After years of therapy and a ton of hard work, I can finally taste the rewards of all that labour. I feel like the pieces of my life are starting to finally fall into place, and I’m becoming whole. The masks are falling off, the burdens of others shame has been lifted and I feel free to live my life the way I want to. But oh what a ride it’s been. And I’m not foolish enough to believe that it’s smooth sailing from here, but what I do feel like is that my ship is at least sturdy enough to be on the water. In the past, I didn’t even have a ship – I was out there without even a life jacket, desperately trying to keep my head above water.
I think the biggest change for me and the one that’s had the most significant impact is the feeling of congruency that I now experience more often. I used to feel like an outsider watching my life happen to me, never really engaging in it. I know now that was my way of coping with intense and painful emotions – detaching and removing myself. I always felt like different people – but never felt real or genuine and identity was a huge confusion for me. I put on masks to be what I thought people wanted me to be because I got my self-worth from others.
Living this way was confusing and difficult to cope with. In the beginning of my journey, I just wanted others to fix me. Give me a prescription and make it all good. But I came to realize that the onus of making the changes in my life was on my shoulders, and mine alone. I was beaten down to my lowest point and the only one who could choose to live was me.
Thus began the journey. I took on the task of rebuilding myself with the fierceness and intensity that I deserved. I found myself in endless amounts of group therapy, individual therapy, support groups, online support groups and numerous medical and psychiatric appointments. I pushed myself to make changes in my life but they didn’t happen overnight. I relapsed and I stumbled and I didn’t trust the process. Life managed to get in the way too – my children had needs that I had to tend to and stress set me back.
I wanted to give up so many times. I thought that I just can’t keep doing this and have this emotional pain in my life. What’s the point of all this? But I dug deep. And in doing so, I found that little girl in me that deserved to shine. I owed it to her to let her be who she was meant to be. So I pushed.
It helped tremendously that I had a great support team along my way. Doctors, friends, family, coworkers and even strangers from my online community all played a role in helping me continue to move forward. Despite the relapses and the setbacks, I persevered and pushed through. Again accessing therapy and treatment and finding ways to challenge myself. I began to find a purpose and a voice in my advocacy work. That little girl began to shine through more and more because she was being nurtured and allowed to be who she was. I no longer was feeling so disengaged from my life. I was feeling less and less like I was wearing a mask all the time.
Living with a mental illness has by far been the most challenging aspect of my life. It’s exhausted me, humiliated me, hurt me, terrified me and robbed me of many things. I’ve experienced the stigma and shame that comes with saying that I have mental illness and all the emotions that brings up. But I made a choice early on that I wasn’t going to bear the shame that wasn’t mine, which is why I speak so openly about my journey.
I’m thankful that I hung on through the hard times. That I dug deep and clung to that sliver of hope. That’s why I share my story. To let others know that there is always hope for a better tomorrow.