Expectations can be suffocating.
For almost nine years now, I’ve struggled with a diagnosed mental illness. It started with a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, then I was told I had Borderline Personality Disorder as well. A few years later, a different psychiatrist diagnosed me with Bipolar, especially based off of the meds that were working for me at the time. All within that range of diagnosis, I’ve battled suicidal thoughts and impulses, self-harm, and taking medical leaves from college.
My journey with mental illness has been exhausting. Trying to find the right “medication cocktail,” so to speak; trying to find the right diagnosis; trying to find a balance between meds and therapy. Life changes I can make, thinking patterns to adjust, skills to use…
At times, I’ve found myself wanting to give up.
I’ve gone through periods where my mental illness seems to back off and lets me live my life. Times when I’ve been able to hold a job longer than a few weeks, times when I’ve felt happy or content for the majority of my days, and, inevitably, times when those around me think I’m “better” and their expectations of me rise higher and higher. With those expectations, suddenly people think I can and should be able to handle it all—to have not just a job, but a career, to “put my degree to use,” to have a family, to accomplish goals that they think should take priority in my life.
Those expectations, when I’m unable to reach them, make me feel like a failure. I don’t understand why my ever-present accomplishment, simply to stay safe and alive, isn’t enough for everyone else.
I’ve taken myself to the hospital for suicidal thoughts six times over the last seven years. I consider those times successes in their own way because I did what I needed to do to keep myself safe. I’ve hit positive landmarks: I kept a job for nine months. I recently celebrated being five years free from self-harm. It’s been over a year since I was last hospitalized for my mental illness. I’ve made good friends and am trying to be more social.
And yet, occasionally, the suicidal thoughts and impulses return. I don’t want to die. I know I don’t. Yet sometimes impulses related to suicide jump to the forefront of my brain. Urges to self-harm resurface. In the midst of all this—of struggling and feeling like I’m drowning or stuck in moments where my brain lies to me and tells me suicide is the only way out—I realized something.
Suicidal thoughts and self-harm urges do not define me. The ups and downs of my recovery do not define me. The worry that I’m disappointing my family does not define me. Recovery isn’t always linear and it does not have an expiration date. My hard work, my creativity, my love of reading and art, my poetry: these things help make me who I am.
Even as I write this, I find it hard to list things that I love, things that make my life worth living. Yet I know that they are there. And despite the bone-deep exhaustion that permeates my being at times, I know there’s a light. I can and will keep going, keep trying, keep living.