When I Want Permission to Be Overwhelmed by My Mental Illness


Sometimes we cling to resiliency as a badge of honor. It’s helpful to know that when you come out from the other side of struggle, you’ll be able to recognize your strength. “If I can live through this,” you’ll say, “I can live through anything.”

But when you’re inside the struggle, toiling away at your days, it’s difficult to take the long view. Currently I’m inside a cave that stretches back to last spring, and while this year hasn’t been the worst on record, it has certainly been challenging. I have moved to a new state, mourned a job I loved, taken on a challenging new job and dealt with family difficulties. These problems aren’t uncommon, but the echo chamber that is my my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) has amplified their volume to an unhealthy degree.

What I want, in the middle of all this, is to give myself permission to feel overwhelmed, to allow myself room to be sad. I want to say, “I am not strong, not now,” without letting my fellow mental health warriors down. The truth is, I don’t think you’ll be upset with me. In fact, I’ve seen so many acts of kindness within the community that I’m equally overwhelmed with gratitude.

What I’m really saying then — and I have to do so publicly to make this real for myself — is I don’t feel strong, and I might not feel that way for a very long time. This is incredibly difficult. When things get uncomfortable, I make jokes, and because I have OCD, I do so repeatedly. See, I just can’t help myself.

I also put courage and strength on a pedestal, and I admire those who handle cauldrons of discomfort with grace. I want to be those people. That’s why it’s difficult to say, “I am vulnerable.” But I’m saying it now, as much to myself as to everyone else. I don’t want to be told to keep fighting. That work will get done. Instead, I want to be told, “Vulnerability is OK.”

In a culture that deifies bravado, it’s hard to show one’s cracks. “Don’t give up,” we’re told. “Overcome those odds,” we hear. These are worthy goals, but it’s equally worthy to expose your fissures. In a great TED talk, Brene Brown discusses the power of vulnerability. We learn empathy and understanding and feel connected to others when we reveal our weak spots. It just so happens I need to be able to show myself my own weaknesses.

It’s been a rough year, punctuated by small victories, but also permeated with stress. For eight months, I woke up with feelings of dread. Some of the pressure has receded, but I’m not back to my normal yet. I have OCD. I am not feeling strong. Vulnerability is OK.

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