“Right at this moment, my life is absolutely perfect.” I said it out loud wearing nothing but a huge happy grin. I said it in gratitude, to no one in particular. It felt amazingly good to be able to say it.
It was one of those picturesque beach days. Blue sky, azure sea, white sand, the whole beach to myself. That morning, I felt at peace and in harmony with the world. Things seemed to be going extremely well. I have a job I love. I live in my dream house. I have wonderful friends, a great support network, and the best pets this side of the equator. My tropical garden is sprouting and blooming and fruiting nonstop. There is every reason to smile. Not long after that day, life did what life does best; it threw me upside down and dusted its heels on my back.
People who know me well know that I live with a mental illness or three. I do it quite well actually, considering bipolar disorder is a bit like living next door to the world’s worst neighbors. If you’re not vigilant, you never know when they’re going to come out screaming and try to tear down your carefully built boundaries. The thing about bipolar is that it’s invisible. There are no physical symptoms. It actually is all in my mind. If you don’t know me, and I don’t warn you, there’s no way you could tell I have three bazillion shrieking demons inside my head, all running rampant with baseball bats, ready to tear me apart.
Before diagnosis and treatment, my family and friends used to think I was crazy. Everything from schizophrenia to psychosis was suspected. My erratic behavior told them something wasn’t right. They just couldn’t guess what it was. It’s true, I have been known to do a crazy thing or two, but I’m not clinically insane. The irony is, if I broke my leg, the problem would be glaringly obvious to everyone, and immediately fixed. Bouncing between the manias and depressions of bipolar was exhausting. Depression became so debilitating that, several times, I made plans to check out. Some days were so bad that I wished I had cancer instead. At least everyone would know how to treat it. And there is no stigma attached. I thought having cancer would be better. At least, be more visible.
Three months after my perfect day at the beach, some “abnormal cells” were found in a blood test. Since that upside-down day, a lot of changes have taken place. I’ve chosen a holistic path to health. My strict diet is based on alkaline foods. I drink natural healing elixirs every morning. Daily, I vow to leap this hurdle and come out fighting. I trek back and forth to the hospital every week. There is serious surgery in my immediate future. My long-suffering ovaries are packing up, preparing to move house.
At some point, during the busyness of a full day of hospital visits, doctors and tests, I fell off a crooked footpath and injured my left ankle. The ligaments were badly damaged. For almost a month, it was forbidden to walk. My ankle was tightly bandaged. I put a purple sock on it to keep the wrapping clean. I did what I was told and kept my foot up, in ice packs. Life was put on hold. Everyone who came to visit asked about my poor twisted foot. They could see it was hurt. At my yoga class, the instructor showed me some special stretches to accommodate my injury. At the self-defense course for women, the instructor also gave me leeway so my ankle wouldn’t get hurt during practice.
During the time my foot was recuperating, not one visitor asked about my cancer. That was when I realized. They can’t see it. Unless people see me visibly suffering, no one can tell anything is wrong. A sprained ankle is obvious. Cancer is not.
Despite being life-threatening illnesses, my bipolar disorder and my ovarian cancer are as invisible as each other, and my stupid ankle has stolen the limelight. This is not how I imagined it would be.
If there is a lesson here for me, it’s not about the grass being greener on the other side of a different disease. It’s about letting life do what life does best, and equipping myself to handle it. I have to take good care of myself, focusing on mind, body and soul. That’s the only way my life can ever truly be perfect.