This article is for mature audiences and may contain triggers involving, but not limited to, mental illness.
Life with a handful of mental illnesses is something I’d never wish on anyone- I have major depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I find most of my average day is spent feeling lost in a sea of emotions and working on trying to regulate them so I’m not a walking disaster. Some days I’m manic and full of joy I can’t contain, and others I’m in the deepest depths of my depression. But more often than either, I have days where I’m handling both and everything in between from one moment to the next and they flip like a switch. I can go from that euphoric joy directly into the pit of sadness and from there it can change again to something unrelated, say, anxiousness. It’s exhausting! It’s also something that makes it difficult to maintain healthy friendships and romantic relationships; it isn’t easy keeping up with a tornado of emotions. Luckily, I have an incredible support system filled with people who show me nothing but love, compassion and a need to understand and offer a helping hand when I’m going through it.
I have often worried that I was not enough because I’ve always had a difficult time maintaining a “normal” with my mental illness. That nagging thought made it nearly impossible for me to believe I’m anything but a failure. I’d often think to myself: if countless others could do it, why couldn’t I? I understand now that we all move at our own pace and that there’s no failure when walking down the path of recovery. There are stops along the road and sometimes there are pitfalls, but there’s no failure. Failure sounds like a bad ending to a situation, and I don’t believe there’s an ending to the journey of navigating mental health- only growth!
I’ve seen rock bottom a handful of times, though the one in recent times has probably been my worst. For the last two years, I’ve been struggling with my mental health worse than usual. I’d sunk down into the lowest of lows with my depression, which triggered the emotional roller-coaster that is my BPD and the post-traumatic stress disorder I’d gained from a sexual assault. I was in a place so dark and so suffocating that I felt not that I’d hit a low away from the light, but that light no longer existed for me. It was only me and my misery. It was an extremely hard thing to come to terms with; there wasn’t anything, in particular, that had caused it. My other rock bottoms were started by something, be it a traumatic situation or some other difficult moment. This wasn’t like that. I was fine and then I wasn’t and as the days carried on I got worse and worse. I wound up leaving a job I loved, I had to go on to medical employment insurance in an attempt to get by and I was both heavily medicated and hospitalized. It was a hell tailored just for me. It was bad enough that I attempted to take my own life.
Today I’m still in that situation, although I’ve grown exponentially from the experiences I’ve had. I take the struggles I’ve gone through and try to see something similar to a silver lining. I know I can’t say I found good in them, but I did find learning experiences. The hospital initially felt like a punishment, but I used my time there to do everything I could to get better: I socialized with other patients and made new friends who understand my struggle through and through. I attended groups and listened attentively, took notes and practiced the things I was taught. And I dove headfirst into a ton of self-help books and workbooks. I decided that if I wasn’t working my full time job, then my new job would be to work on getting to a better place. I continue to have a hard time, I’m adjusting to new medications and I still have plenty of hard days, but I’m surviving and I can even say I’m thriving as best as I can which is night and day compared to how I was before.
Mental illness has, unfortunately, followed me since I was 15 years old and it’s shaped my life and myself as a person. It’s not all bad, though! Because of the path, roadblocks and all, I am who I am today and I can say that I like who I am. Maybe not always, but mostly. I’ve managed to take patience and understanding, something I’ve generally always had for others, and can now apply it to myself. I know to be kinder to myself despite what my mind may tell me. Just like everyone else out there, I’m doing the best I can, and that’s something worth applauding. I think I’ve always been strong, in a sense, though my strength was something more aligned with stubbornness and passive-aggressive behavior. Now I know that I can be just as strong while accepting that I’m not doing well and allowing myself downtime to cope, open up and seek assistance. I’m more of an assertive person who knows her value and to speak for it while respecting other people’s values. Perhaps I haven’t been made stronger, but I’ve been made a much more gentle soul and that’s been important to me.
I believe it’s important for others to know that it’s okay not to be okay. It really, truly is. There’s still an ugly stigma surrounding mental health and I know there’s plenty out there who struggle with it silently and who feel ashamed. Please don’t. Your mental health illness is simply that- an illness. An ailment. A disease. An injury. Would you cover up the flu, cancer, or something like a broken foot? Would you decide all you need to do for your poor eye-sight is to toughen up and manage? Heck no! Your illness is valid. You’re valid and it’s so so so so important to be able to speak up about the way you’re feeling. You don’t need to be someone like me, who wears their mental health on their sleeve and speaks openly about it to an audience via their social media, but it’s important to talk to someone you trust or even just a healthcare professional. You deserve to live your best life and the first step is acknowledgment and treatment. I know that our minds can tell us that we’re not loved and that we’re doomed, so we make our home in the dark place, but please know that at the very least I love you and if I can find an inkling of light, you can, too.
I wish that people knew what I want everyone to remember for one another- and that’s that we all have our own stories and our own struggles. I try to live my life by that- treating others with kindness and respect because despite how they may portray themselves they could have gone through the wringer, or are currently going through it. I’m told I come off as bright, articulate and high-functioning, plus I’m the type of friend who will crack jokes despite any of my situations, but that’s not who I am on the inside. I struggle deeply. Each day is hard for me- I simply don’t show it a lot because I fear judgment from others. I fear they’ll think I’m weak, or that I’m faking, or maybe that I’m being a big old wet blanket. So what I want people to know is that, while they don’t necessarily need to know the play by play of my life, they should know that my mental health illness is something that affects my life greatly and that it’s real and it’s painful. Please handle it as such. And that goes for everyone! Be nice, be kind and give love. The world will be better for it.
I want to be remembered as a fighter. I want people to look back at my life and see that I fought the whole way and that I did my best to stand on a soapbox and speak about the things that mattered to me. I believe my life would be a waste if I didn’t use my own experience and knowledge to make the world a brighter and better place for others. I’m only one person, and my voice doesn’t carry far, but if I can do anything that changes even one person’s life for the better then I lived a good life.
Shay Shaughessy is a mental health blogger. She shares about her battle with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She wants everyone to know they are never alone in their struggles and that all of our stories are worth sharing.