As I left town before the sun rose in the morning, dense fog rolled in around me. The farther from town I drove, the thicker the fog became. As I listened to the radio, the DJ shared, “A fog warning has been issued for most of the I94 area.” Great. If he was right, I had another 200 miles of fog in front of me.
And that is exactly what happened.
As predicted, the fog crept around me off and on for the next few hours.
At times, I could only see only the white lines in the center of the road because of how dense it was.
At other times, the fog cleared allowing me see see farther and enjoy the break.
I mention often in writings on this blog that I struggle with bipolar tendencies. In the days following the fog drive, I have been thinking about how fog is a great metaphor for mental illness and the low energy times that I experience. I hope this resonates with many readers.
Fog is unpredictable.
As I drove my 200 miles in and out of fog, I was surprised at how suddenly I could be surrounded by fog and at how quickly it disappeared. It would come and go suddenly at times but then be creeping at other times. While my mental health low times sometimes can be charted in some kind of rhythm, they are often unpredictable. I struggle to know if I am feeling ill or having a low time as they often can feel similarly.
Fog slows down our minds.
Because of the strain to see through the density of the fog around us, we need to put other things on hold. At times, we need to turn off the radio and concentrate on driving. This is true with our mental health as well. When our minds get stuck in the fog – or when the fog creeps in on us – we struggle to see beyond the fog. We may need to clear out the noise in our minds and around us. Our family and friends may not understand this, and we need to be careful only to do this as needed rather than as a way to isolate from the world.
We need to follow the white line.
When we are in a mental fog, we need to rely on routine and follow what we can see. Just like the white line in the center of the road, we need to know what to follow to keep us safe when our minds are foggy. This is why routine when we are in a “good zone” is so important. Establishing routine helps us to do safe things when we are in a foggy patch. Exercise, taking medications, sleeping well, and eating well keep us safe through the foggy periods.
We need to follow only safe drivers.
Drivers from Florida, Alaska, Nevada, and Montana joined me on the road in the fog. While they may know their own type of driving obstacles, North Dakota weather has its unique challenges. These drivers created challenges for me as they drove too fast in several of the portions of fog. In our non-metaphorical lives, others around us struggle to understand that we are in a mental fog. They try to speed up, drag us with them, and can lead us into a crash by distracting us.
We do not need to see beyond the fog.
The DJ told me that the fog would lift. I desperately wanted to see beyond the fog, but that was just not what was meant to be. I had to wait out the fog, move through it, and find moments of gratitude while I was in in it. While fogs in our minds do not have a DJ to tell us when the fog will lift, we know that it will. Experience reminds me of this. Some people keep a calendar to remind them of when the fog lifts or returns. If the mental fog does not lift for more than a couple of weeks, it is time to take ourselves to a fog doctor (medical or therapeutic) and get some help. When we drive, sometimes the fog gets really bad, and we have to pull over. If we cannot see past the fog, we need to wait it out or get some help.
We need to stay safe in the fog.
As we go in and out of fog, our eyes and brains adjust. Hopefully, they do this fast enough for us to be able to remain safe, but there are times that we have some pretty close calls. As we become experienced drivers, we learn about safe driving in snow storms, fog, and heavy rains. Sometimes the highway department determines whether or not we can drive in the weather. In our mental health world, we need to create a web of people who can help us be safe. While it can be hard to hear someone (or a group of someones) tell us that it is time to get some help, we may need to listen to them as they keep us safe. Spending too much time in a fog can jeopardize our safety.
How do you deal with the fog in your life?
I have been writing this blog in earnest since August of 2011. As I have written about various topics, I find myself coming back to the topic of mental illness a lot. I realize that it is hard for many to share about this side of their lives. As a friend and I talked over this past weekend, the word stigma and the concept of safe people were part of the conversation.
I know that mental illness is hard to understand. It is complex, and we often do not know how to be the “white line” for others. For those who suffer from the fog, know that there is lots of help out there – some of that help might even be closer than you think. For those who support those who suffer from the fog, know that you are not alone in the supporting.
We cannot control the fog in our head any more than we can control the weather. However, we can learn to cope with it so that we can get through it safely.
And no matter how temporarily, the fog will lift, and we will see the sun.