What I Wish I Knew Starting My Mental Illness Journey
Mental Illness isn't weak, and neither are you.
I’ve been pretty open about my mental illness, partly it’s because I no longer give two shits about what people think of me - if they judge me then that is their issue. But the more important reason is the amount of support I’m able to reach by sharing my story with others. People often reach out to me, people I would have never expect to really talk to again past a casual “hbd” on facebook tell me how they’ve actually been suffering from a similar thing. People have told me how their sister/brother/aunt/cousin/best friend went through the same thing. People have messaged me saying that they have no idea what I may be going through, but they’ve been through their own issues too and want to send their support my way. Hearing something like that is what keeps me on my recovery journey, it reminds me that other people are going through the same thing as me. And with mental illness not only being, excuse my french, a stubborn mother fvcker, it’s extremely and undeniably isolating.
This sounds incredibly cheesy but it has been repeated over and over again for a good reason, the friends and people you meet while you’re recovering, the ones I’ve met and are still connecting with, become your family. When I was in inpatient I met some of the most strong people I know who became my best friends. The big “secret” that you’re trying to hide (ie. your mental illness that society makes you feel ashamed about), is suddenly all out on the table. There was no way I could walk into the eating disorder ward and be like, “oh hey guys, ya just here for a couple months for kicks, no eating related problems here.” Not a thing. And when all your shit is already exposed, you can really connect with people even deeper.
The best part about talking to people with mental illness? THEY FINALLY UNDERSTOOD ME! I felt like an angsty teenager for years thinking no one understood me or my issues. Countless well-meaning doctors, friends, and family would tell me to just calm down! Eat some more! Take some deep breaths! Try some yoga! I heard green tea really helps, or perhaps a juice cleanse? Ah yes, my years of mental illness could be cleared by fresh pressed organic/fair trade cucumbers with a hefty dose of knitting on the side - you geniuses you.
Not to be cynical, I know these people meant well, but there is an unparalleled difference in someone who has been through mental illness saying they understand vs. someone who hasn’t telling you the exact same sentence. With the stigma of mental illness being addressed but still obnoxiously present, I wanted to share things I wish I knew going into my journey (so basically from birth to present) in the hopes that even one person will see this and be like, you know what? That was aight’. Now, these are the things that have come from my recovery, and yours may be different, and it doesn’t mean that’s wrong - that would be giving myself A LOT of undeserved credit if I suddenly deemed my journey the way to do it, my ego is already big enough no need to add.
SO HERE WE GO!
I wish I knew I wasn’t alone.
As I talked about before, to say mental illness is isolating is an understatement. I've been in the types of crowded rooms T-Swift sang about, you know, a million people but all she sees is her James Dean daydream boy? Well for me, I can be in those rooms of people and not only feel extremely alone, but paranoid about being judged because I was engaging in eating disorder behaviours, or OCD rituals. When I was physically by myself, I had no strength to actually reach out for any kind of help because I felt like there was absolutely NO WAY that anyone could be having the kind of messed up thought I had.
Obviously, when I told people what was going on in my head, not everyone got it. For a lot of people, they didn't understand why I couldn't just finish my dinner, or why I had to say my prayers over and over again until I got them just right. They were confused, and that confusion sometimes meant it was easier to not talk about it.
But, for every person that didn't want to talk about it, there was an overwhelming number of people who were there for me. Ones that may not have understood what was happening, but offered their support none the less. Ones that not only knew what I was going through but had gone through it themselves. When I opened up to people who shared my experiences, gingerly trying to describe my experience to them waiting for them to get up and yell, you're crazy what?! They would nod and have a look of complete understanding. Going to the first support group I ever went to I didn't say a word, but just being in a room with people who understood what I was going through was the most important thing in my recovery so far. I didn't feel isolated or crazy for once, I felt understood. And isn't that what all existential crises goals are?
I wish I knew that mental illness is as important as physical illness.
"What if you had diabetes? Wouldn't you take your medicine?"
"Well, obviously mom, but I'm just being a baby, I just need to try harder."
The amount. of. times. I. had. this. conversation. Sure, I always heard that mental illness and physical illness were equally as important, and even though I said it, it's so hard to actually believe it when you feel like you could just try harder. I shamed myself for being too weak to go for a run, for being so anxious I couldn't go out with my friends. For not being able to stop my intrusive thoughts on my own. I was SO
I was SO hesitant to start taking medications because in my head that meant that I had given up. I'm stubborn, full stop. I really thought that taking a mental health day was me not trying hard enough, I thought I was weak, sometimes (most of the time is more like it honestly) I still do when I take time for myself.
I'm on medications now, and it's helped a lot. It took someone explaining that there was a literal, tangible, chemical imbalance in my brain that stopped me from being able to "do it on my own".
I wish I knew that fat isn’t a feeling.
This is specific to my eating disorder recovery, but can honestly apply to life in general. I learned during my first inpatient stay that whenever I started feeling bad, or if I was angry at some issue that was going on around me or inside of me the easiest thing to do was blame it on my body. It's so easy to push your real problems aside and blame your physical appearance for everything that goes wrong in your life. Ie, I totally would have been married to Harry Styles by now if I had skinnier thighs, or I probably would have gotten an A on that test but I'm just a fat loser. Yep, your brain can be a real bitch to your self-esteem when you hit a roadblock in life, but it's easier to shame your body than blaming it on your deep emotional issues you never really want to touch with a ten-foot pole.
The next time you say you feel fat, take a second to try and think of what you're actually upset about. It may be a little thing that pissed you off in the morning, or something bigger - but in the long run skipping a meal or running 10km cause you "feel fat" won't fix the problem, only keep it going longer.
I wish I knew how hard it actually was.
If I knew this at the beginning, it would have saved me countless hours of me thinking I wasn't trying hard enough. Mental Illness recovery is, in one very sophisticated word, a bitch. It's the hardest thing I've been through because you're constantly fighting your own internal belief system. More than that? You're literally REWIRING YOUR BRAIN. You have to make new brain paths and new thought patterns to replace the old destructive ones (that are not your fault just a reminder), you're firing new synapses and all that good neuroscience stuff!
So know, it will be hard. It is hard. But no matter what, you are doing the best you can. So please cut yourself some slack when you have slips, it's an incredibly hard journey and everyone has their downfalls before they go up.
I wish I knew now, how worth it all the fighting was.
I'm still recovering, and I'd be a liar if I said it was all behind me. Do I wish I was better now? Of course. My mental illness has taken away countless years of school, nights with friends, relationships with my family and best friends - but throughout my entire journey, I've had glimpses of what it's like to be recovered. And let me tell you, completely unbiased - it's fvcking UNREAL. I throw out unreal a lot, but this time think of the most amazing thing you have ever felt, seen, or done and multiply that by about a million and twenty-four.
Being able to feel no guilt about saying no? Being able to be carefree and go out for meals with friends? Not looking at my body and shaming it for keeping me alive? Being able to hang out with friends without worrying about if I got enough exercise in for the day? Being able to read a horrifyingly tragic news story without feeling guilty for making it happen? Talking to my mom about something other than if I went to my doctor appointment? It's worth every single moment I've been through and more. Those moments, and the support network I have with me keep me going. I'm forever grateful for my mental illness because it's made me the incredibly dope person I am today, and the very humble one to boot; it's also given me a new perspective on life.
And I'm so ready to jump into that new life and leave my mental illness behind. I wish I was there now of course but I know I'll get there because people are fighting alongside me, and I know that all this stigma that was keeping me sick gets a little duller with people sharing their stories.
Recovery is beyond worth all the struggle you are facing. All the plateaus and the feelings of being stuck WILL pass, I've seen it happen, I've lived it. And I'm so confident I'm going to kick this thing in the ass once and for all, and I wish you know that you will too because we're fighting this together. We all have the collective strength that comes from each other struggling when we talk about our experiences, and so I sincerely hope this helped even one person.
Because I wish for both of us that we know how sweet recovery is for an infinite period of time, we got this.