Imagine standing on a railroad track. You’re not alone. A loved one is with you. You’re here because she spends a lot of their life on the tracks. You know a train could come any time. Knowing one has just passed doesn’t mean another one isn’t right behind it. That damn train schedule is never predictable!
Just then, you think you hear a faint sound in the distance. Is that what I think it is? Oh my God, it’s a train whistle! No, calm down! It’s probably just a passing car blaring its horn. Don’t be paranoid or pessimistic. Have some faith! Not everything means a train is coming! Besides, he says it definitely is NOT a train coming. You want to believe him. It doesn’t matter that you’ve heard that train whistle a hundred times before. But… does its familiarity mean you are overly sensitive? Can you trust yourself to know the difference between signs that a train is coming and just regular, everyday sensory information? The self-doubt is very real. So is the panic, the one that starts off with just a jittery feeling in the pit of your soul and grows from there.
Just as you’re starting to calm yourself down and talk yourself off the ledge, you hear the sound again, but this time it’s clearer. Yes, that is definitely a train whistle! Oh shit! Is it on this track or one further down? I think I feel the tracks vibrating. Oh no, not again! I can’t handle another train! I’m not ready. I’m not strong enough. Neither is she. She’s still in denial that the train is close by. In this day and age, it’s hard to tell where the chaotic sounds are coming from. You start analyzing everything, making sure you’ve covered all your sensory bases. You are determined you’re not going to miss this one and be caught off guard. The panic and fear are now big enough to give you heartburn and waves of nausea. You have a constant throbbing in your temples.
Now, you are sure there is a train coming, and it’s barreling down the track you are standing on. You see it. You hear it. You feel it. It’s there, for real. This is an emergency! This is not a drill. Repeat- this is not a drill, people! You try to move off of the track. You try to move your loved one off the track. You try to bring in others to help. You think logically and methodically, you pray, you scream, you use every bit of your physical, emotional and mental energy to get everyone out of danger.
However, you discover that your legs are not your own. You don’t have the power to move them. Someone, something else has the power and you have almost none, other than knowing what’s about to happen. All you can do is stand there and be mowed down. Somehow the train never actually kills you. You think it will, but it doesn’t. You have pain, terrible pain, and fear. Oh, don’t forget about the anger. You’re really f*#$ing angry you are on that train track to begin with. You have all the typical feelings one can imagine in this situation. Sometimes you think about cutting off your legs so you can escape. It will be brutal, but at least you won’t get hit by the next train. Then, you realize you’ll never be whole; there will always be a part of you on that track, with him, and he’ll be all alone. Every time the train hits you think you won’t survive, but you don’t actually die. Sometimes you wish you would, but then you think of the times between the train, when life is good. It can be really good. This keeps you alive and hopeful, appreciating the times in between being run over by a train.
Being the loved one of a person with mental health issues is like being stuck on a train track, with no power to move. The only way to get out of the way is to unlove. For most of us, that’s unimaginable, unconscionable and impossible. So, we stand. We get run over. We get back up and try to find the beauty, until we hear that familiar sound.