Today, one of my favorite baristas at the Starbucks near my house asked me what I do for work. Which is not such an unusual question for one person to ask another, but it’s one that has been trending in my life lately. And I finally realized I want to share my answer with everyone. There is a reason for me wanting to share it today, but I’ll get to that.
Some of you know, maybe some of you who will read this don’t. Right now, I don’t do any kind of “work”, not in the conventional go to a job and get paid for it kind of way. I am on government disability (SSI) for bipolar disorder. I live with my parents, because I can’t afford to live on my own. And for a period of long years, not so far back, I needed to live with my parents, because I was so profoundly ill.
Five months ago, I finally reached a state where I can say that I am well. Not just “okay”, or “doing better”, I have come to an amazing place as far as my mental health is concerned. I am somewhere I had stopped dreaming I could ever possibly reach. The last six years of my life have been a hell of medication roulette, therapy, and even the evil electroconvulsive therapy.
Before that there was a period of steep decline, I can’t tell you how long it took before I finally came to a place where I said, “I need help.” But it didn’t happen in the blink of an eye.
I can’t distill for you what life was like for the six years plus I have just lived through. My brain has a difficult time conceptualizing it, and I lived it, so I know I couldn’t possibly explain. Some of you saw me through some of it, and some of you I talked to, or you heard about my life from friends and family. But the only two people outside of myself who come close to having a grasp on what things were like for me are my mom and dad, because they lived in the same house with me.
Anyway, I don’t want to get into all of that now. The point is that now that I am doing well, I have gotten inquiries on what I am going to do next, am I going back to school, am I looking for a job, etc. (and not just from baristas). And let me assure anyone who may have asked that I take no exception to questions like that. I don’t think you’re pushing and you don’t hurt my feelings. In fact, I can’t even remember who has asked me these questions, that’s how much they don’t matter.
As far as formal, common society’s definition of “working”, I can tell you that it’s probably going to be a little while before I do that (unless any of my friends Where I Live needs a nanny, that I could totally be on board with). Yes, I am doing very well now. But after six years, I’m not exactly going to push myself into something that will be a huge stressor, even a positive one, after just five months. The way I look at it, I’m convalescing, just as I would if my illness were 100% physical. I need to build my strength back up and get to fully understand my limitations.
My psychiatrist and I talked about this last week, and one of the things we discussed was volunteer work. And I expressed to him that I’m not even quite there yet, because you have to be available specific hours, etc.
But that brought us around to what I wanted to write about, and what the title is referring to (yes, all of that was just a preamble).
A year ago today, a very good friend and fellow blogger and I co-founded a site, A Canvas Of The Minds. The easiest way to explain it to people is as a “community mental health blog.” Basically, we have gathered together a group of individuals who blog about mental health, and they all contribute pieces to the site.
Some of you have heard me talk about Canvas until you’re sick to death of the topic. That is, if anyone whom I know outside of blogging reads this, which is what I’m hoping will happen. And unless you are involved in the blogging community (and especially the mental health sector), you cannot possibly know the degree of support and the many true friendships that are a product of it. It isn’t “real” or “important” to a lot of people, which I completely get.
Only, here’s the thing. I pour my heart and soul into Canvas. No, I can’t “work” right now. And I’m not ashamed of that fact. But Canvas allows me so many things that are denied to people who have basically had to retreat from society for one reason or another. It gives me a way to spend my hours. It is a creative outlet. I have formed friendships because of it, both with co-authors and readers (with people all around the world, no less). Real friendships. Just because the bulk of our interaction is online, doesn’t take away from the truth of it.
But there’s more. I am the admin of the site, so that means I am responsible for implementing all the behind-the-scenes stuff. Ideas come from everyone, but I have to actually do anything major with the site. Which gives me a sense of responsibility to everyone involved. It gives me a reason to focus, to meet deadlines, and to think beyond myself. And it also gives me a sense of pride and worth when someone compliments something I have written or done.
It can also be frustrating to no end. I started out with practically zero technical know-how. And even though we have a facebook page and even, recently, a Twitter account, I still am facing a steep learning curve.
But when I think about all we have accomplished in the space of a year, and the important part I played in that, my heart swells. Because I am doing something that I not only love, but that is benefiting countless people.
So if I seem to go on, or am posting to facebook things from the Canvas page, or telling you something that happened with it when we talk, or asking for you to show your support in some way, stop for a minute and think. Do you keep what you do all day to yourself? Would you pass up an opportunity to promote a cause you are passionate about, one that affects you at the most personal level, because you think that it might bore or bother people? Would you keep to yourself a project you are working on that has been your lifeline, or not talk about all of those who help to make it a reality?
That is why it matters.
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