Fear, the Future, and an Identity Crisis

Some days are worse than others, which likely always will be the case. Sometimes I just wake up feeling on edge or upset and I can’t seem to pull myself out of what can only really be described as “a funk“.

Yesterday was one of those days. I was really upset most of the day. Being in a low mood like that kind of casts a negative light on everything – like looking through a dark-coloured glass… I moped around most of the day but in the evening I finally let the waterworks come and had a bit of a breakdown. After the cathartic cry, I realized I felt significantly better. But I immediately felt bad for this. Of course my nonsensical mind makes me feel guilty for feeling any less miserable.

I wish I knew why. Maybe It makes me feel like my low mood meant nothing if it came and went so easily. I felt like I should have been able to turn my day around earlier, and then I regret having “wasted time” bumming around.

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To some extent I guess this experience reminded of the dark place I’ve been climbing out of over the past year, and makes me question whether it was just a flaw of character that prevented me from being able to feel better, since it seemed like the “fix” to my low mood yesterday was just a good cry. However, I think I have to admit these moods were/are different. I don’t fully understand to what extent, because many of the negative thought patterns associated with them were similar. But several months ago, a sadness had a hold of me that no amount of crying could ever have washed away. Several months ago things were much less hopeful, much darker. It makes sense that these moods might come back to some extent, but maybe instead of with the full force of a devastating tsunami they ebb and flow like the tides – more natural and calm.

The familiar weight of my sadness yesterday reminded me of how long I spent living in the dark. The misery was familiar, and change in any form is uncomfortable, to me at least. I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t have to be miserable all the time to mean that my struggles were (or are) valid. Yes, the “Sad” that joined me yesterday might not have been expressed in same way that my Sad was earlier this year, but it doesn’t mean that it is any less real. Yesterday was a tough day. Period. The good news is, that I know this doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be a tough life. So maybe these bad moods won’t stick around as long as they used to and I’m not completely blinded to the light I’ve been cultivating for myself.

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I don’t have to hide my good days because people might expect me to be sad all the time.

It’s hard to redefine what my identity might be apart from my depression and anxiety. I’ve never really existed without them before, at least for as long as I can remember. I feel like they’re part of who I am and for all I know they might be – I’ve been told that people with anxiety and eating disorders often share similar temperaments that predispose us to develop destructive coping mechanisms. This might mean that while part of me, if left unchecked, can run rampant and take over, that same part of me can be what makes me successful and what makes me strong. I just haven’t exactly found how to balance those different halves that yet. Part of me embracing how my mental illness contributes to my identity has been fed by my online presence on Instragram and blogging. My purpose with self-disclosure is that I feel helps me heal and make sense of my chaotic mind. Not only does it help me put my thoughts into words in a sort of therapeutic process, but it also helps me grow and connect to others with similar struggles.

I think my struggles have (and will continue to) shape who I am, but hopefully in a constructive way where I won’t allow myself to be controlled nor completely defined by them. I don’t have to dismiss everything I went through in attempt to prevent letting that suffering “define me”. I can wear what I’ve overcome as a badge of honour that helped me find my true path. Provided, of course, that I do try to find a path beyond my darkness. That being said, I’m at a precipice now where I’m scared to take the leap to pursue anything different.

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So… What’s next?

Of course I want to get better. At least, I’m pretty sure I do. But just like I found comfort in my illness I think found comfort in being “The Sick One”. However I came to accept this identity (whether I started embodying my labels too heavily or feeling that care from others is contingent upon remaining sick) I have realized that it might contribute to part of the reason I’m scared to change. Being The Sick One meant I only had to focus on surviving. Being The Sick One in some ways gives me an excuse not to have to think about or face the inevitable and unpredictable challenges of life. In some ways I allowed myself to embrace the familiar challenges of my mind that I’ve come so accustomed to “living” with.

I guess “living” in quotations because it’s not truly living… I can imagine that living a free life will be unpredictable and uncomfortable but hopefully someday soon I’ll be ready to face that. Whereas living with my depression, anxiety, and eating disorder are just uncomfortable (and a little less unpredictable). Of course I don’t choose to suffer. I didn’t choose to feel the need to starve myself near death, nor did I choose to endure unbearable pain. However, now’s the time where I have to choose to fight. Fight for something I’m terrified of – the unknown. And I’m finding it hard to make this choice. What if I try something different but I’m still not happy?

What if I can’t find an identity outside of my illness?

What if I don’t like what I do find?

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I feel pressure to do everything right – including recover. 

I guess right now I feel pressure. I have always put pressure on myself, whether or not others actually held high expectations of me in reality, I’ve been scared to let people down. I realize now too how scary it must have been for my loved ones to see me destroy myself this last year. My pain caused them pain. They were left in the dark trying to figure out how to help me when I refused help altogether. It’s hard not to feel bad about this. I’m trying to remind myself that mental illness isn’t a personal failure nor a choice and because of that, I didn’t mean to intentionally worry those I love. Of course now, trying to make this choice to fight, means I have to admit I have some form of control. And if I make mistakes (like I know I will) I risk hurting those people again. So arrises the pressure, whether self-imposed or derived from responsibility I feel to others.

Ironically, while in other areas of my life I’ve been discovering that I need to strive to make decisions about what I want to do, or that might make me happy (instead of constantly prioritizing others), my recovery (or lack thereof) is where I especially can’t help but think of how my actions affect others. Because its difficult to see things for myself theres a constant battle between my illness steering me away from health and those people who might have my best interests in mind that I’m told to blindly trust. My mind tells me that I don’t really want to get better but deciding to throw in the towel on recovery feels like a slap in the face to everyone trying to support me.

I know mental illness lies but people do too, and even knowing how disease can manipulate your thoughts I’m still neither good good at surrendering to the unknown nor blindly trusting people. I feel like my mind is being pulled in two different directions – The voices of my care team, my loved ones, (even sometimes science), telling me one thing, while my disease fights against this for dear life. Mental illness really knows how to spin logic in a destructive way, but I guess I just have to keep reminding myself that its a dirty liar. I don’t want to listen to my disease but I don’t particularly want to listen to others either. So here I am, faced with having to do something people are telling me I should, when my mind tells me the opposite. All I can do is try and hold on to the part of me that truly wants freedom. The part of me (that I’m having trouble finding) separate from my mental illness. Maybe this is the part of me my friends and family have been trying to appeal to, the part they must know is there even though I can’t see it myself.

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I don’t have to be happy all the time because I’m “in recovery” and am actively trying to get better.

I won’t always make the right choices but I feel like there’s pressure to. Now there’s pressure to do what will make me happy. But I honestly don’t know what that is.

What if I can’t achieve happiness?

I’m worried about trying to make the right choice because I don’t know if it will make a difference and also because I guess I’m scared that it will. What if I have to admit that a change (such as changing university programs – which I’m currently considering for the second time) ends up making me significantly happier? Again, my mind is trying to deceive me – It tells me this means everything I went through was a waste. That if something so simple can “fix it” it really wasn’t a problem after all. Was I just not strong enough to cope with taking classes that don’t interest me? People do this all the time and not all of them have breakdowns…

Does this mean that the root cause of my unhappiness all along was the wrong path? Probably not… Does this mean that changing paths will protect me from ever being unhappy again? Probably not… Does it mean I shouldn’t try? Probably not….

If it helps, that’s good. Even if it’s for a while. It doesn’t mean that everything I struggled through before was in vain, or even had anything to do with what program I was in. It just means that now I’m seriously thinking about how to actually take care of myself. Whereas before I was completely and utterly overcome by my illness and consequently, ignoring any potential happiness. Since I’m alive, which I honestly didn’t think I would be, why waste any more time doing something that makes me unhappy?

I’m still strong, I’m just healing.

Yes I admit, I probably am more vulnerable to doing things I don’t enjoy than other people are (especially now because I know I’m still emotionally raw) but that doesn’t mean it’s a fact of my character that I can’t over come difficulties. The fact that I’m still here proves that I can. It also doesn’t mean I won’t ever be able to “suck it up” and get through doing something I don’t want to do in the future. After all – a lot of life involves doing things you don’t necessarily want to do. But right now I’m just trying to actually take my happiness seriously. And in this circumstance I can do something that might very well help me reach that so-called happiness.

I guess there’s a difference between those things you don’t want to do, but probably should anyways (like brushing your teeth, or paying your taxes) and those things you don’t want to do but maybe for a good reason. Somewhere along the way I must have assumed that I just always had to do what I didn’t want to in order to be successful.

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Doing something easy isn’t going to help you improve. 

What I’ve done so far hasn’t really worked. Sticking through my program just because it seems more convenient feels an awful lot like something I would have done in the past, and maybe this is what I’m trying to avoid. Maybe I should try something different.

What if it doesn’t work?

What if changing programs doesn’t fix everything? Because, hey, it likely won’t.

Being in a different course isn’t necessarily going to render me immune to depression or anxiety for the foreseeable future. But I guess this isn’t an excuse not to try. I should at least try and do something that has the potential to make me happy.

I don’t know why I’m so reluctant to take care of myself or even why I seem to shy away from feeling good. Maybe I don’t think I deserve it. Its uncomfortable to me. Years of telling myself, and treating myself like I’m not good enough have made me believe it through and through. I guess I don’t have to fully feel like I deserve it to try something new.

Achieving happiness doesn’t mean my suffering never existed. It just means it doesn’t weigh on me as much as it used to. It means I survived. I suffered yes, but I also learned a lot about myself in the process. Mental illness isn’t transient. I have a deeper identity beyond what is a product of my genetics and environment. The same “Me” exists whether I’m depressed or not. Depression isn’t a life sentence. Yes people may struggle on and off with it as a “cyclic” illness for a lot of their lives, but thats almost all the more reason to chase those brighter moments whenever you can. Not only will you be better able to appreciate them but you will likely be better able to recognize where they can be found. Maybe you can even help others find their own happy moments too.

You can’t give up. You can’t just be resigned to your unhappiness. Maybe this tendency arises from depression itself. Trying to cull my motivation before I even get started. Trying to convince me that I shouldn’t bother trying. This may also be fed by my anxiety to make the right decision or the fact that I honestly don’t know what will happen. But, recognizing that I’m scared to try presents me with an opportunity to make a choice – to push for something different.

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Those who care now won’t stop caring when you recover. 

Yes people care for you when you’re sick, but that’s because they care about you first. The transient you that exists with or without your suffering. They aren’t only there for you because of your illness. You are you without your diseases (even if it doesn’t feel like it and even if you don’t know who you are). Yes, you might need extra TLC during the hard times, but I’m sure you’ll much prefer the better times. (Plus, you can’t know what The Better Times will bring unless you try).

Wouldn’t you like to change the nature of your relationships? Even though its a fear of mine – it really isn’t likely that once you recover you’re going to transform into some unrecognizable person who everyone leaves because they hate. What’s more likely is that the good aspects of you – the ones that have always been there and all the parts of you that are loved – will be the most prominent aspects of you. It feels good to help others – and you can do that from a better place. You can enjoy others’ company and not feel guilty about “bringing the mood down”. Yes, you might fall down again, but you’re still you. You were you before your illness took over and will be you afterwards, sad or happy, those who truly care, care about YOU.

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A sort-of summary ~ for my own benefit.

Yes my illness is familiar and predictable, but so is my unhappiness. I may not think I deserve anything different but I might as well try and see what happens – if not for myself, then for those who care about me and want to see me succeed. Those who support me know I will fail – they’re likely better at accepting this than I am myself – so things will be okay.

The pain of change is scary, but not nearly as scary as having to live in misery forever. Its hard to know who to listen to when you’ve only ever listened to your illness but this is the time to try something new.

I don’t owe any part of my recovery journey to anyone except myself. And I now have the opportunity to define what “myself” actually is. I am so much than my mental illness labels and there is no rush to figure this out. I set the pace of my own journey – forward is forward, no matter how slow. I just have to try to keep moving in that direction.

I will lean on others until I can see my own worth and trust even though its uncomfortable. I will make mistakes, but so will they, and together we will learn and grow. Things don’t have to be perfect but they also don’t always have to suck either. Neither prolonging nor denying my pain will make it any more valid. I always have been, and will always be, intrinsically worthy – no matter how the product of  my genetics and environment manifests itself at any given point in time.

xx

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