.

A "healthcare as a privilege" viewpoint is elitist, frightening and eerily reminiscent of a eugenics culture in that it implies who is less entitled to life. And it seems narcissistic to feel a self-deification-like quality that bestows gracious care for funding mental healthcare, as if it's an undeserved blessing. That conversation resurfaced in a recent night terror, which we know to be one way my brain feels safe to release memories. And we know my brain releases memories when whatever scenario repeats itself in a similar scenario today.

In reality, 2017 was no more or less expensive than my former fiscal years. What differed is my savings account and whose eyes covered out-of-pocket payments. It's asked: Am I financially dependent or independent on my parents? Yes. I am under 26.5-years-old and included in the family premium. It is consistent with all my other years under 26.5 years; however, I could not, for the first time, cover the cost percentage my insurance did not owe. (If you’re not tracking, look up steps to insurance coverage.)

Premiums are not free passes to doctor visits, so my savings account, depleted after eight years’ self-reliance for treatment efforts, grew insufficient and without a consistent replenishing source. It’s basic math: More money out than in within a tight time frame results in a negative balance. That’s how I reached where I am now. 2017 was no more or less expensive than my former fiscal years. What differed is my savings account and whose eyes covered out-of-pocket payments.

Now let us put all the pieces together: If mental disease is determined an unwarranted necessity, but that mental disease so severely violates the child’s most basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, then financial poverty is guaranteed, and that child’s well-being is nowhere within reach. 2017 was no more or less expensive than my former fiscal years. What differed is my savings account and whose eyes covered out-of-pocket payments.

I say “eyes” because there is no part of my suffering that is unknown to mom. My symptoms began at ten-years-old in the fifth grade. The first sexual assault at six-years-old. I began asking to see a therapist at eleven-years-old. I became gravely depressed at twelve-years-old, suicidal at thirteen-years-old and suffered a three-year spree of every category assault from thirteen to seventeen-years-old.

I left home and began weekly counseling independently at eighteen-years-old, investigated the confusing, wide range of symptoms and co-occurring physical illnesses at nineteen-years-old, and studied long enough by twenty-years-old to for us to guesstimate potential diagnoses.

I too regularly visited the hospital by twenty-one-years old, started daily medications midway twenty-one-years-old, then quantitatively validated at twenty-two-years-old what I knew at ten-years-old was going to kill me. By twenty-two-years-old, I’d earned my (scholarship-covered) MU.Ed degree, nearly perfect credit score, handsome savings account and new well-compensated, full-time teaching position.

But I often paid up to one thousand dollars a month that twenty-second year just to tread the wellness waters, and the weather scan foreshadowed deadly flooding. 2017 was no more or less expensive than my former fiscal years. What differed is my savings account and whose eyes covered out-of-pocket payments.

When I recognized my need to separate from mom for safety, I did not understand the extent to which it was dangerous to continue receiving her financial assistance. It is not that she has never financially assisted me or made sacrifices since I left home at eighteen; it is that mental healthcare support is viewed as nonessential luxury to which she feels I am undeserving that warrants conditional payment.

When that savings account ran dry, it had been running dry, just as my health had been running dry, exactly as I began communicating at six-years-old. There is logic in the devil’s advocacy that says new out-of-pocket bills for unknown expenses is alarming, off-putting, dishonest, requires new conversation and rebuilt integrity. That logic is illogical when the awareness for need existed all along with a deliberate choice not to treat as needs at all.

The point at which our relationship began to suffer is not when the needs were denied, but when the needs were denied and the audience message was “I will do whatever it takes to support you.” That dishonestly broke trust, pouring cement over an already-estranged relationship.

Integrity’s very definition is to continue in the same character when no one is watching, and because I am no one, no one watched, and whatever it took became whatever I could afford, what she could not afford to lose in face, or what pain I could "afford" to suffer in exchange for money when no one is looking.

That pain is ongoing financial struggle with dangerous consequences: a depleted kitchen, eating once per day, missed payments, lapsed-reestablished-lapsed-reestablished car insurance, disruptive breaks in medication, shame, self-loathing, a foot that still cannot walk, no physical therapy appointments, myofascial doctor or nurse practitioner visits, no neuropsychological doctor, MRI scan to identify my organic brain impairment source, untraced phone calls that lash out at me, clinicians accused of manipulation and usary and fifty pounds of flesh judged as ugly, overweight and poor identity. We will stop exploring the other physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, relational and other -al category consequences.

So, back to the start: what do I do all day?          Not a dumb question. Its answer is basic within a complex context.

I put in the work. I might not have a consistent salary, but what I do not reap in money, I gain in wisdom. Oh, I am still applying for jobs, but in the meantime, I work the full-time job of stepping into professional womanhood not only outwardly accomplished but thriving internally.

I am told they know no one else my age with this equal depth of wisdom, rationality, talent and suffering, and I know it to be true. I am not kidding when I say I have a new sense of wellness. I am not kidding because I will never be able to wait on the absence of illness as a measure of healing.

There is no cure for what makes me sick, my sickness is not a mindset, I will experience pain for my entire lifetime, I will never enjoy certain privileges safely and some not even at all. I am frequently asked to disclose specifics when comfortable, so l give you some: Childbirth, coffee, sleep, campfire, grapefruit. I will have my story and my integrity, and everything else is unsure.

I put in the work. I write for Number magazine. Submit literature and visual art for formal publishing. Graduate from an Entrepreneurship Training Program for small business owners this April. Sculpted tape bodies at the Binge Eating Disorder Association Conference in November. Mentor younger adult women. Shadow (maybe ‘gently stalk’) professional artists.

I study CSS coding. Learn to garden. Take Finance classes. Volunteer in my Mental Health community. Design wedding stationery. Sell my graphic web-design services. Earn formal Microsoft Office Word and Excel certification. Read. Listen to “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.” Watch the Solar Eclipse, Documentaries and love “Rasheeda Speaking.” Best of all, I clip coupons as Dre and Rainbow navigate keep Jr. from academic expulsion.

The practical plan is to find an affordable housing lease, rebuild savings, reconcile debt, next-steps testing and revisit long-term goals. I’ve found my niche in mental healthcare education work, nonprofit programming, artmaking, marketing and small business development. If it goes well, I’ll begin part-time work next week that compensates well enough for this interim period as those longer-term plans pan out.

I’ve learned not to grow attached to any set of steps but rather just “do the next right thing.” The more I plan, the less productive I become because nothing is certain.

In recent artwork*, I’ve illustrated how I experience individual emotions, scenarios and social interactions in my body and mapped out rises and falls over the past year. It’s helped me see the direct impact of separating, or not, from unhealthy connections. I’m again thankful for a webpage’s capacity to enable transparency, build understanding, deepen bonds, connect my personal work to professional endeavors, try and try again, reflect and celebrate. Thank you for seeing it as worthwhile to invest in my process by reading the story.


*photos coming soon