“Until lions start writing down their own stories, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” ~ African Proverb
Accepting all aspects of my life is difficult. Mental Illness and Trauma. They are real, present parts of my life. They are hard to acknowledge and accept.
These are real illnesses and I experience them on a daily basis, both emotionally and physically. My brain is altered, so I see the world in a unique way. My memory and concentration are far from sharp. I am always in a state of high alert, regardless of any real threat. My sleep can be affected by nightmares, often coming without warning. My stomach is tight the majority of the time. My breathing is quick and shallow in its “normal” state, so I constantly have to make a conscious effort to breathe deeply at all times. My muscles ache, I get headaches easily.
These are some of the main symptoms I experience. Thankfully I have strong self-care skills (and even stronger medications) that provide relief. Yet, like with any chronic illness, I need to be on point with my symptom management to keep it under control and prevent more intense episodes.
How do I explain my illness? I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, so expectations are high for me – the ones I set for myself and the ones set forth with my job and other “adult” ventures. When I can’t perform at the level people expect, I’m questioned. But it’s not me – it’s my illness. I just wish there was a way for this to make sense to others. Because right now, my experience is not something easily explained. If I ask for help, I’m seen as weak. If I say I’m stressed, I can’t handle it. Like I’m making this a choice. Believe me – it is not a choice at all.
Maybe it is my fault. I did accomplish way more than is typical for people like me, with similar histories. I have a masters degree from an Ivy League university. I have a demanding, high level career. My relationships with my husband and daughter are stable and loving. Many of my fellow survivors continue to live in chaos, with continuous abuse, trauma, and substance use. I have severe and persistent mental illness. Like many survivors. But I guess since I’m not homeless or violent, it’s not viewed the same. And I fully acknowledge these vital differences. I am truly blessed to not struggle with poverty or an addiction or violence. For reasons that are truly beyond me, I was able to create a high functioning life among the chaos I have endured. Odds say I should be much more similar to the the clients I treat. Odds say I most likely could have successfully committed suicide by now. How I managed to not just survive, but thrive, is a mystery and a miracle.
So maybe it is my fault.
Since I don’t “look” mentally ill, people don’t expect me to be struggling at all. I get it – there are days I forget my struggles until they pop up in my memory, triggered by some random event. I’m functioning. I’m thriving. I’m integrating my life and living healthy and happy. That is the goal for anyone in recovery. I’m doing it.
I’m also always going to be reminded of my illness, of my syndrome. I must always practice self-care, as a means of dealing directly with my ever-present symptoms, and also as a means of preventing them from getting too overwhelming. Like exercise, the moment you stop, get too complacent, that’s when the results stop.
The moment I laugh and seem more myself, I’m thought to be “cured.” I wish it were that easy. It’s a struggle of understanding, for everyone in my life, including myself. I am becoming my authentic self. This includes being humorous, serious, emotional, relaxed, silly, dynamic. I can be all of these things at once. I may be struggling with a present trigger, yet I may turn to humor to help me relieve the anxiety. This can be confusing to myself, and certainly to others. Yet it’s all part of me being authentic, and integrating all the complex sides of myself and my recovery into a daily life that makes me happy.
I need to be consistent. Diligent. On point all the time. It’s exhausting and hard to accept. For me and for others. My journey of self-discovery and acceptance is life long. I am blessed to be on this amazing journey.
More thoughts on this difficult journey of recovery and acceptance: