What it meant to accept my mental illness
This isn’t the life I had planned for myself. It’s hard not to feel resentful, to pick up a “Why me?” attitude. Seeing others living their lives seamlessly while you crash out on the sidelines is hard. But envy is a poisonous emotion that doesn’t serve me well. Instead, I’m trying to accept.
Carrie Fisher once said, “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”
This is something that I have not always successfully embraced, but it’s something that’s stayed with me, and what I take most from it is acceptance. If you’re living with a mental illness, you need to accept that you will be mentally ill, that the path you envisioned for yourself might need some tweaking. It’s not an easy task and it can be extremely difficult to come to terms with, but personally, it was something that needed to be done.
What’s caused me so many problems is that I’ve not only failed to accept my mental illness, but I’ve run away at any sign of it. I refused to accept that I was mentally ill. Society let me believe that it wasn’t ‘normal’ to be mentally ill and I’ve spent the last five years fighting it. Yet pretending it’s not there or you’re not mentally ill serves no one, least of all yourself.
I don’t solely wear the blame for this, although we’re making leaps and bounds in dealing with mental health issues, despite the social media posts encouraging awareness, the topic is still taboo. If this weren’t the case, I wouldn’t hide my illness from so many people. As a result, most of the time I live my anxiety in solitude.
If you’re living with a mental illness, you need to accept... that the path you envisioned for yourself might need some tweaking.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t the most amazing people around me who support and love me at every step, who deal with me at my worst and help me through my toughest times. It simply means that in the end, this battle is mine. In the end it’s me and only me who decides how this is going to play out.
The effect of this is that some of the time I feel horribly alone and depressed. This is in part because I have continually failed to accept. I’ve failed to accept that I have a mental illness. I’ve failed to accept that it’s a part of who I am. By doing this, every anxious thought becomes the edge of insanity, the tipping point of my mind. In failing to truly accept that I suffered chronic anxiety, I robbed myself of the chance to begin to deal with the issue that is anxiety, and allowed it to snowball into something that is much more difficult to cope with.
Why did I do this? Because I also failed to realise that by accepting that mental illness is a part of who I am, I wasn’t accepting that it controlled me, but I was simply acknowledging its existence. A reality that isn’t all that bad. Because despite the mental illness, there are positives I must also accept.
I accept that I am incredibly strong, because in the end I am. Perhaps it’s a narcissistic thing to think, but I don’t believe many people would still be kicking in my shoes. That’s what I’ve taken Carries words, “Better me than you” to mean. Once you have experienced the all-consuming thing that is mental illness, you feel that you are the best equipped to deal with it.
Personally I’ve had a lot of help along the way, but the fact that I’m still here is to me, an achievement in itself. I wake up every morning ready for the mental tug of war that the day will bring. It’s not easy to have the same battle with yourself over and over just to get through the week feeling somewhat together. But I do. I don’t always win, but I always fight.
Seeing others living their lives seamlessly while you crash out on the sidelines is hard.
In saying this, I don’t wish to simplify the issue and say that by accepting my mental illness, all that comes with it will vanish. Dealing with mental illness requires a more holistic approach and it will vary from person to person. I’m sure my own path will differ from another whose experiences may be similar.
Personally, I’ve found comfort in knowledge, in whatever forms it may take. Knowledge has allowed me to assess my own situation better and understand the workings of my mind. But also to see that there is a vastly bigger world beyond these workings, and that in the end the destructive intricacies of my mind are so unfathomably small in the cosmos, they don’t warrant the attention I give them. I don’t pretend I’ve been dealt the worst hand, but I also don’t pretend its an easy one. But I accept that not matter how much I want to, I cannot change these things. I need to play the hand that’s been dealt to me.
Looking back on it, my journey to this point seems long and hard, but in reality that’s not the case. It has been heavily littered with happiness and joy, something that mental illness can easily mask. Looking to the future poses problems for people such as myself, instead I will say that today was a good day, and may there be many more to come.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, you can find help by seeking advice from a counsellor or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Ry is a freelance writer who lives in Sydney's Northern Beaches. Ry studies international relations and international law at Macquarie University.