I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.
Did you sing this song as a child? I did. It started as a gospel song, but there are many variations that have since secularised it. I’m not sure that anyone took the time to explain to me, when I was a child, what it meant. Actually, I know they didn’t. But I had a good idea of what it meant to me at a pretty early age. Something I doubt my parents could have taught me.
It was a light within me, an eternal light. It was my spirit. It was who I was. And no one was going to extinguish my light. This wasn’t about Sunday School for me, or Jesus, or anything religious. It was, and is, about me, and who I am as a person.
I realise now that I was fortunate as a child. No one tried too hard to extinguish my light. I know now that many
children aren’t so lucky. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.
For me, and maybe for you, if you’re in a similar situation, it became harder to let my light shine as I got older. As my mental illness took over, it became a life and death battle to keep that light shining. Depression wanted to suck the life out of my flame. It wanted to kill the spirit within me. It wanted to change, and even murder, who I was. Actually, there were times when Depression, Anorexia and Borderline Personality Disorder did a good job.
They (the illnesses) didn’t want anyone to see burning that light of mine. They didn’t want me to feel that light burning deep within me. They didn’t want me to even remember who I was. They didn’t want me to be.
Luckily there were some people who tried to help me keep my light burning. Some people who wanted me to win the battle. To hold onto who I was.
Unfortunately, there were others too, who preferred to try to snuff out my light. It suited them to try to change me into something that suited them. Those people were never going to help me survive.
I was fortunate to have a small number of mental health professionals who wanted to help my light shine. Regardless of all the medications and treatments which might have changed who I was, they fought to help me make sure my light shone. They encouraged me to hold onto who I was. They fought to make sure that I wasn’t so over-medicated and treated that I lost who I was.
They noticed that when my mental health sunk too low I lost who I was. I lost the fight in me. I would become agreeable. Compliant. I’d just go along with what was wanted. There was no argument in me. The light was dangerously close to burning out. They encouraged me to fight back, to feed the flame.
But there were other mental health professionals (yes, they do exist) who liked it when my light was burning out. You see, I wouldn’t argue, I wouldn’t refuse a particular treatment. I would just go along with what they said.
“Yes sir, no sir. Three bags full sir!”
That was me, and the unwise, or those who weren’t interested in preserving who I was, loved it. I was finally compliant. No longer argumentative. I was close to my light burning out, but that didn’t matter to the unwise because they could get on and “get the job done‘. And that’s what matters, surely?
Recently I’ve been in the position of observing someone close to me who is in residential care because of what is essentially a mental illness. It’s not the usual illness we might think of when someone mentions mental illness, but it is having a dramatic effect on her mental health.
As the illness takes more and more of a hold on her, it is possible to see her light shining. And I am so thankful when I see that light shining. When who she is and has been, hangs on and fights back. It doesn’t let that illness snuff out her light.
I was interested when the manager of the care facility she is in, said to me this week “sometimes she lets us shower her without complaint. But other times she fights back and refuses the help. We don’t know why“.
I knew why. I had already observed that on her good days she will fight to let her light shine. She will refuse to accept that she needs someone to shower her. She hangs on to a belief that she doesn’t need the indignity of someone else washing her. She has always been a very private person, and on her good days, that person hangs on to who she is, and always has been.
On her bad days, it is too much to fight. Her light is a mere flicker and she lets them wash her without complaint. She lets them choose her clothes, even when it’s not what she would want to wear. On those days, it’s just easier. And probably, she just doesn’t care.
Interestingly, the staff love those days. And that breaks my heart.
I get that it makes their job easier. They can just “get the job done“. They wish every day was like that. But they’ve got their priorities for her so wrong.
I know that there were health professionals involved in my care across the years who wished I would comply and they could “get the job done“. But they failed to see that those days, when my light shone and I would “fight back“, were my good days.
If who I really was could be maintained regardless of mental illness, then that would really be “getting the job done“. There were days when that happened, but sadly there were other days when it didn’t. When I was lost in the task of “getting the job done“. When my light was allowed to fade.
For the person I described above, unfortunately I see the same thing happening. When the facility manager doesn’t see that argumentative and non-compliant days are actually her “good days“, then I fail to see how her light can shine.
If you’re a health professional, you might be thinking I’m being unrealistic and making work for you. I’m not. I just want to turn the tables a bit, and contribute to understanding that to let the patient’s light shine in this way is good. It is about both recovery where it is possible, and management where it is not.
We all have a light. It shines of who we really are, regardless of illness and disease. We all have a right to shine our light. We have a responsibility to help others shine the light of who they are. Mental illness does a damn good job of trying to take over who we are. But we are still people with likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. We still have goodness within, regardless of what anyone says. In whatever role we have, we owe it to people around us to help them let their light shine.
At this time when the artistic focus of the season, is often drawn in lights and flames of different types, we owe it to ourselves to at least think about what our light is, and how best we let it shine. Don’t let illness let you believe that you don’t have a light. You do. We all do. ‘Getting the job done‘ is about shining that light. Nothing else.
Thanks for reading
© Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
I’ve watched a similar situation with a loved one who struggled with Dementia, one explanation for the use of drugs for them by the care home – was to achieve’ compliance’. Interestingly, when I queried my own diagnosis of BPD, I was told that non-acceptance was ‘part of the condition’. I am very fortunate to have discovered your blog and Canvas too, that continues to serve as a guide post and help tip the balance back in the right direction.
I always think that when they talk of compliance that they have forgotten that we are human beings. I also know of others with BPD who have been told the same thing you were. Thankfully I haven’t been fed that line myself (yet). it is a shame that not more doctors can see that our lights shining are a significant part of our being able to live.
Thankyou so much for sharing this. Timely one for me, and resonates greatly.
Thanks Pencils. I’m glad that it meant something to you. That always makes my day.
Thanks for sharing, it’s comforting to know there is always light. No illness can take that away.
There is always light. With illness it is sometimes hard to see or remember. But yes, it is always there. 🙂