Merriam-Webster defines illness as, “a specific condition that prevents the body or mind from working normally.” If this is true, then how do we succeed in a world designed by and for “normal” minds? Here’s what I think: We do it like McGyver, with nothing but a safety pin, a stick of gum and a thimble. We do it like Ginger Rogers, dancing backwards, in heels. We do it like Joseph Friedman, who thought straws should be bendier, just because. For both the famous and the unfamous, success often requires a great deal of creativity.
Here’s what she said, “If you have pleased everyone who has asked something of you, you are doing something wrong. It’s ok to say no. You’re good at what you do, but you aren’t the only one who can do it.” I know she’s right but I can see this might take some practice.
When you tell someone new that you live with a mental illness, there’s always the risk that they’ll get “that look!” I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. It’s a smile that begins and ends on the lips. Everything else about their face says they’re afraid, and also a little embarrassed.
When I consider my life, it is usually divided into two parts: Before and After. Before – before a proper diagnosis. After – after a proper diagnosis. This distinction isn’t some fleeting thought I have when I open a scrap book. It’s the way I tell my story, to myself and to others.
Last Tuesday, I sat on my psychiatrist’s couch and explained everything. I told him all there is to tell and he said what he has said so many times before, “Begin again.” That’s the exciting, daunting, stupid, fantastic news. When this happens, no matter how you got here, the only thing to do is begin again. This treatment plan, Begin Again, can feel insultingly oversimplified, but it is the truest thing I’ve learned about my illness.
In reality, being unwell may not be hard, but it can be incredibly painful. It can be isolating. It can be complicated. Juggling the day to day tasks of living can be an effort. There is too much or not enough of everything. Things are too bright or too dim. Things are too big or too small.
After years with my previous therapist, it is strange navigating a new therapeutic relationship. Firstly, it stings a little, breaking up with an old therapist. My internalized shame told me that I hadn’t tried hard enough. My shame told me I was unfixable. My shame told me my trauma was too ugly to be examined. I know, intellectually, that these things aren’t true, but trauma loves shame. Secondly, working with someone new comes with its own set of baggage. It is always a little bit unnerving, unzipping yourself and showing a relative stranger all your complicated clockwork parts: your past, your broken pieces, your hurts and bruises.