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When I Realized I Don't Have to 'Get Better' to Be OK

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It started with a minor injury. Two years and three surgeries later, I found myself disabled at 25 and in chronic pain. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. For two years I had put my life on hold, waiting to get better. It finally hit me — I wasn’t going to get better, and even if I could, I felt didn’t have the willpower to get there.

I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety for much of my life, but this time was different. I became suicidal. The decision to end my life had a finality to it, a sad sort of relief that I didn’t have to fight anymore. After a failed suicide attempt, I was hospitalized and put on medication. In the hospital, separated from all means of ending my life, I had time to reflect. I realized in order to not attempt again, I needed to make my life worth living. I had to stop waiting to get better.

I started paying attention to all the things I had been putting off until my recovery. Doing dishes. Folding laundry. Baking desserts. What barriers were stopping me? I was on crutches, so I couldn’t carry most things. Pain was also a struggle, partly from the injury and partly from the crutches.

Caroline's rolling laundry cart.
Caroline’s rolling laundry cart.

I got a rolling cart that allowed me to move things around my apartment. I got a padded kitchen mat to relieve the pain of standing on one foot for long periods. I got more comfortable crutch grips. I bought trash cans and placed them wherever I often had trash I couldn’t carry.

The first day I folded laundry with the help of my new cart, I felt so happy. And those moments continued. My first cake. First cookies. Sweeping. Vacuuming. Little things I took for granted before my disability. I couldn’t do them as easily or quickly as before, but I adapted and learned new methods. My mood improved enough that I no longer needed medication.

I still have suicidal thoughts. I don’t judge myself for having them. They are a symptom, a sign that I’m overwhelmed. When they come, I ask myself, “What can I do right now to make my life better?” I take a drink of water. I get up and water my orchids and appreciate the blossoms. After a few minutes, the thought passes and I remember that I’m OK, and I will be OK. I remind myself nothing has changed, just my perception of it.

Caroline standing outside with her crutches.
Caroline standing outside with her crutches.

Letting go of dreams is hard. I’m probably not going to earn that black belt in taekwondo. I’m not sure if I’ll make it back to the hiking trails I love. It’s important to take the time to grieve those losses, to feel anger and shed tears. But they aren’t my only path to happiness.

Before my disability, I wasn’t happy. No matter how hard I worked or what I accomplished, I felt like a failure. I believed my value was in what I could do, and it felt like I could never do enough.

My disability has forced me to face the question of self-worth head-on. I don’t have to do great things, or really anything — I am alive, I feel love and pain and that makes me worth just as much as anyone else. The things filling my life these days aren’t earth-shattering, but they make me feel fulfilled and that gives them value.

On the high-pain days where I feel like I’ve got nothing done, I make a list of my accomplishments. An accomplishment doesn’t have to be big, it’s just something that was difficult for me that day. I stayed hydrated. I ate even though I had no appetite. I listened to my body.

Acceptance is not the same as giving up. You aren’t saying you’re never getting better. You’re just saying you don’t have to get better to be OK.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing you thought on the day of your or a loved one’s diagnosis that you later completely changed your mind about? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 7, 2016
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