OCD, PTSD, ADD, ADHD, BP. Don’t let your mental illness define you. Let it make you stronger – because you are so much more than the definition of your struggle. You are stronger because you carry a bigger package than most, all while attending to life’s everyday loads.
It’s true- your life does flash right before your eyes when you have a near death experience. I know. I’ve had more than one. When you see your life pass in front of you in a matter of seconds, you see all the great things and people you have in them. All those people that you have affected. All those that affected you. You realize in those few seconds that you may lose all that.
You don’t know how you will react until it happens. You are changed forever. You try to control it. You’re embarrassed by it. You hide. You conceal your fears and feelings. You long for the person you once were, but you can’t seem to get back there. For me, the biggest issue is the effect of my new personality on my family. The burden or worry I may cause on them. It tears you up. It keeps you awake. You can’t shut your brain off…ever. You’re sweating, your heart is racing, you’re fidgeting, foot tapping, finger biting. You ask them, “Am I different now?” You pray. You just want some sort of reassurance that it’s okay..that you’re okay.
Then one day, maybe at your darkest moment…you realize…it IS okay. You have a mental illness. And it’s okay. It’s a sickness. It’s not something to be ashamed about. You’re alive. If you had a physical illness, you wouldn’t be embarrassed. You realize this is something that can be managed just like a physical illness, and it should be acknowledged and treated with the same acceptance and compassion as such.
I’m not claiming that this has not had a detrimental effect on me. The physical scars aren’t anything compared to the scars I carry that can’t be seen. Those are the ones that truly changed my life. I grieved for the old me. I have come to terms with this change in personality, but more importantly, I have decided to work WITH my illness, not against it. I have decided to reinvent myself the way I want to be and not let my illness reinvent me. It has taken me many years to get to this point of acceptance, but I finally know it’s okay to feel the way I do.
The struggle and anxiety will always be there but I know I can manage it. I know I will have my good days and my bad days. But I also know I have a supportive family and some close friends in my life who really care. I have also realized that it’s okay to ask for help, too, that it’s not a sign of weakness to just give in and ask. I still struggle with it, but I realize that it can be better to get help rather than try to do it solo.
My main struggle and at the forefront of my anxiety is the disruption of my family. In the early days of my first accident, when the fate of my left arm was still being decided, I was finally allowed to shower. I had not seen the mangled limb since that beautiful September day. As I unwrapped it slowly in the shower and took my first look at what now was left of my arm, I lost it. Hearing the horror, my daughter Susan immediately came in and stepped in the shower with me fully clothed and hugged me. We cried. Then we laughed at the sight. Naked mom, mangled arm, soaking wet teen. That is unconditional love.
I still cry in the shower sometimes. As a mom and wife, I would never have wanted to put my husband and children through such an ordeal. I am tormented by the pain and sadness that they went through. Although I know it was not my doing, I know that my present situation is a constant reminder of that past memory to them. I know my mom never could accept that her daughter was disfigured. She died still upset about my accident even after many years had passed. She would have never survived my second injury. I know my family has been affected. It upsets me.
So I’m getting there. I take deep breaths. I cry. I get angry. I struggle. I use my medication. I close my eyes in the car. I ride in the back seat, hug my “special pillow,” and clench my teeth. I pick myself back up. I’m trying. I keep busy. I read, walk, and talk to others. I know I’m not alone in this fight. I’m thankful for all I have not for what I lost. I pray…a lot. I know I’m loved by many.
I’m not defined by PTSD. My initials are AC – nothing more and definitely nothing less.
This is part of our yearly #SACommits series on mental health in Student Affairs. This May, we are exploring what mental illness looks like using different forms of expression – photos, drawings, videos, writing, etc. We hope to create better understanding of what it is like to live with mental illness, in an effort to stomp out stigma. Each week will have a theme -Throughout the lifespan, With Loved Ones, At Work, With Myself. For more information, see the intro post by Kristen Abell. Check out the other posts in this series too! You can also join the conversation by using our unique #SACommits Selfies print outs.