Around this time last year, I made the very difficult but rewarding decision to write about my struggles living with a mental illness. This turned out to be one of the most therapeutic aspects of my recovery, both in helping me to remove the shame I was feeling and to feel less alone by opening up a dialogue about an important issue that is given much less attention than it deserves.
But in recent months I’ve had to put my writing on the backburner. I think about it all the time, wishing I could get back to it. I can blame the busyness of life getting in the way, but if I’m being honest, I stopped writing because I was scared. I’ve come out of intensive treatment and gotten back into what most would call “normal life.” I’ve landed in a steady job doing work that feels rewarding, and it’s work that I’m good at. I finally feel like I’m on a path to somewhere, rather than just wandering aimlessly. Upon closer examination though, the cracks begin to show. For the past six months, I’ve been plagued with medical issues that have brought my life to a screeching halt. I spend most days in constant physical pain, and even after endless tests, hospital visits, and surgery, I still don’t have any concrete answers.
What does this mean for my mental health? Well, it’s not great. I feel like life is happening around me while all I can do is sit back helplessly and watch it pass me by. I can’t hold back the tears as I reflect on how I could still possibly be depressed. I asked for help, I went through treatment, and I take my medication. At what point does depression become a story in my past rather than something I have to face on a daily basis? I feel like more of a burden now than ever before. I put my family through this for long enough; they shouldn’t have to continue to be impacted by my health issues.
So what do you do when you’re faced with pain around every corner? You adjust your expectations, give yourself some credit, and remind yourself that you are not alone.
Pain is universal. We are all broken in different places, which makes me think that might be the point. Maybe we are all here to help each other heal our fractured souls, to use our pain to help others better understand theirs. It always goes back to the idea of needing other people: friendship and love and community. I always get so scared to talk about the hard stuff because I feel like I’ve used up my quota for a lifetime, like I should be better by now. That’s not really a realistic idea, though. To say that there is a timeline for how quickly we heal and a rulebook for how we talk about the things that are plaguing us ignores the fact that our pain is not an equation with an easy solution. We are complicated and we are damaged and we need desperately to be able to talk about these things. The light at the end of the tunnel is not a perfect life without obstacles; it’s the outstretched hand showing you that you don’t have to go through this alone.
I will be the first person to stand up and say that I am terrified about what is ahead. I’m scared that the pain will someday get to be too much for me. I’m scared that I’ll put out my hand and nobody will be there to grab it. For an introvert who loves to be alone, I spend an awful lot of time feeling lonely. I’m most afraid that someday that loneliness will root so deep into my soul that I won’t be able to recognize or accept love even when it is offered. These are the things that keep me up at night.
But I always wake up to a new day.
Life is not an accident. We go through things to strengthen our resolve, and I will continue to fight as long as there is a spark of faith deep inside that tomorrow might be better. I will continue to lean on the people close to me when I cannot hold myself up. I will keep on pushing conversations that matter, and I will keep on doing my part in my little corner of the universe to make sure people know it’s OK to not be OK.
I stay alive because I want to give the future a chance. I stay alive because the good in others has kept me alive. I stay alive because a tiny seed of hope keeps me believing that we go through pain as a way to meet others in theirs and as a way for all of the lost souls to connect with one another and feel a little less lost. So, if you’re feeling this way too, I’d like to share a quote from my favorite book:
“Please believe that things are good with me, and even when they’re not, they will be soon enough. And I will always believe the same about you.” – Stephen Chbosky, “Perks of Being a Wallflower”
Things may not always be good right now, but I will always be trying to get there. I hope you’ll do the same.