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Why 'Getting Better' From Mental Illness Scares Me

Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I realized something after last week’s therapy session — I actually believe I’m going to get better. This might not sound very ground-breaking; that’s sort of the point of therapy, right? What else would I be expecting? But let me explain.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always held a stubbornly persistent
belief that I’m not actually mentally ill. This perception is born from a whole host of feelings. First off, a sizeable dose of self-hatred. The little demon monkey in my head wouldn’t let me believe my problems were caused by a mental illness. Even when outwardly I accepted my diagnoses and started treatment, deep down I believed it was all my mind putting on a front to hide the fact that I’m a truly awful person; that I’m weak and manipulative and generally unpleasant to be around. Accepting that past traumas and resulting mental health difficulties were at the root of my problems would be being too kind to myself. I’ve simply never liked myself anywhere near enough for that kind of self-validation.

Tied into this is low self-worth, is that if I admitted to myself I was unwell, it would follow that I deserved help, support and kindness and I could never think of myself as worthy enough for any of that. Then comes a second issue —  I’m always chasing “perfection” in various forms, but always stemming from unrealistic expectations I set of myself. Being unwell doesn’t fit into that. I was never seen as “good enough” during my formative years, so the compulsion to be nothing less than perfect is strong. Acceptance of my problems, in my mind, didn’t sit well with my need for perfection from myself.

As a result of a breakdown, suicide attempt and subsequent hospital admission, I was forced, for the first time, to challenge these toxic beliefs. I was forced to face my past and in doing so, I started to accept and validate the impact of my past traumas on my mental health. Having a frank and honest confrontation with that little demon monkey in my head marked the beginning of my journey to finally getting better.

Positive as this sounds, that change in perspective was hard
in a way nothing else I’d ever faced had been. I’d become accustomed to my twisted view of myself and the world. I saw myself as a fundamentally unpleasant, manipulative waste of oxygen. My body was worthless, except as a canvass on which to paint out my self-hatred in the medium of self-harm. My mind was a curse and a burden on those I loved. When I started to validate myself and my experiences though, my entire self-perception was turned on it’s head. It was a whirlwind of uncertainty, like everything was constantly shifting under my feet. It was the unknown, and the unknown is always scary, especially when it’s something so fundamental.

So that’s what made last week’s therapy session so hard. By accepting I’m going to get better, I’m committing to firmly occupying this uneasy, new and difficult space inside my own head. It forces me to confront the full truth of my traumas and problems. It’s an incredibly challenging place to be and being kind to myself still feels intrinsically wrong.

But I am getting there. I rode out the last six months; the most painful time of my life. Some days, my only achievement is continuing to exist. Some days, I defy expectations and function at such a high level, people don’t always appreciate how much I’m struggling. The weary grind of dragging myself through life day by day through a haze of mental illness has finally started to pay off. I really do think I’ll get better. And with that belief comes a fragile, glimmering feeling; the first tentative threads of hope.

Photo credit: sanjagrujic/Getty Images