This is not a WebMD definition or a criteria out of a therapists DSM 5, but an excerpt of what a mental illness is like for me, an individual with lived experience. While I understand not every experience is the same, I can only tell you what I struggle with as an individual in recovery. I can tell you that the darkness that comes along with a mental illness is extremely hard to conquer, especially with a lack of family support. While there is help and there is hope through our providers, sometimes all I need to hear from them, or anyone, is that it is okay to feel hopeless at times.
As the beating in my chest pierces my skin, it feels as if my heart is about to escape from my body. I feel like I am dying, and I feel like, at the same time, I am too alive and too in touch with my emotions. When someone tells me to go get help or talk to my therapist I feel alone; I feel like I am too different or too complicated to have a conversation with my peers and loved ones. While I understand that no one can grasp the exact feelings that come along with a mental illness, sometimes I wish empathy meant closing your eyes and imagining some unknown object squeezing your whole entire body.
I wish for the people in my life to imagine what it is like to literally be weakened by your own thoughts. It is as if you are locked in a box 12 feet under freezing cold ice water. You can’t ignore that you are trapped, and you certainly cannot ignore the fact that your body is freezing. And, just like with mental illness, your hope soon begins diminishing. Once you are lifted into safety, the fear of darkness still remains inside of you.
Sometimes my thoughts taunt me. They say what I was told by my step-mother, my own mother and my grandmother — that I am worthless. That I am fat, ugly, and that the abuse was my fault. After these thoughts, a wave of my dad’s suicide creeps in, and two seconds later, without having time to catch my breath, a few more waves of how alone I am and how tired I am takes away my next chance to breathe. When I finally get a chance to breathe, I have no time to talk. I have to prepare for the next session of saving my own life and becoming capsized by a wave of depression.
It is okay to feel this way, in fact, it is the closest thing to normal and the bravest thing a human can do. Every day I fight a battle that I have lost before, on the same battle grounds that I have almost lost my life on. That, in itself, is bravery. That is recovery — to become one with my illness and accept the feelings that come along with it. Conquering an illness does not mean being happy all of the time. Recovery does not mean getting over our illness 100 percent, but to find a balance of acknowledging that it exists and acknowledging that we are who we are, and we are not our diagnosis.
As an individual with lived experience, I can tell you that conquering a mental illness is an everyday thing. I know that I will be alright, but sometimes I need to embrace the very feelings that allow me to appreciate happiness. Cheers to hope and cheers to healing. Today I walk for recovery, for myself, my dad in heaven, and for all of my family at Prime Time and DHMAS. Today I walk for my daughter because I want her to see that her mommy is a warrior and that the bravest thing you can do is fight when you have been defeated.