This is something that has been playing on my mind for a while now. When you have suffered with any kind of mental illness for a long period of time and for it to have taken over pretty much most aspects of your life, it can sometimes leave you with this feeling of ‘who the hell am I?’. When this feeling hits, it can feel like a kick to the stomach and gives you an ache in your chest, the realisation that you have lost yourself to what can be a brutal illness that is so misunderstood by the outside world. It’s almost like your identity is completely stripped and taken away. You start to wonder just who you would possibly be if you didn’t have your mental illness.
For me I can only answer this question with, ‘I don’t have a bloody clue!‘
Because I simply don’t have any idea. Anxiety and depression has taken over pretty much every aspect of my life. It’s stopped me from working, it’s stopped me from going to college, it’s stopped me from socialising, it’s stopped me from leaving the house, it’s stopped me from sleeping and eating, it’s stopped me from taking medication that is suppose to help me, it’s stopped me from going to events, it’s stopped me from having stable relationships with people and enjoying the things that are suppose to make me happy.
It has taken over every single thing I could possibly think of and you may be sitting here thinking ‘Well, why let it win? Why let it get that bad?’ and trust me, I have gone over the same thing in my head over and over again. I ask myself why I would let things go so bad and how I could ever do that to myself. But the thing is when you are so wrapped in it all, when you and everyone around you can’t understand the illness, it can just happen without you even realising and so so so quickly.
It almost becomes a way of life to live with this illness. It’s hard to imagine my life without it and a life before it seems like a very distant memory, it sometimes even feels like it wasn’t even possible. Everyone obviously has mental health, whether it’s good or bad is dependent on the individual. I know for sure I have had times before the diagnosis, even dating back to when I was eight years old of times when my mental health illness behaviours or thought patterns have cropped up. But it wasn’t until those four years ago at sixteen years of age did they become this huge problem for me to be diagnosed and classed as mentally unwell.
And it brings me on to then ask myself ‘What do you do if you don’t have it?’ like it almost confuses me to think that some people don’t actually suffer with mental illnesses like I do, like they don’t have to analyse everything, or stop themselves from doing things because they don’t have to take hundreds of things into consideration before hand. It’s like a completely different world I haven’t been familiar with for the longest time and almost feels impossible I could ever get there again.
It leaves you feeling empty and a little lost. You feel scared thinking whether or not your life will always be like this, if you will always have a mental illness and how much more it could possibly take from you when it’s taken everything already. You have nothing else for it to take. It has beaten and bruised everything that it can. The damage still remains and it’s a fighting battle to repair it all.
It makes time feel like it’s all been a huge waste, like you are a waste and that someone else should have your time and use it more productively than you have. It makes you feel guilty and ashamed. It makes you want to continue to run from it all and give up, or to give in and just let it takes its course, hope the only thing you have left on your side and sometimes even that is running out of energy.
So no wonder, you are sitting there, the thoughts inside your head screaming ‘Who am I without my mental illness?’
In my eyes, I find it hard to come up with any reasons. Whether that’s society telling me that if I don’t have ‘x, y, z‘ then I am a nobody, that I don’t have a label and can’t take an identity, or whether it’s just the illness telling me that I don’t deserve the be anything but the illness right now.
In someways, anxiety and depression has almost become like my annoying companion. They’re both always there when I wake up and even there at night when I go to sleep, sometimes interfering with my dreams. I can never escape it. But I can learn to work with it and sometimes even use it to my own advantage. The fight or flight system that functions alongside anxiety is something we all have. But for an anxiety sufferer, this system has gone slightly out of synch.
Right now I would say mine is rebooting, it’s trying to find it’s way again with a new system of functioning properly, in the way that I want it to rather than against me like it has done, which typically leads it to blowing up right in front of me of a chaos of emotions and destructive thoughts.
All this self torment from the illness that hasn’t just affected my life and my mental health, it’s also affected me physically also. But I can stand up now and say that I do not deserve any of it. That I have learnt through the sheer pain of it all and through hard work of educating myself over and over again, that I can actually be in recovery and to get my identity back piece by piece.
I have mentioned before on my blog that this year has been the most life changing and challenging, I have faced things that anxiety stopped me from doing, like going out for meals again, getting into a new relationship, sitting in a pub with actual people, going on short breaks away from home. For me last year these things seem so unattainable, like they could never possibly happen. But from hard work, motivation, encouragement and support from other people, self love and care, patience and understanding these things are possible and make everything seem so real again.
Do I want to go back to the person who I was before this illness?
No. I don’t.
Because as my therapist said, I am finding my feet in the world again. I am working out who I am and learning about myself. I am shifting into the person I was always supposed to be. I am learning and changing. I am walking that path towards change and transitioning into what I hope to be. I am discovering how to really and truly love myself and my life. I am trusting time and hope. I am giving my anxiety and depression a chance to just let it be, I am giving time to those feelings that I have pushed out of the way or worked against for so long. I am getting back my identity.
Any mental illness, whether it’s depression and anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, an eating disorder, bipolar, schizophrenia, any personality disorder etc, it does not have to define you or become the person you are. Sure you might have it take over your life, but you still live there inside. You’re still a human being. You still have feelings. You still deserve the best. You have every chance to start again. It might operate within you, but you do not operate within your illness. It does not have to win every battle nor does it have to dominate you anymore.
It can be scary to step back out there into the unknown without it screaming so loudly or ruling your every move. It can feel unfamiliar and different, something you’re not used to and it can be confusing. It can almost make you not want to be without it because it’s almost become like a comfort. But it doesn’t have to work so closely with you. It can be there. Just not in the same way. You can use it to move forward by accepting it, learning and letting go.
It will feel like you’ve lost something. But the biggest gain will be that you will find yourself again.
You will find out who you are without your mental illness. You will be able to step out that front door, breathe in the fresh air and put your feet firmly back on the ground. You will be able to turn to that person next to you, shining a bright genuine smile and feel the warmth hit your heart. You will be able to stand back up with courage and confidence, heading towards your new path of rebuilding your life and self. You will be able to achieve everything you want to and come out of this ten times stronger than what you were when you went into the storm.
So when you’re ready, work towards that recovery and walk towards finding yourself again without your mental illness shouting so loudly in the background. You will get better. I know it. I believe it. I am proof of it, and so are you. You are living proof it will get better.
Your illness does not have to be the biggest part of you. Your love, wisdom and strength will shine a lot brighter than it ever will.
Have you ever experienced this feeling?
What would you advice be to someone who feels this way?