Remember the 2001 movie Training Day, with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke? Here’s the gist — “Police drama about a veteran officer who escorts a rookie on his first day with the LAPD’s tough inner-city narcotics unit. Training Day is a blistering action drama that asks what is necessary, what is heroic and what crosses the line in the harrowing gray zone of fighting urban crime. Does law-abiding law enforcement come at the expense of justice and public safety? If so, do we demand safe streets at any cost?”
Now think of your life with mental illness as the blistering action drama, and your environment as the tough inner city where your illness is the incessant daily onslaught of urban crime. You are the combination veteran officer and rookie cop, and it’s your job to decide what is heroic, and what crosses the line in the name of fighting your illness. Every day you’re forced to make decisions on behalf of your wellness, but at what cost? How do you even begin to weigh the cost-benefit analysis, and what are the repercussions of making the wrong choices?
Sounds like a lot of weight to bear, right? Those of us with mental illness, especially those in the throes of active combat as opposed to solely daily management of relatively quelled symptoms, go through this to some degree every single day of our lives. It’s exhausting, and still people wonder why we fall short in life sometimes. They also wonder how such menial successes in our lives can mean so much to us. They don’t understand because they’ve never had to fight this fight. You’d be doing yourself a favor by not expecting them to.
You’d also be doing yourself a favor to let their understanding fall by the wayside in favor of consistently putting your core focus on yourself. Not all of us have that luxury all the time; some of us have spouses, children, clients, employers, friends, family, peers, etc. that also must absorb our resources if life is to carry on. But if every day is training day, you have to remember you’re both the veteran and the rookie at the same time. You can’t do it all, you probably don’t even know how to as mental illness is constantly throwing us new curve balls we’ve never dealt with before. In many ways we’re just learning as we go, guided by the wisdom of our past experiences.
Some issues we are surely pros at by now, and with some we are still very green. For some of us we are just getting to know ourselves through our diagnoses, some of us have been chipping away at it for years. Either way, we are all still simultaneously veterans and rookies no matter where you’re at in your life or with your illness. Acceptance of your circumstances should bear no less weight than putting yourself first. After all, the veteran officer is not going to walk into a scene, deny what’s happening, then put the rest of the team’s needs first. If he’s going to truly serve his purpose, he knows better than that.
You may know better than that as well, you have been with you all your life. You probably know yourself pretty well by now, that’s the veteran side of you. But with mental illness always lying in wait to present us with a new challenge, we are repeatedly being placed back in the vulnerable rookie position. How do you balance and at what expense? That’s the million dollar question because at times there truly is no balance when it seems like every day you’re waking up a rookie to your new assignment at the same job you’ve been working for years. How do you perform under all this pressure, and where is the veteran officer to guide you through the ride-along?
These are the tough decisions and sacrifices we are faced with on a daily basis. The only answer is to shake down your illness the best you can with the arsenal you’ve extracted from your veteran days, and the wide-eyed hope and perseverance of a rookie, every single day. Just like on the streets of the inner city, every day is different, and presenting you new challenges. As such your decisions and sacrifices will vary. You may not agree with them, nor may others. But you don’t need to abide by that because you’re doing what you have to do to survive each day, and that’s what matters. At times your wellness will come at a cost. In the end you’re taking care of you, and we all know you can’t pour from an empty cup.
It’s a mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual battle to constantly be in shake down mode. Akin to daily battles in the streets officers face, the daily battle of mental illness that everyday people face is our lot in life and we are given the choice to quit our job or press on. Some days you may concede because you’re tired of the fight. That decision and its corresponding sacrifices are ok, too. Everyone needs a day off, so long as you get back to taking care of yourself when you’re ready. As the saying goes — It’s ok to not be ok, but it’s not ok to stay that way. There is no definitive answer as to how to go about this blistering action drama that is your life, and there is no one right way except for embracing your position as officer and never giving up on yourself. You are your job. Try your best to do what you love, and love what you do.
Peace, love, and wellness.