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I am an only child. And I hate it. Growing up I would beg my mom for a little brother or sister (I DID want to be the oldest, although I still wish for that older brother protection) but to no avail. Then, I thought if I married into a big family it would satisfy this lifelong craving; however, I’ve come to learn this isn’t true the more honest I am with myself about how I feel. I wish for the ideals of being part of a large, close family but the reality, the truth is I like my space; I like being alone, and because of mental illness I will always feel some sort of disconnect. And I’m not the only one this applies to.

While I may not be able to give a detailed description of my tribe I can tell you our name is Legion, for we are many. Just stay back and keep your distance. We love you but we feel that love best and most securely at a distance. When others get too close dangerous things happen and someone will get hurt – either you, me, or most likely, both.

Loving others and especially ourselves in this manner, quite frankly, sucks. It’s a loving and communication style that’s extremely difficult to explain let alone understand. The lover, the speaker is confused and lost most of all. And if we don’t know what love is suppose to feel like or understand how it sounds and what it looks like so we can both accept and give it then how will we ever believe we are a lovable person – or even worth the effort?

I wish I had all the answers. I like answers because they bring knowledge and comfort. Answers, however, do not provide understanding. That only comes with applying those answers, testing them in the experiments life so readily offers us. They’re mostly by trial and error and there’s really no other way to ‘just get it’. You can be like me and be very smart and know a lot, but you won’t know what that information feels like until you start trying it on. Some will be too small, restricting and confining. Some will be too big, immediately falling off your shoulders giving you trunk-like arms. Some will be wet and heavy while others will be slippery and gooey. The more you’re willing to try on the more you’ll understand, the deeper your feelings will go, and the greater your capacity will be to experience, to live them.

It took me 36 years to figure all this out because I tend to learn and gain understanding the hard way. It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a reason this blog is titled “Don’t Follow My Plan”; I am an excellent example of what not to do. Enjoy the fruits of my labors and avoid the thorns and thistles that ripped through my flesh to get them. A wise mother-like figure once told me it’s better to learn from other’s mistakes than to make them ourselves. So true! I have a seemingly bottomless cup of my own mistakes splashing around. Please drink freely instead of choking and gurgling like have.

In the past year I have had a glass darkly held within inches of my face as I breathed windex. What has shone through has been beautiful and horrific, all of which I’ve have to accept because every bit has been my true, authentic self. I can cover up my hideousness, stand in front of it hoping you won’t see while turning on a spotlight trying to shimmer, and hope its brilliance will be blinding enough to cover the shadows echoing around. Sometimes it is, but all that glitters is not gold. The deafening echos still bounce around inside me resonating, shaking and breaking even my most precious beams of light. This darkness is fierce, cold, and heavy; its lies cause me to feel, even believe, sunshine will never warm my heart again.

To those reading this KNOW that is a LIE. A big, nasty sparkling lie. If the darkness has such a stronghold on your heart you can’t believe that, I completely understand. I’ve been encircled by those chains and their clamps are firm. I still wear their scars. Start with hoping its true. The spark hoping will make will be what you need to begin melting the steeliness surrounding your heart. I promise. Hope. It’s the first footsteps in many long journeys. And you’re not making those steps alone. Neither am I. Even when it really feels as if we are.

Another lesson from this year is most of life is playing the game ‘Fake It Till You Make It’. I hate this game. It goes directly against my wanting to know if a choice or a feeling or an idea is right, the truth, the very best one. I do not settle – ever – I know there are places and people and feelings which truly radiate and are exquisite. Those are what I desire in life, and they very rarely look like what I expect them to. Frustrating. Especially for us Legionites who live life at an arm’s length. Except the only way the sun’s warmth will tickle your skin is to step into its rays. But before you take that first step you have to believe those beams will work their magic. Otherwise, you’re left staring into the sun going blind. Don’t stay in the shadows. Find Ray-bans and fire yourself up. Become spellbinding.

Fear. Every. Time. we give into it destruction inevitably follows. From self worth to relationships to goals and dreams, fear rips them all apart. The only way to get past it, to conquer such a vicious demon is to play Fake It. Fear is not something that will ever pass and can only be overcome. I have only found one, literally just one, thing on this entire planet powerful enough to enable us to rise above fear; that is hope. This can be devastating to Legionites because hope is one of the most difficult emotions for us to feel. Even with Ray-bans it’s hard to remember, let alone believe, how the sun warms your soul when most of your days are overcast. It’s in these moments you superglue those damn shades to your face and put one foot in front of the other. Those first footfalls will hurt and require more effort than you think is within you – but you do! Keep stepping. Stumble. Fall. And the get back up. Every time you do flecks of fear will fall away while bits and pieces of hope take their place.

I have relentlessly tried countless ways to defeat fear with things like courage or sheer effort, but I only harmed myself or worse, much worse, caused pain and suffering to those I love and who love me. Whatever you are looking for in life must first be found within yourself. This is a bitter cup to drink from, my friends. But, more often than not, it’s burning liquid will be the balm your heart needs. As you gag it down remember medicine is needed to heal and healing brings life. Not surviving but actual living filled with belly laughs and joy and true love. It’s worth the acidic swallows to heal the carnage Legionites have endured.

As you begin to reconstruct your heart and mind there will still be fear but this comes from the unknown. Everything will look different but with spots of familiarity. Your friends will still look the same but now you’ll see them with a depth you didn’t understand before. This understanding unlocks exhilaration, joy, and beauty that will ignite your soul. That treacherous arm will begin to shrink and bend; those you love won’t seem so far away. You won’t feel so far away. And when those moments come when you find you’re by yourself and the sky has grown black and ominous and your flashlight’s batteries are dead and you’ve lost your umbrella you will still have those flickers of hope embedded into your heart; nothing and no one will be able to take them from you. Those embers will brighten your memories of those you love, the love you carry inside you, and that there are others who feel exactly the same way and understand where you are and where you want to go.

I have experienced this many times over the past year. I have spent much of the last 365 days alone because of consequences for hurting others and pushing them away, grappling with chronic depression and maddening manic episodes, traveling down the road of self-discovery which is always paved with loneliness, and bearing the burden of not having living family. That big brother sure would have come in handy. Those moments only glimmered when I first had them and would brush past my fingers like feathers floating through the air. But at least I knew they were there and I clung to that knowledge like a baby clutching their security blanket. Little by little those glimmers began glowing, and that fire is spreading. I have no doubt they’ll grow into a blazing inferno. And I’ve got my marshmallows ready.

I not only know I’m not alone but I understand I am never truly alone. Quite the contrary. I am one of many, legions. If I’m not alone then neither are you. I am with you and for those times I can’t be there someone will be, and, surprisingly, sometimes that person will be you. I promise. Take a step. Reach for my hand. Look up. I’ve got an extra pair of Ray-bans and some superglue.