When You're Afraid of the 'New' Version of Yourself in Mental Illness Recovery
Change is scary. Change is, in fact, downright terrifying. Wouldn’t you agree?
I want to get really honest here about something. This new version of me sometimes frightens me — this version who takes care of her body, who nourishes and enriches her soul, who sees and believes in the good in life, who worries less when everything isn’t completely planned out, who actually wants to leave the house. Sometimes I feel like I’m still getting to know her, like she’s a stranger who showed up on my front doorstep one day and is just kind of sticking around.
I know this new version of me is living a fuller and richer life. I know she’s healthier, both mentally and physically. I know this is a freaking fantastic version of myself. And yet, I barely know her.
For so long I knew crying in the confines of my shower after work, finally letting out the day’s bottled up feelings of hopelessness when I felt safe and alone. I knew panicking because I didn’t have at least 48 hours advanced notice for any plans with friends, which meant I didn’t have time to prepare myself, to get myself in check, to put my social face on. I knew the feeling of watching my friends from afar as they swam in the ocean, went down a Slip & Slide, or frolicked around a music festival with no real destination in mind. I knew all about living in the world of what ifs and maybe next times.
I’m well familiar with that version of me. We grew up together. We fell in and out of love together. We went to school together. We laughed and cried together. We married the man of our dreams together.
So you’ve heard of those stories of people who are mentally ill who just don’t want to get better? I was one of them for a long time, mostly because I didn’t know just what better was or if better was even possible for me. I didn’t know what normal was. I thought my normal was fine. I had a husband. I had a house. I had a dog. I had a good job. I was making it. I was functioning.
It took me until the winter of 2014 to realize that functioning did not mean living. I finally made an effort, a real and honest-to-God effort to get better. So now I’m this new version of me and my life has changed so much, mostly in fabulously positive ways, which I’m thankful for. Still this brings me back to my first point. Change is scary. I often wonder which version of me is the “real me”? Is this new version manufactured by SSRIs, and does that make it artificial? Are the drugs hiding who I really am or merely making the older version of me better?
I had this heavy conversation with my husband over dinner recently and his conclusion was this: “What does it matter?”
Confused, I began to tell him that of course it mattered. I want to be my most authentic self. I don’t want to mute parts of myself just because I don’t feel like I can deal with them. I still have these moments where I do something that my old self would have never done and it confuses me. It’s an identity crisis.
He asked if I was happier with this new version of me, if those new experiences were positive ones, if I feel like my life is better than it was before.
My answer was a resounding yes to all of that.
“Then what does it matter? Who cares if it’s because of a pill? If you were born with a debilitating physical ailment and someone told you they could alleviate some of that pain with a pill, wouldn’t you take it?”
Again, a resounding yes.
“Then this is you. Who you are at whatever time, that’s the real you.”
And he was right. But of course I couldn’t admit it at the time. Still, the next morning, when I woke up and stretched my arms over my head, I was corporeal. I was tangible. I was as real as I’d ever been. This new me? I think I’m going to enjoy getting to know her.
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