Finding Meaning In Mental Illness

It’s true, everyday is a struggle. Often, a silent and invisible one. The amount of self-talk, breathing exercises and mental imagery (soothing) to get through a grocery store trip, a doctor’s visit, coffee and talk with a friend is phenomenal. It’s taken me years to develop these budding skills.

Four months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine having the ability to attend a two-day training session. (Full days too.) Two years ago, I wasn’t able to imagine driving again. Incremental steps and slow, slow progress have marked these accomplishments. I’ve learned to train my brain to focus on what I can do, not what I can’t.

Still, on occasion, when I hear about myself from before compared to now — it hurts and deeply. This is not the fault of the speaker. The adjustment has been difficult for everyone. We’re all in a state of transition. I can’t erase my past and I won’t bury it either. Hell, these days, I’m curious about it. What was I like before, personality wise? I’m told I’m different now, so yes, I wonder. I also worry if I was a good person — but I see my network of friends and supporters and know I wouldn’t have this kind of love and compassion if I had been a jerk. Or one too often at least.

The pain I feel from the comparisons is because I can’t be who I was before. That was a different life and a different girl. Life 2.0 is now. These are the thought parameters I’ve put into place to survive this journey and accept my current reality. When I am in the moment, I am full and complete. I’m just me. All of me, right now. I like that feeling.

When the other me is spoken about, it slaps my current reality in the face. Sometimes I’ll have a flashback and see and understand the world through her mind – and wow, what a big, big, big world she lived in — and how incredibly busy too. Oh goodness the expectations she had for herself. Inhuman perhaps. What that woman could accomplish in an afternoon can take me a month. … Maybe more, or if at all.

I’ve maintained a distinct separation of self to cope with having a mental illness disability. This weekend each reality smacked at the other before setting down in uncomfortable, warped overlays. I automatically relied on my career skill set to learn and function in the training sessions. Simultaneously, I utilized my emerging coping skills to practice self-care, manage triggers, quietly work through dreaded public flashbacks (they’re bad enough in private) and remain sociable. Today I’m bone-weary with cognitive grasp and tracking ability reduced while I regroup. This will take a few days.

What I heard this weekend, after it was my turn to stand up and tell my story in front of the group and on video, froze me. I heard comparisons of myself. Only this time, it wasn’t from Life 1.0. No, this was different. The two people who spoke up after I sat down I met after the great divide. The first, a consumer and peer-to-peer group leader, spoke of how far I’d come from when we first met at the end of 2012. She spoke of the hard work I’d done, the incredible progress I’ve made. The second, my social worker who helped me with disability paperwork in 2011, attested to this. She shared that when she first met me, I couldn’t string two words together. Not even two. To see me stand in front of them all and share my story … amazing. Yes, there were tears. Many.

Seeing this journey through their eyes reminds me, I am a miracle. I’m a survivor. It was a push to step back, look up from the tiny toeholds of daily improvement (setbacks too) and see the progressive history. Look at the momentum. See what I’ve accomplished and how hard I’ve fought to obtain a better quality of life, become more self-sufficient and learn how to live again and accept myself as I am. And again, as I am tomorrow and the day after.

To all of you who have loved and supported me through these dark days, thank you. I love you and greatly appreciate the acceptance and friendship. I appreciate the village of support and the setting aside of judgement. Know you’ve made a positive difference in my life. Often, it’s even with a simple “like” on Facebook. I admit, I see the names and feel relief, there is one person who accepts me. And another.

Know that I’m going to pay this forward. It’s not easy to share my story, reflect on the events that shaped this mind, work on my recovery and do so after having felt first-hand the stigma and discrimination, being treated as less than and devalued because I have a mental illness. Thank you for treating me like a human, forgiving me my faults and showing understanding and compassion. Please help me in creating by helping create awareness in self and others that those of us battling these issues are human and we’re capable.

I lost my words once. I’ve found them again and I’m going to use them, written and verbal, to speak up.

During training, one of the thought-prompting questions was, “When I’m at my best I am like … ”

My immediate thought was like a phoenix, forging ahead, leaving the dark, and helping to light the path for others. No one should have to walk a path like this alone.

(originally a Facebook comment post on Jan. 27, 2014)

Each Mind Matters: California's Mental Health Movement
Each Mind Matters: California’s Mental Health Movement | Join the Movement. Make a Pledge.
Ending the stigma associated with mental illness is a personal choice. We have to decide for ourselves that each mind really does matter. Each one of us must determine what we will do to make a difference.
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