To My Past Self During Your Darkest Hour With Mental Illness
If I would ask you how you’re doing, I know you would say “fine.” When I questioned you, you would reply that you’re “just tired.” Those are your automatic responses when you’re asked how you are. When was the last time you meant it? “Fine” and “tired” are not honest responses, unless they are turned into acronyms.
They’re not acronyms. Fine means things are going all right, you don’t feel like you’re suffocating and you believe your existence has meaning. Tired means you had an active and productive day, you are looking forward to crawling into bed to rejuvenate for the next day, and I know that’s not how you’re feeling. I know those are lies.
Things have been tough for you, and you’re at your darkest hour. You’re starting to succumb to those horrible thoughts that somehow come from your head, although they seem like they belong in a Stephen King novel. You’re believing the negative thoughts about yourself, and it’s becoming harder and harder to believe anyone loves you or you’re worth anything at all.
You’re starting to feel the walls closing around you and the water going over your head. Every second that passes is harder than the last. Every breath you take is a pain you’ve never experienced. You wonder if anyone could ever understand how you’re feeling. How could they when you don’t understand how you’re feeling? How could they when you’re not letting anyone in?
All you want to be is alone. All you want is the pain to stop. The frustration feels so heavy that every movement is so laborsome. You’re exhausted before you get out of bed. You’re not eating because you care so little about yourself. You feel like a nuisance in everyone’s lives. You remind yourself daily that the only reason they stick around is because they feel obligated.
You will hit rock bottom soon. It will be a darkness, a loneliness and a fear that will not be matched by anything you’ve faced before. Your harmful thoughts can only contend with your harmful behavior. You know what you want to do, but you also know what you need to do.
Thankfully, somehow, you will force the hand of two people: one who loves you more than anything and one who has a legal obligation. They will insist on hospitalization. They will insist you need help, that you deserve it. Your mind will shut off from a combination of anxiety, anxiety medication and your brain trying to protect itself from reality. You will be admitted for care under the Mental Health Act. You will be deemed unable to make safe and healthy decisions on your own. You will be safe.
The experience won’t be easy or enjoyable. You will constantly feel like a child. No one will trust you. No one will engage with you. You will look around the dining hall and won’t believe you belong here. They’ve made a mistake.
You will hold your breath waiting for those heavy, locked doors to open and have your family come inside, to hold you, to rescue you. You will only be allowed to leave for two hours and those hours will seem like only a second. Before you know it, you will be hearing those heavy, locked doors close behind you. Once again you will be trapped, monitored, alone yet never alone.
The next week will give you back your voice, and you will begin to sound like you again. You will hear stories similar to your own and others that movies could be made from. Your medication will be monitored and adjusted, trying to find that perfect cocktail. You will relearn techniques on how to stay balanced. You will have difficult conversations and conversations that are long overdue. You will begin to remember that you are worthy of life, of love and of happiness.
You will begin to make changes that will need constant practicing when you are released. You will lay on the floor for almost two hours, talking, petting and cuddling with a Great Dane service dog. You will begin to create boundaries and learn how to reinforce them. You will learn that those around you do not feel obligated, but rather, they love and support you.
Upon your release, you will feel anxious that you cannot stay safe in the real world. You will feel scared of yourself and the possibility of relapse. You will remind yourself of your worth and your desire to be healthy. You will register yourself into multiple groups and continue to meet people who relate and understand your struggle.
You will not be “fixed,” but you will recognize you are perfect just the way you are. You will begin to learn not every action and thought needs to be apologized for. You will begin to learn how to take a compliment, as well as acknowledge your own accomplishments. You will remember how to use your voice and how it feels to speak your truth. You will be honest about your mental health struggles and find that it helps and becomes part of your therapy.
You will still worry about how people perceive you. You will still try to please everyone. You will still be afraid of your thoughts. Yet, you will allow people in. You will be honest about your thoughts, feelings and fears. You will continue to grow into a healthier version of yourself. You will need to stay strong, work hard, be self-compassionate, remain honest, push yourself, ask for help, gain confidence, be comfortable with discomfort and remember you are worth it.
I know you can’t see it now, but I promise there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It is a beautiful place. Remember, you’ve survived every hard day thus far, and they’ve made you who you are. Own that and be proud of it. Keep fighting.
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