I’d noticed that a lot of the popular stories of mental illness and recovery that I was hearing were told from the point of view of people who were stable, who had recovered, or who had found some amazing coping mechanism. I wondered if that made it difficult for people on the outside to understand what they were seeing. I mean, does it really reduce the stigma or increase the understanding of disabling mental illness if we’re not putting all our stories out there? I figured it probably wasn’t helping, at least. So, I decided to put my story out there.
There is a more detailed, specific story, though.
A while ago, a friend of mine started a blog. You see, this friend has been struggling with severe anxiety and panic attacks for eight or nine months (…if I’ve got my timeline sorted out…), and she wanted to find a way to cope and work through the craziness. I’ve played with the idea on and off for years, so I totally understood why she wanted to do it and I was super glad that she was! It seemed helpful to her.
At the same time, her new blog stirred up so many bitter, grumpy, and generally bad feelings in me, and I wasn’t completely sure why. As is to be expected with anxiety, depression, and many other mental illnesses, the unwanted, emotional thoughts started running through my head at full speed: Why does she get to tell her story? She’s barely suffered! I’ve been at this way longer, and I’ve had to give up so much more! And on and on they went…
The problem is, I didn’t actually think these things, my illness just tried to convince me that I did.
I was proud of her for fighting through her anxiety and for having the courage to share her story. I’ve talked a lot about how important it is to not be ashamed and to talk about mental health, so, how could I possibly have anything other than positive feelings towards her and her blog?
Regardless of my rational thinking, my irrational thoughts remained.
In the last three years, I’ve crashed and burned half a dozen times and I’ve had to take time off school, leave jobs, end relationships, visit hospitals, and eventually drop out. But all she had to do was defer her exams for a month, move home for the summer, and now she’s back to life again. So, why is it her story and not mine?
My illness seemed hellbent on using her blog to bring me down. I’ll admit, it did work for a while. I was upset that the story being told was her relatively short and easy recovery. Would other people now expect for this to be the case all the time? I’ve already dealt with people surprised or offended that I wasn’t getting better fast enough, was there now going to be even more? I’ve been sitting, and stewing, and struggling, and fighting tooth and nail for over three years and here she was, after eight months, with seemingly all the answers and all of the audience, and all of the love and support.
To me, she was so lucky and I was so bitter. She had the privilege to not be scared, not doubt herself so much, and, mostly importantly, to get better. That was the root of it all: why couldn’t I just get better? Why does she get to move forward, and I’m stuck here, in the same spot I’ve been for three whole years?
I was wrong, though. People don’t get better because they’re more deserving or because they’re lucky, just like we don’t get sick because we deserve it. We just get sick. And no one’s story is any more or less difficult or worthy than anyone else’s.
The comparison game is a losing one. It only serves to divide people and foster bitterness and resentment. Even worse, it leads people to think that they don’t need or deserve help.
I’ve, thankfully, moved past those destructive thoughts (for the most part) and on to more constructive things — namely, my blog.
I mentioned earlier that I’ve thought of sharing my story over the years. I mostly want to be able to help others who have been in my position and who will be in my position. I haven’t done it until now because I thought I couldn’t do it properly until I was ‘better.’ (I talked about more of my illnesses’ black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking in my first post.)
The more I thought about it the more it got to me. Why can’t we share the tough stories? The rough, unfinished, unflattering, undiscovered paths that are so common in mental health and recovery.
So, after lots and lots of thought, I decided there was no harm. My story is unfinished. It’s not pretty, it’s very messy, and it can get scary, but there’s no real harm to sharing it.
That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to share my story and I hope that you join me. I hope that at least one person can find comfort or help in my story and that it helps them to fight for themselves and push through their own battles.
Ready? Lets fight together.