Good times bad times

Good times bad times

This isn’t going to be eloquent…No matter how well your illness has been overcome on the whole or how well it’s managed on the daily, you’re still going to experience bad days. Simply being human dictates you will have off days at times. I’m no exception. I’d intended this blog to be about my project, and my past experiences as the anecdotes behind it. Given what I’m feeling today, especially in regards to my project, I’ve decided to just do what I feel with my blog. If I’m going to open myself and my life up to people in order to try and help them, then my current struggles should be relevant to my project as well.

That said, I’m feeling a lot of things today. Things where I can only overcome them though acceptance. This project isn’t moving as fast as I’d like it to. That falls on no one but me. So I’m feeling a lot of guilt, discontent, even sadness because in reality, given the resources I currently have, there’s only so much I can do. I work full time, I work really hard because I have to. No one hands me anything in life nor was I ever set up with abundant resources that allow me to freely pursue my passions.

When all that’s in your heart is the desire to set something good up to help people and you continuously hit road blocks, it gets a bit defeating. It weighs on you. You start to look around you at everyone else and feel almost destitute. All of this leads to frustration, which feeds into sadness which ultimately  begins to steal me away from who I am at my core. Who I’ve worked so hard to uncover and embrace and who I know I truly am. That core being that I’m speaking of, she knows better than this.

Yet here I am. Struggling. This project is all I want to do. I just want to build a community of wellness, health, and empowerment. To create something that will change people’s lives for the better and every day I go about a career that I enjoy and pays the bills, but I just don’t give a shit about it. It gives me no freedom in almost all the ways. It does not fulfill me in most of the ways. It’s consuming all this time and energy I could be wholeheartedly devoting to my project. I could be essentially rocket-fueling my dream into a reality right now. But I can’t even seem to consistently devote the mental energy to getting a blog posted every week, let alone bootstrap and launch an entire public service outfit.

I’m not an entrepreneur, I have no idea what I’m doing, I just want to help people. I know I can, and that’s enough for me. It’s like being pushed up against a brick wall by a tenfold force of gravity then being repeatedly hit by tsunami waves. It hurts. I feel all the feelings. I want to burst. I want to loathe, cry, scream, lash out, fold, hide, disappear. I also want to persevere, love, laugh, create, contribute, and just be. It feels like being torn in two. It’s painful.

I wish for so much more. I am only capable of so much. Perhaps this is just my lot in life. It seems as though struggling in certain ways has always been an overarching theme to my life, why would this project be any different? No one has ever picked me up off the ground, told me its going to be ok, given me what I needed, and held my hand until I reached where I needed to be. I’ve always done it all myself. Here I am once more, I’m just intensely aware of the end result this time and it literally eats away at me sometimes.

The fact is that I can never lose myself. Much easier said than done. I may momentarily forget about her, but I always have to return to who I am at my core. It’s where my strength is, it’s where my grit is, it’s where my inner Andre the Giant is. That’s what everything I’ve been through has fundamentally taught me; the end-all be-all for me is that I’ve got an immense, unstoppable, warrior’s spirit force within me. It’s why I’m still alive. I’m beyond grateful for it.

I hesitate to call myself a fighter because the connotations don’t necessarily fit my personality, but I will fight these feelings and press on. I can accept them, they can run their course. But I will commit to myself and to the fight by making an internal pledge to cease looking around me, comparing myself and my successes to everyone else. It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t have right now because it will come as long as I never give up. I commit to accepting my situation as it is and allowing the growth of my project to come to fruition as fast as I am able to make it happen. Or as slow as it needs to happen because there’s only so much I can do.

In the end I know in my heart, mind, and soul that I absolutely refuse to concede. There’s a fire inside me, where I know that as long as I keep breathing, and returning to the savior within myself that is my warrior’s spirit, no one and nothing will ever stop me. It may take me forever, I’ll still have bad days, but I will make it happen no matter what, everyone else around me be damned. This is my path and I’m going to forge it the best I can. Along the way I commit to myself to inhale the good shit, exhale the bullshit.

Peace, love, and wellness.

Mission Statement

Hello!

Thank you for stopping by to learn about my mental health project. I’d like to share with you what it’s about, first a bit about me — My name is Meredith, I’m a thirty-something California native living in San Francisco. I have a diagnosis of clinical depression, major anxiety, and ADHD. I work as a bookkeeper, I enjoy music, books, pizza, outdoors, dancing, my friends and family, and all the goodness SF has to offer. I live a full life, but there was a time not that long ago where I enjoyed none of the above, including life itself. My illness consumed my entire twenties. I was fortunate enough to find my way to the other side of it, but it was the fight of and, for my life. I found my purpose along my journey to wellness, and that’s why I’ve begun this project.

The problem I can help solve:

  • The mental health care system is broken. Via private or public care, the key piece that’s missing is the necessary follow up, and follow through on both medication and therapy, i.e. a continuum of care.
  • Lack of guidance on how to go about acquiring and navigating care or insurance.
  • Lack of substantial coordination of community resources, as well as comprehensive formation and execution of a recovery plan for each individual.
  • The system fails to persevere with care when the patient lacks the wherewithal. Forcing someone who struggles to make it day to day to advocate for their own care in a broken system is cruel. There needs to be a service within the system to bridge the gaps.
  • The path to mental health is an arduous one that often leaves people feeling like deserted, disheartened lab rats who, in spite of their best efforts, often fall off the path because they don’t know what to do or to whom they can turn to for support, guidance, and much needed hope.

How I plan to solve it:

  • I’ve built a service open to everyone 18 and over, based on the peer perspective of my own experience in navigating, bending, and pooling mental health care resources to help chart a path to wellness for those who feel they need help getting help.
  • Providing facilitation and third-party accountability in order to focus on the individual’s bigger picture. No two paths to wellness are alike. To try and shuffle vastly different cases through a very narrow, disorganized system with no checks and balances to ensure people stay the course is failing them and they’re falling through the cracks.
  • The path is tailored specifically to your needs, to be shaped over time through evaluation of your current state and end goals at regular intervals, with comprehensive follow up ensuring you’re seen through to achieving your goals.
  • Think of it as a personal road map allowing you to circumvent the gaps, thereby wasting less of your valuable resources, to get your life back on track faster and more easily by someone who is invested in your wellness.

What I can do for you as an individual, and our community:

  • I want to see the entire mental health care community working together to create a cohesive, welcoming environment of wellness, advocacy, and access to care.
  • I want to see a society that is educated on mental illness that has broken down the stigma, and can approach the topic with open minds and hearts.
  • I want to see individuals who are happy to be alive, can hold down a job, take care of themselves and their families, get off the streets, who are doing the things they love, and loving what they do.
  • I want to see those afflicted with mental illness and their loved ones who care for them be able to live the most free, fulfilling, and happy lives they possibly can in spite of the challenges they face.
  • I want those in their darkest days to know that someone is always there for them when they feel lost, to know that someone is invested in their recovery, to feel safe and secure reaching out for help, and to feel hope for themselves and their future.
  • I want to completely change the way mental health is regarded and the way care is administered. I plan to begin one person at a time, then one city at a time starting here in San Francisco, eventually bringing my service standards to every major city in the country I can.

Disclaimers:

  • I am not a health care professional in any way, nor do I plan to dispense health care in any way. I am here to advise, advocate, educate, navigate, and instill hope as a peer.
  • This project is a work in progress. My guidance will be based on trial and error as all mental health care already is.
  • I do not have personal experience with all mental illnesses. I am more than willing to help anyone facing any mental illness with the understanding on your part that your illness may be new to me but I can still help advocate for you.
  • I’m a resource for an objective and clear path to recovery, attempting to test my proof of concept, not a therapist or an emotional outlet.
  • Any information provided to me either verbal or written will be kept strictly confidential.

What I am looking for:

  • Individuals afflicted with any type of mental illness who feel they need help getting helpThis is a free of charge service.
  • Those who truly want to get better, who want to take their lives back, and want to become empowered to do so.
  • Those who live in the Bay Area and are willing to meet with me in person.
  • If this speaks to you at all, and you understand that this project is in beta mode, I invite you to contact me via the form below.

Thank you for your interest in my project, I look forward to hearing from you!

You’ve got to burn to shine

You’ve got to burn to shine

I just got back from over a week in the desert, also known as Burning Man. If you’ve never been, you can eschew your preconceived nothing-but-sex,-drugs,-and-dance beats-notions now. Those things exist there, but it’s such a blip on the radar of what actually can and does occur on the Playa. My heart is so full of love and gratitude I can feel it in every fiber of my being. There is a palpable feeling of warmth radiating in my chest as though my heart wants to explode, and a vibration in my body tuned to nothing that isn’t on the wavelength of love. In my core nothing can get me down right now. Life has already tried and I’ve only been back at it for 3 days. I’m just too jovially overridden by the love frequency.

It’s a magical week, but also a very difficult one on so many facets. It tests my being in all the ways. It’s labor-intensive, expensive, the elements are harsh, creature comforts are few and far between as is sleep at times, there is constant stimulation 24 hours a day, I’m hard pressed to find any real alone time or peace and quiet, self-care is easily forgotten about in favor of the whirlwind of activities, and I have to rely entirely on myself for everything and anything, while still actively participating, and giving of myself and my resources. At least that’s that the precepts dictate. It can be so incredibly draining on a person, especially when you live an innately hyper-sensitive existence.

So why do I subject myself to this? You’d think someone who lives with clinical depression, major anxiety, and ADHD, who is also intrinsically highly empathic and generally sensitive to the world around her would run with her hair on fire from this type of thing. This is burn #4 for me, and I do it for the love, for the challenge, and for the love of the challenge. I get so much out of this experience, good and bad, it does so much for me as a human being, and moreover as a spiritual being. The experience is what you make of it.

That said, I set my intentions for this year’s burn shortly before I left as it took me that long to really flesh out what they should be at the heart of my experience. In addition to the opportunity to ephemerally exist in the presence of a specific density of radiant spirits, kissing the annoyingly cumbersome real world goodbye, and of course dancing like it’s my job. Namely this time around my intentions were self-empowerment, and seeking out love. Seems simple enough, right? Well, I worked for it. I think that everyone who goes out there, whether they have intentions for themselves and their experience or not, has to face the music at some point unless you make the conscious choice to not take the opportunity to look within yourself. I think the same song of “What is this, what am I really doing here, and how long can I sustain this?” plays for everyone. Maybe it plays only once, maybe it plays on repeat.

My self-reflective song played intermittently throughout the week as I opened myself, my mind, heart, and spirit to everyone who felt safe to do so with. The lyrics guided me through my experience with verses encouraging me to get out of my head and into my heart to connect with people on a deeper level, to let my walls down, to not live in fear or myself, my illness, or anyone else. Other verses reminding me to readily discard the FOMO and heed the self-care chorus (for someone like me self-care will always be the chorus in my life’s song), verses keeping me grounded but open, to stay in the moment, and to let my inner voice shine through from my heart because she is so much wiser than the voice from my mind.

I got everything I wanted and more from this year’s experience. I made an effort to leave my fears and quandaries about being human, the really hard-wired stuff, as far behind as I could on my quest for love. It came down to something as simple as an attempt to put my social anxiety and fear of rejection aside by candidly walking up to someone and just putting an arm around them, whether I really knew them or not, showing them I wanted to be in their presence. That kind of giving of myself was so new, and so wonderful to me. It’s one of the gifts I took back with me to real life and have already had the opportunity to put into practice.

On the flip side of that, on my last day out there I’d had enough of the whole experience and had a mental, physical, and emotional breakdown. At my core I felt at peace, but my mind, body, and spirit were tapped out and I had to relinquish myself to that experience as well. Of course my humanistic ego tried to silently allay the symptoms on my own when I woke up Monday morning and immediately began to react. I lied there curled up in a ball in my dusty tent completely overstimulated, nerves shot, crying, shaking, hyperventilating, refusing to take care of myself and just succumbing to whatever was going to happen.

It brought back that familiar, harrowing, desperate feeling of being out of control. But then, after two solid hours of fighting all the feels, my self-reflective song came on in my head and reminded me that I was there for love and self-empowerment. What that ultimately meant was I needed help from others so I could help myself and press on. Right then and there I had the epiphany of and confessed to the universe that I no longer just wanted people in my life; friends, family, a partner, I needed them. So I picked myself up off the ground, put my biggest sunglasses on so I could still hide just a little bit (oh you, silly pride), and walked out into camp where few remained and everything was being rapidly deconstructed. The first campmate to approach me asked me how I was doing and I immediately realized that was my chance, my moment to burn to shine. I had to cop to the fact that I was not ok, and then allow myself to need others.

This particular experience was all so new to me considering I’ve mostly always dealt with everything on my own, in my own space via my own learned coping mechanisms. It gave me so much nourishment I can’t find words to convey. I can, however, say that it brought my original intentions of self-empowerment and seeking love completely and entirely full circle. I allowed others to support me in my time of need, to give me the love and care that I so obviously needed when I’m so used to being the one to give of myself to others. I allowed myself to be totally vulnerable in the presence of those who I’d only known on a very surface level, I allowed this experience to force me to lay all my cards on the table in that moment. It was absolutely beautiful. I learned that if I want something I never had, I’d have to do something I’d never done. I let the love in.

I continue to go not just for the love and the good times but because this event is an exponentially unequivocal benchmark for my personal growth and progress. I go for the freedom and reprieve from the heavy that is everyday human existence, without being allowed to forget that I am ultimately human, and that in and of itself is a challenge that won’t quit. If I’m not challenging myself I’m not sufficiently subjugating my illness, or my ego.

Allowing something to break you down and build you back up, leaving in your trail the pieces that no longer serve you, is the definition of ego death. The experience of mental illness has afforded me more ego death than any experience ever will, so there is no question as to why I would continue to participate in an event that, albeit via different modalities, still brings me my much sought after, and hard-earned return to my true self. I cannot express the amount of gratitude I have for the fresh reminder of the fact that I have mental illness, mental illness does not have me.

Peace, love, and wellness.

 

Choosing wellness

Choosing wellness

I’ve made the comparison of mental disease to the disease of addiction for a long time now. I’m neither confirming nor denying that those who are mentally ill are addicted to their illness, rather I’m simply stating the fact that they, just as the addicts do, have to choose wellness.

I’ve had a few addicts cross my path in life, along the way showing me the parallels between our diseases. There’s the recovery and relapse facets, creating new good habits and falling into old bad habits, removing yourself from people, places, and situations that trigger symptoms, the slippery slope into relapse, the ‘never cured, only recovered’ aspect, and the ultimate of making the conscious decision of recovery.

Having addicts in your life is no walk in the park, but it gave me some great takeaways. Watching someone you love lose themselves to a hopelessly reckless lifestyle, go through intervention, ultimately forced into rehab only to come out and fall right back into their old patterns and behaviors as though they have no control over it because they weren’t ready to choose recovery, and then watching them almost die because of it is terrifying and traumatic to all those involved. That whole process though, it bore so many similarities to my own struggle with my illness that it gave me the ability to recognize and rectify whatever situation I found myself in. The overarching parallel point being that no one can force a person to try and get better from any disease; you must choose recovery. 

Just like an addict I had to hit my own personal rock-bottom in life. Moments so grave that I began to wake up and realize that by not taking action, I was giving my precious life to this savage disease. I was in my 20’s, the prime of my life. It felt like the equivalent of setting $100 bills on fire. It shook me to my core, made me want to pick myself up off the floor, give this disease the absolute middle finger, and claim my life back. 

Recovery is a tough decision! It’s certainly not the path of least resistance. Obviously it’s easier to just let illness have you til there is no more of you, and generally the apathy is already there to contribute to your degradation. I knew however, that no one else was going to do it for me. No one else was going to usher me along, pick up the pieces of my life, put them back together, clean up the messes I’d made along the way, and make sure I did what was necessary to get better. I had support along the way, but in the end the only one that was going to be responsible for any real improvement was me. Every single day.

Every day it meant I had to make the choice to really own up to my illness, take responsibility for how it had affected my life, and start figuring things out going forward. It’s a long, arduous path, the one to wellness, as such with any disease. No one ever said recovery was easy, but anyone on the other side of it will tell you it was their choice and no one else’s.

Peace, love, and choosing wellness.

Mental illness vs. Mental Health: What do they mean?

Mental illness vs. Mental Health: What do they mean?

All behavior has a purpose. It’s a form of communication from our minds and bodies, whether we are cognizant of it or not. Rather than being strictly an expression of our personalities or feelings, behaviors are often rooted in basic instinct. Think of it this way: a brand new baby doesn’t cry for no reason, it cries because it needs something. Most often something very basic, and it has essentially one modality to express that; through its behavior. Often times people’s behavior is simply the manifestation of their inner child crying out for help. If I’m going to share my journey I feel like I should distinguish what mental illness and mental health are, and what they mean to me.

Mental illness as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
“A mental disorder is a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning. Mental disorders are usually associated with significant distress in social, occupational, or other important activities.”DSM-5

Changes in behavior, thinking or mood should be continually present for two or more weeks, and can occur with and without evident or traumatic cause, aka trigger. As far as depression goes, I’d also like to make one clarification, as the word ‘depressed’ gets thrown around a lot and it’s true meaning has been lost or diluted. Everyone gets the blues sometimes. A major life event occurs, you’re affected by it and things are different for a while because you’re sad, but it doesn’t consume your entire being and life, and you have not lost control of either of those. You eventually recover and resume your standard routine. Depression is already present in a person, generally in the form of some kind of PTSD, and/or chemical imbalance, and can be triggered by life events or just seem to creep up out of nowhere and blindside a person, forcibly degrading their quality of life. It’s not something one can just ‘get over and move on’.

Recovery as defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration: A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.

Recovery looks different for each individual and begins with specific goals. SAMHSA‘s working definition of recovery is fairly comprehensive, and covers 10 specific “guiding principles” (see link for additional detail) that are further delineated to the 4 major categories in bold:

  • Hope
  • Person-Driven
  • Many Pathways
  • Holistic
  • Peer Supported
  • Relational
  • Culture
  • Addresses Trauma
  • Strengths/Responsibility
  • Respect-based

 

  1. Health: Overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) symptoms – for example abstaining from use of alcohol, illicit drugs, and non-prescribed medications if one has an addiction problem – and for everyone in recovery, making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being.
  2. Home: A stable and safe place to live.
  3. Purpose: Meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, care-taking, or creative endeavors, the independence, income and resources to participate in society
  4. Community: Relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

Because no two journies through mental illness are alike, these definitions are, as they should be, somewhat interpretive in a manner that compliments your path to wellness. Here’s what my personal definitions look like given my journey through depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

Illness: Continuous or consecutive days, with triggers present or not, of lack of typical (I hesitate to use the term normal) daily function, productivity, and motivation. Specifically marked by major apathy, sadness, cognitive impairment, behavioral degradation, fatigue, restlessness, anxiety, excessive worry, withdrawal from social activities, loss of appetite, guilt, fear, rumination, and general malaise. If I’ve fully relapsed, I’m having 2+ weeks of consecutive bad days, missing work and social obligations, have lost weight, am hiding in bed, won’t leave the house, have stopped taking care of myself, and at that point if I haven’t reached out for help yet, I very much need to.

Recovery: In short it means mostly good, satisfactorily productive, steadily continuous days. The days I wake up and feel well, and happy, ready to go and take on the day. The days I want to and feel good enough to do life when I get out of bed. The days where I actually feel like getting out of bed instead of feeling forced out of it only to trudge through another day of the slog that I’ve known life to be.

I still have my slog days, sometimes for no apparent reason. If something happens and I get triggered, I can have slog weeks, but there has become a spectrum to my recovery that I have to keep a close eye on. I have to constantly check in with myself, be very aware if I start not feeling well, and know where the points are on my spectrum that mean its time to take action. It’s a slippery slope, being consistently proactive is the best favor you can do for yourself or a loved one. But every time I’ve slipped and fallen I’ve learned a lesson about me, my temperament, my illness, and my recovery. As I learn those lessons I get better and better at keeping myself from slipping too far.

Another key to keeping my recovery is to continue to be gentle with myself when I start slipping. As soon as I hit an action point on my recovery spectrum I already know I’m going to lose something. Generally time and productivity, which ultimately translates to money. It sucks. But then I realize that my health is truly my wealth, and without that I don’t have money, so I’d better put me first and work second. That was a huge blow to my very A-type personality back in the day when I first started to try and accept the implications of my illness. Now I just do a little stomping of my feet in my head, and face the fact that I already know my wellness is more important. Then I do whatever I have the energy for that I can accomplish to make myself still feel productive. If I’m not going to work because I need a mental health day I will read, or do something creative like painting, coloring, writing is a big one, meditation is huge, if I have the wherewithal I’ll go for a short walk, or organize something around the house. I try to keep track of how much I’ve eaten throughout the day and when, and make sure I’m still taking care of my most basic needs to help my recovery instead of hinder it. I see it as a reduced set of standards for self-care because I know I’m only capable of so much in these times.

It’s tricky, but you create your own personal goal-based bar for illness and wellness. As you heal and better learn to manage your illess, your benchmarks will grow and change with you. You become the watcher of yourself, you act instead of react. I’ve always felt that I had to accept that mental illness recovery is going to be two steps forward and one back. As long as I watch my steps as closely as I can and manage them with care, I’ll always end up being OK no matter which direction they’re in.

Peace, love, and wellness.

What mental illness has taught me

What mental illness has taught me

I grew up in self-preservation mode. I was closed off, shut down, and mostly withdrawn because as long as I maintained those ways about me I was much less likely to get hurt. It caused me to be very un-self-aware. I would just kind of do and say and act with no real regard for anyone else because the only one I knew how to think about was myself given that I was always in protect & defend mode. It was a very superficial, surface of life existence.

Underneath there was some sort of light, a heart, a spirit that lived muted underneath all these layers of armor and pain. The innocent, happy, and full of love little girl who was crying, screaming, begging, clawing to get out, to be seen and heard, to shine as she was meant to. Little did I know that the fight for my life through mental illness was also the fight for my spirit, for the being I was truly meant to be and the life I was meant to have.

Looking back on the literal hell mental illness dragged me through by the hair, your think I’d wish that my life had gone differently. I don’t. It might sound backwards but that battle has taught me so much. Its given me so much. It’s made me who I am today. It’s given me purpose. It’s why I’m here writing now, trying to build this project and give you hope. I found my life’s purpose thanks to mental illness. 

The biggest, most important lesson it gave me was that the fact is, I’m incredibly deep. Not in a new age, self involved way, I just run deep as a living being. I had no idea! I dont know how else to put it and I don’t know any other way. It’s a high maintainance temperament but it’s who I truly am at my core and it took me most of my life to uncover and understand it. Deeply empathetic, passionate, free spirited, energetic, loving. I don’t wear it all on my sleeve either, I wear my heart on my face, on my entire being. I’m a terrible liar and actor so I’m hard pressed to try and hide it, therefore I accept it. It’s opened up a whole new reality for me that has given me so much.

What it also means is that I feel pain, sadness, and heartbreak that much deeper. But I’ve known deep dark days, feeling all of the aforementioned so strongly and deeply I’d lie in bed for hours or days and wish over and over that I could just get up an walk away from my body, mind, and emotions. They were really doing me a disservice and it felt so helpless. But somehow I knew it wasn’t ME, it was just my humanness that was severely malfunctioning which meant there HAD to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Except that tunnel was essentially located at the center of the earth and I was going to have to dig my way there with a spoon and then swim through magma to even reach the pain and begin the excavation process, building this tunnel to the light. Alone. Eventually it became a challenge that I’d unwillfully committed to but knew that if I chose not to, I wouldn’t just lose a challenge, I’d lose my life.

In spite of all the emotional turmoil I tried my hardest to intellectualize mental illness and it’s place in my life which helped me to understand the concept of illness not truly being a part of who I am at my core, but just a condition of my humanness. That helped me begin to dissociate from the pain, anger, guilt, sadness, what I called ‘my demons’. It was a rough process laden with two steps forward and one step back. Demons don’t want to let go, they’re too busy working tightly allied with our ego to take over our minds and emotions, thereby exploiting our innate human fragility and making us sick, destroying our lives. It’s a confederation of mind-f*ck, and it’s as real as the sun rising every day. I was just too determined toward that light to give up on myself at this point.

Now here I am today having made it through the trenches to the other side. I still battle, almost daily. Life isn’t easy for me, I still have a disease. But I’ve also got all these incredible lessons from my journey that help me every single day. Tools and attributes I used to be totally devoid of. So when I look at it that way, I’m actually able to (mostly) see my illness as having given me all these gifts that I can use to make mine and others’ lives better.

Mental illness has taught me:

  • Grit (courage, bravery, spirit, strength of will, fortitude, resolve, determination, tenacity, perseverance, endurance)
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Nonjudgement
  • Love
  • Acceptance
  • Gratitude
  • Depth
  • Truth
  • Authenticity
  • Self reliance
  • Strength
  • Open-mindedness
  • Spirituality
  • Connection
  • Discernment
  • Decision-making
  • Adaptability
  • Faith (non-religious)
  • Kindness
  • Humanity
  • Problem-solving
  • Forgiveness
  • Clarity

And I have to credit ADHD with keeping me consistently entertained. All that said, it’s given me a whole new perspective on my illness and how I can use it for good. So once I accepted it and learned from it, it was kind of hard for me to look that gift horse in the mouth. Even at the times I’ve wanted nothing more than to take a sledgehammer to that gift horse’s face, I’m forced to stop and look around me, look within and recognize all that I’ve been given on my journey through mental illness.

Peace, love, and wellness.

Acceptance

Acceptance

Ok, I have mental illness. Now what? It took me at least 5 years of diagnosis, struggle, treatment, working through, healing, relapsing, losing jobs, ruining relationships, medications, two steps forward and one step back over and over and over again, before I fully accepted my illness.

I could look anyone in the eye and admit to them that I had mental illness, no problem. Accepting it publicly was easy; all I had to do was admit to it, sometimes open up about it, and move on. I was an open book, I always have been. Apparently except with myself, because admitting it to myself was a whole other animal. Holy repercussions, Batman. It meant I had to fully realize that mental illness was something I was going to have to live with every single day for the rest of my life because there is no cure, just rehabilitation, proper care, and management.

In came the tidal wave of what it all really meant:That some days would be MUCH worse than others, that it would affect the way people viewed me, that it affected the way I viewed myself, that it would at times affect my behavior, that I would have to continue medication and treatment for an indefinite period, that I may not ever know what it’s like to feel “normal”, that I had a lot of deeply rooted sadness, anger, guilt, truth, and pain to acknowledge, that I would have to be very gracious and gentle with myself and so would others that I had to make the decision to keep around or not, I could no longer push myself as hard as I wanted to, I had limitations, I had to only choose to keep those in my life that could and would accept both me and my illness, that my personal, professional, and scholastic progress would be stunted, that this would cost me money I didn’t have and didn’t want to be spending, that I somehow had to make the healthcare system my bitch, that I had to start eating better, exercising, and educating myself on what was behind all of this, the fact that I have a disease, that I had no idea how to deal with all of it, and that I’m mostly going to have to deal with it alone.

No f*cking wonder I didn’t want to cop to it for myself. Who the hell wants to deal with all of that shit? Life is rough enough as it it. I’ll tell you who- a person who refused to let illness have her and allow all of it’s implications to own her life. It meant I had to take responsibility for my shit, do something about it, and never give up no matter what. No one else was going to do it for me, I had to want it.

Much like an addict; no one can make them go to rehab and get clean. They have to want sobriety for themselves otherwise rehab fails and they will go right back to their diseased behavior until it ends up taking their lives from them. Sure I thought about letting it have me and taking the easy way out. In fact there were times where I was honest to god doing everything I could to try and get myself out of it and I felt at a total loss because things wouldn’t improve beyond a certain point. If something was going to take me by its own accord I was willing to let it because at least it would mean I went out fighting.

It made me feel incredibly hopeless, powerless and totally inept. But it also made me, in my very core, absolutely refuse to give up on myself. Luck, grit, perseverance, strength of spirit, Prozac, Ativan, Dr. Kennerly, surely I can attribute my path to wellness in part to all of those factors. Whatever it ultimately was, I just knew deep own inside that this wasn’t the pathetic existence I was marked for.

I was meant to be a vibrant being, one of light and love, as we all innately are. It just gets really grayed out sometimes by all our humanness. By all the ego, all the trauma, all the fear, negativity, societal, familial and personal pressure and expectations, yada yada. All the bs that is the opposite of love and acceptance, empathy and compassion. The opposite of all the things that truly bring healing. Deep down one of the biggest components of accepting my illness was learning to love and accept myself as I was. I was deeply flawed and in desperate need of help. But I was still a human being who loved, was loved, and was love. 

Slowly but surely I kept making strides. Making better decisions, educating myself, doing everything within my power to get my life back. It’s MINE, goddammit! I’m not saying it wasn’t hard, it was quite literally the fight of and for my life and it still is. I still lost plenty along the way. But ultimately I gained, and it’s because I took responsibility for my illness and never gave up.

The best example I can give you, aside from an addict, is a cancer patient. What’s the biggest message that cancer patients and their advocates want you to know? That it’s a real fight, and every time a patient ends up on the other side of it, cancer-free, what do they have to say for themselves? That they fought it tooth and nail because they were determined to make it to remission and not let cancer take their lives. It’s as though there was never a question as to whether the cancer patient was going to fight it or not. They are revered as warriors, and those with mental illness deserve and should garner the same for themselves.

No one with any disease, ever, was told to go ahead and sit back because this is going to be easy. Accepting that now and getting help now will make that much more difference. It’s going to be hard but it’s the most worthwhile battle you’ll ever be valiantly called to: the battle for your life. Be a warrior, not a worrier. You’re worth it.

Peace, love, and wellness.