I’m not saying you have to have it all seamlessly together to be loved. I actually think that real love grows when someone finds unspeakable beauty in the place you’ve been cut open. But the thing is, you can’t expect someone else to heal those wounds. They can love you and that love can facilitate healing, but you are the only person who can heal yourself. Nobody else will ever be able to alleviate your burdens. It may seem like it for a little while, but the brokenness of your foundation will always show eventually.
Yes, love is transformative and enlightening and humbling and probably the most real thing we can experience. It is responsible for a whole slew of meticulousness, but romantic love will not solve your problems. The high you get from the newness of someone will eventually subside, as it always does, and you’ll be left even more raw than you were before, facing the brutal reality that the thing you were waiting for to fix everything didn’t.
It’s for this reason that I believe we often see people undergoing self-transformations after breakups. Of course there are other reasons for these behaviors, but I do think that in many cases, it has to do with people realizing that nobody else is responsible for resolving their own issues.
People and love can be the most integral part of the healing process. But you can’t just wait for somebody else to do the work. You have to get your ass on the floor, realize that you’re imperfect and you feel unworthy and you’ve made mistakes and you’re afraid of this and that and the other thing. You have to come to terms with these things that are inside you. You don’t have to like them. You just have to be able to sit with them. You have to be okay enough to still be standing on your own if and when somebody leaves you there.
The happily ever after will not save you, and the love of your life will not heal you. They will only love you, and while that may facilitate great healing, it can also be the source of your demise if things don’t work out until the day you die of old age. If your peace and acceptance is contingent on someone else, and if your hope is external, you do not really have any of those things. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you do, it will be a price that you alone will have to pay.
This isn’t a happily-ever-after article. But it is real and honest, and not without hope.
Recovering from mental illness isn’t a lot of things.
It isn’t a linear process, nor is it easy or fair.
It isn’t about reaching a destination of full-time happiness. It isn’t about feeling invincible or being impermeable.
It isn’t an endless run of good days either. Often, it isn’t about having a good day at all – it’s about feeding yourself well, wearing comfortable clothes, and not giving up just yet.
These lonely nights and even lonelier days happen when the world is up but you’re not really ‘here.’ It isn’t about forcing any emotion or willing yourself to return home.
Sometimes it’s feeling like there’s no way out, despite how hard you’re trying to push through the murkiness. Sometimes, it’s looking forward to the hours, growing in number, that you can be unconscious. It’s hoping you’ll wake up tomorrow and feel differently. It’s being gutted when you don’t.
It is, however, about celebrating when these difficult times are few and far between. It’s celebrating wins, no matter how small.
It’s also appreciating that your mind makes you empathetic, kind, and patient, even though deep down you’d trade all those things to just feel a bit of peace.
It’s wanting to trade this brilliant mind of yours for one that doesn’t actively work against you. Failing this, it’s wishing you could remove it from your skull and give it a thorough clean.
Recovery is an inconsistent and isolating experience. Every now and then, it’s being convinced that there isn’t a single soul on this earth who understands. It’s disappointment because you didn’t think it would be like this.
It’s relating to every heavy metal ‘fuck the world’ song. It’s relating to the gut-wrenchingly beautiful power ballads of Cher, Celine, Shania, and Mariah. It’s also relating to cheesy ‘90s pop and easy listening tunes that remind you of better times – that there will be better times ahead.
It’s dying your hair and moving to a new city. It’s searching for quick fixes that will make you feel brand new and solve everything, even for a little while. It’s choosing vices that make life bearable.
It’s dealing with the cards you’ve been dealt. It’s feeling like you yourself are built of a house of cards – flimsy, unpredictable, and entirely collapsible.
It’s hearing repeatedly that ‘everyone has their stuff,’ but quietly knowing that your ‘stuff’ isn’t quite the same. It’s knowing that while you can’t quantify anyone else’s pain, especially from wounds you cannot see, that severe mental illness is a special kind of torture.
It’s having your heart broken – not by a person, but by this situation.
It’s shattering like glass and discovering the pieces in unexpected places at unexpected times. It’s worrying you’ll never feel whole again. It’s worrying you were never whole to begin with.
It’s failing two courses in one college semester after being an academic overachiever for consecutive years. It’s letting these things go – things that are important to others but can’t be to you, at least not right now. It’s watching on helplessly as maintaining a top GPA tumbles down your list of priorities, not because you want it to but because your brain isn’t giving you a choice. It’s putting your dreams on hold time and time again. These aren’t necessarily even big dreams of yours – just little things that don’t come very easily.
Some weeks, it’s eating nothing but cookie dough and pizza.
It’s feeling like your head is on fire and finding new ways to douse the flames. It’s fearing these flames will reignite somewhere down the track, often without warning or obvious reason.
It’s biting your tongue when ignorant, arrogant people tell you how to tie your laces, despite never having stood in your shoes. It’s making them uncomfortable with your gallows humor.
So too is it feeling like a shitty friend. It’s knowing you should be there, need to be there, but can’t. It’s feeling everything all at once and sometimes feeling nothing at all.
It’s feeling there’s not a single combination of words in the English language that will make any of it okay – not imagined by your psychologist or mum or partner… no one. It’s knowing there isn’t a single combination of words that will ever do justice to what your mind does to you, either.
It’s weeping silently in scummy public toilets because you don’t want any of these people to have front row seats to this version of you.
It’s being grateful for support but every so often feeling like it’s not enough. It’s grieving lost time and experiences you didn’t get to live fully. It’s grieving who you could be, should be. It’s stopping to smell the roses but sometimes feeling like no sweet perfume or amount of sunshine will ever make the pain worth it.
It’s about being realistic and, when able, cautiously optimistic.
It’s giving new meaning to the phrase ‘you do you.’ It’s cancelling plans. It’s lying to loved ones because you fear the truth is just too much, too awful to say aloud. It’s fearing those you keep close will bristle or throw their hands up and admit defeat when they hear you speak. It’s shutting down and sometimes shutting off.
It’s also giving special meaning to the word ‘resilience’ – it’s knowing it takes incredible bravery to stomach your thoughts and weather thunderstorms so brutal and unapologetic in nature. It’s wishing you didn’t have to be this strong all the time.
It’s feeling powerful. Sometimes, it’s feeling powerless. It’s letting go of parts of your identity to make room for new parts – parts that are perhaps less shiny but definitely more genuine and therefore valuable.
It’s accepting that relapse is possible.
And it’s learning to turn the volume down. It’s learning to be relentless instead of fearless, so that even when you’re afraid, you keep going. It’s continuing to fight when you’d convinced yourself there were no more beasts to battle, when you thought the war was over.
Recovering from mental illness is many things.
Most importantly, though, it’s being down but not out. It’s knowing that waving the white flag will put a stop to it all – the bad, the tiny glimpses of good, as well as the potential for something really great. Some days, it’s not wanting to die but just wanting this life as you know it in these moments to end.
Recovery is best done loudly so that we can keep others from dying quietly.
You find yourself in a predicament. Maybe of your creation or maybe of someone else’s infliction. Maybe it’s no one’s fault. Maybe it’s just the cruelty of the universe. Maybe it’s the alignment of the stars. Maybe it was your cursed fate. The origins are uncertain but the pain is well known. The predicament hurts, the difficulty is overbearing and the dilemma is suffocating.
So what is this exact predicament? The details are complicated and cumbersome. Their relevancy is questionable. Their contribution ceased at their initial existence. We do not need to know what led you to this conflicting point. Your next steps are not contingent on what has happened. Your next steps can be simplified into a single choice.
You’re standing in the crossroads. One sign tells you to continue down the path you just traveled on. Choose this path and you choose further instability. Choose this path and you choose endless potholes and unpaved roads. Choose this path and you are marked by an eternal struggle. Choose this path and you will be confined and subjected to the very chains that overwhelm you today.
Don’t dwell in the particulars. Don’t drown in the specifics. Don’t allow yourself to be victimized by the nostalgia. The past was never meant to be resurrected.
Let it go. Let go of whatever and whoever hurt you. Wipe away the tears and forgo the anger. Detach yourself from the sources of your pain. Don’t let your mind wander, don’t let the memories haunt you. Eclipse their arrival and cease such anguish in this instance.
You’re standing in the crossroads. One sign tells you to continue down the path you just traveled on but the other path is novel. Choose this path and you choose stability. Choose this path and you choose paved roads. Choose this path and you are marked by eternal freedom. Choose this path and you will finally be free from the chains that overwhelm you.
Allow yourself to dwell in this possibility, in this possibility that you can and will rebuild. Allow yourself to drown in the hopeful possibility that you will get better. Allow yourself to be treated right by the expectant optimism of the unwritten. The future is yours to discover.
Make the single decision to rectify your story from one of pain and suffering to one of resurrection. Take the powerful step forward. The exact stages will come to you in time. Right now, just make the commitment to yourself. Oblige yourself to salvation. Repeat this pledge to yourself over and over. I choose to recover, I choose to heal and watch yourself rise from the ashes and blossom into a resilient emblem.