I didn't post last week because I was working on this post. Not because I had writer's block (as I sometimes do) but because I wanted this post to mean exactly what I wanted and needed it to mean and to represent something that I dearly wished someone had said to me in the beginning, when I was first diagnosed. It would have been a help to know that life was going to go on and that I would be able to handle whatever mental illness threw my way, even when many times I was not sure of that fact. Maybe this is but a small window into my life but also maybe it could help anyone else struggling to make sense of their diagnosis and all of the unknowns that follow when you live your life under the label of being mentally ill.
When you are first diagnosed with a mental illness, there are some adjectives you are going to hear that are unflattering and a tad bit scary. You will wrestle with whether or not these adjectives are true. It will be hard and humbling and frustrating. It will be an eye opener to how differently people treat you with your diagnosis instead of how they treat you if you had something physical happen to you like a heart attack. There will be those that do not understand and shun you. There will be those that pity you or fear you. It is almost as if your diagnoses has changed who you are in their eyes and they are blinded by the words "mental illness" and unable to see you through those words. It won't be everyone in your life (thank God) but you will see it. Then and only then, will you come to understand the stigma that surrounds carrying around the moniker of being "mentally ill".
Not to fret, we all have walked down this path and learned which winding roads to avoid and which ones are safe to cross. We have all heard the negative adjectives describing our umbrella diagnoses and we are not impressed. We know them to be false and about as scary as two years old's favorite teddy bear. These adjectives are not based in reality and are completely created by ignorance and apathy. We are not bad, or dangerous, or freaks. We are not weak, or lazy, or attention seeking. We are not broken, or ugly, or damaged goods. That is the stigma talking and we need not listen to it's lies and unfair and untrue accusations. It doesn't matter where it comes from or whose mouths it pours from. We are none of those things. You are none of those things.
Having a mental illness is not something to beat yourself up about. It isn't your fault or because of something you did or did not do. It is not something you can help or something that you choose. It is not indicative of your strength as an individual. It does not speak for your personality. It does not mean that you have all of a sudden become weak, less than, stupid, worthless, or undesirable. It changes nothing about who you are as a person. All it means is that you have a different struggle to deal with.
Yes, there will be times you are on the floor balling your eyes out and wiping away the snot with sleeve of your sweater wondering ,"What the fuck am I doing? What good am I to the world? What life can I possibly lead? What is the point in all of this?"
There will be times when you believe the negative adjectives stated above because it is so much easier to believe the bad lies about yourself rather than the good truths. Because you now doubt who you are, now that you have a label placed upon your head like a two day old ham hock or a discontinued piece of Tupperware. And there are always ignorant people willing to step on you further when you are already down....be weary of those that trample on you and use your diagnoses as an excuse to treat you like dirt. You deserve better than that.
I can not tell you that life is going to be easy or that you will come out of being mentally ill unscathed. That is not reality. Reality is, that you will struggle against the tides until your arms ache and your chest hurts and you are out of breath. You will try and try and try and fail. You will pray and beg and plead and get discouraged. You will.... and then you will get off your ass and up off of the floor and slowly and deliberately carve out a life for yourself because you deserve a good life. Because you are strong. Even though you can't see it yet. Even though you doubt the validity of that strength. Even though, right now you look in the mirror and fail to see yourself as anything but weak and broken. You will prevail. You will one day see that you are never broken and are incapable of being something as paltry as weak. Because being mentally ill doesn't define you anymore than being diabetic does. Because you were never a quitter and failure is not an option. Because struggling against stigma makes your muscles stronger and your responses wittier and you always have liked a challenge. Because you can only see what you are truly made of in the face of adversity. Yes, you will struggle....but you will also learn who you are during that struggle. You will learn what is important to you and how much courage it takes to be someone with mental illness and still be present in your own life. To still be who you are in the face of stigma and ignorance. To still be compassionate and kind and brave and honest and open. Because mental illness can do many things but it can not change who you are deep down and neither can other people's judgments and stupidity.
So, don't fret. You are going to be fine. No, you are going to better than fine, you are going to be strong. And you are going to realize that you have a purpose with mental illness. It could be to have your dream job in spite of your struggles, or raise happy healthy kids, or to go back to school and learn something new, or to advocate and fight for others that are just like you. And all of those purposes are just as good as any other purpose in life. Because, fundamentally, this is your life and it is you who gets to decide just how much you are willing to surrender to stigma and bias. Only you can stand up for you. It doesn't matter if you are in a room full of other people that believe in you, if you don't believe in yourself, it will never work. So believe in yourself, because you can do this. In fact, you already have.