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Manual for Carrying Elephants: Prologue

January 4, 2010

Recently, a situation came up in which someone asked for a story.

Interview me, I said. I have things to say.

This writing is here online, in part, to help me say the things I cannot say in person, to express the fear and loneliness I feel as I try to build my community, my life. To help me with the struggle of doing so around a mental illness.

To return to the elephant: it is like having an elephant at the dinner table. I worry that it will break the chair. That its trunk will flail and break the dishes. That there will be an impropriety with its tail. I worry about the liability of having an elephant. How to feed it? If I stop feeding it, will it starve?

I worry – I am a bit of a worrier; it’s what I do well. Usually it serves me. I am usually prepared. The thing about worrying about an elephant like mental illness is that one never knows what comes next. There is nothing to prepare for, and so I try to prepare for everything.

I think this is a big problem. This is why I write online. (That, and the problem of finding pens the cats haven’t chewed!) I write online because I hope that, if someone else were to stumble across this page and be carrying the burden of an elephant, maybe a different elephant, they would know that their burden might be unique but the act of carrying it not so much. They would know that they aren’t alone.

I did an exercise with friends this morning. We drew slips of paper – or rather, plucked them from a counter-top – that signified what we decide to be or not be this year. Mine was “speaking out.” I find it fitting.

I am not naturally someone who speaks out; I am a facilitator, a mediator, who ends up in leadership roles only when asked. I am perhaps a bit forward. But I don’t seek spotlights.

This is different. For this stigmatized elephant I carry, I too want to speak out. Now I know that others do talk about it; four years and two months ago, I did not know this, and not knowing it, I was scared and in pain and had no training on how to handle my elephant.

I know I can’t make these things go away, for myself or anyone else. I also know that I can, at least here, speak out. I can write my own manual for carrying elephants.

Ed note: Mondays have officially become host to Monday Madness posts over here. I think about mental illness, but don’t talk about it. Mondays are now my day to talk about it.

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