The part of mental illness that no one ever talks about: waiting for the other shoe to drop.


“I feel fine.”
It rolls off my tongue when you ask me how I am.
Today I feel fine… but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about feeling and bipolar disorder, it’s that I can’t trust my feelings.

Being mentally ill is playing the game of constant vigilance. It’s sleeping with the enemy. It’s waiting, eternally waiting, for the other shoe to drop.

A couple of weeks ago, I was attending a conference with 150,000 of my closest friends. Like any conference, it involved long days and nights, a 70 hour week, and I returned exhausted. The next week was trying to play catch-up from a week spent working a conference instead of answering emails and phone calls.

I’m tired and on top of being tired, my anxiety grows with each new sign of an impending break down. Everything comes into question:
I cried over a documentary about happiness. Why am I crying? Am I depressed?
I had nightmares that woke me gripping my sheets in terror. When I have nightmares, it’s a sign of a manic or PTSD episode on the way, am I manic? Have I been missing other signs?
I snapped at my husband, and then later at my friend. I am easily annoyed, snarky, sarcastic. Why am I so irritable? Could this be a medication side effect? Is this just anxiety?

Navigating a life with mental illness means being constantly vigilant. It means never letting down your guard, checking everything you feel against a range of “normal.” It means being afraid that if anything at all happens, your delicate balance will be thrown off.

So I lie.

Lying isn’t my favorite thing about myself, but I do it all the time.
I want to be fine, so I say that I’m fine. I want to be funny so I pretend that I’m funny. Fake it ‘til you make it.

But I also long to be vulnerable and trusting and authentic. And besides the war going on in my brain about whether I’ll be crazy today or not, I struggle with whether to be open about who I am and where I’m at. Not everyone wants to hear, and the worst thing I can think of is being an energy drain on those around me.

Today I woke up dreading going to work. That’s not normal for me – I generally wake up every morning excited about the day and the work I’m doing. My thoughts are colliding in my head, I can’t think straight, I can’t focus, I can’t write. If I can’t write, I can’t process any of this… all of which conspire to make me a liar.

Mark asked me last night about how I’m doing and I said “I think I’m fine. I don’t know.” And that was as close to truthful as I could be… because I don’t know how I’m doing. I have my suspicions, but I don’t want to make every tired morning a gateway to depression, or every day my focus is off a sign of mania, or every day I wake up from bad dreams all night a nudge toward PTSD.

Today I feel a little bit broken, like I’m stuck in a rut and not sure which way is up. Every day I wake up imperfect, but today my imperfections seem to be the only thing I see, and I continue waiting for the other shoe to drop.


One thought on “waiting for the other shoe to drop [or] I’m a liar

  1. Joni, thank you for sharing your thoughts and your process. It is a gift to be able to hear your story. May you be able to see beyond the imperfection tonight at 3 AM and tomorrow.

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