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How Taking a Long Mental Health Break Has Helped Me Heal From Chronic Illness

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At the start of the year I made a decision to retreat and hide myself away a little from life. I needed to break the cycle of fight and defensiveness I was in and spend some time on recuperation instead. In reality this meant ending a long-term relationship, moving back in with my parents and spending the vast majority of the year alone.

There was a deeper and more practical reason to do this – four years of hospital stays, surgery, never-ending symptoms, grief, anxiety, fear and the loss of all control – but all that is really beside the point! This was a decision I made confidently, following my gut and with a yearning for sanctuary and peace.

About eight months has passed now and so far, I wouldn’t change a thing. I spend almost all my time at home or in the office at my parents’ business down the road, where they pay me to “consult.” (N.B. I’ve learned this year that my family is my fortune.) In the evenings I sit in bed with my computer, browsing the web, depleting Netflix, reading and always attempting to write. A couple of times a month I make plans with friends and spend a few days exhausting myself before it’s back home to retreat again.

Life is slower. Life is quieter, life is easier. Life is predictable.

Yes, there are times when I get bored. Yes, I yearn for fun sometimes and yes, I worry time is slipping away from me. In actual fact though, for the first time in four years I am stealing back some autonomy in my life. I am calmer and kinder to myself and I am learning life can be found everywhere, even here. My social anxiety is still high – I’m tackling that in smaller doses, but my fears and worries about the future are fading. I’m coming to terms with the fact there exists a “Who I Was,” “Who I Am” and a “Who I Will Be” and I’m beginning to enjoy the process of figuring it all out. I believe I’ve found the first step up and/or forward and I dare say, I’m feeling a little excited again. Furthermore, my symptoms are almost nowhere to be found. My pounding, exhausted heart that has delivered me to the emergency room countless times has gone undercover for the time being – it seems we both needed a break, a retreat, a hideaway.

Although I will never be cured of my physical health condition and I cannot fight the truth that one day it will take my life, I have for the first time realized how much more significant my mental health is, especially in terms of defining the fundamental experience of a good life. People talk of taking a Mental Health Day from work… well, I’ve taken a Mental Health Year from life, and it is curing more of my ailments than my medication can.

In a recent conversation with my adventurous, wild and wonderful younger sister, she expressed concern for how I have been living this year. She urged me to push myself more and get myself up and out of this funk I am in. I fully understand in her eyes it probably does seem like a nightmare – her own personal fear of what loneliness, boredom or defeat might look like. For me though, this is exactly the life I should be living right now and I need everyone who loves me to know that. I need you to know I am OK, things are going well and this is right – even more than that, this is working.

It is very hard to be different and it is even harder to live differently. But the life I am living is mine and mine alone and I am learning to trust that once again, I’m back in control of it… and that, well, that is the biggest and best difference of all.

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Thinkstock photo via Anna1000Arts.

Originally published: August 9, 2017
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