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A Tribute to My Younger Self Before Mental Illness or Disability

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Can you trace back your steps to the moment where everything changed? I’m not talking about the big milestones that were meaningful, I’m talking about the second in which you changed forever. In my case, I can’t. Of course, I can see how family and relationship issues, mental health diagnoses, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), disability and everything shaped the person I am today, at my 26 years. But, I’ve been watching some old family videos, in which I could see myself from 2 to 6 years old, and I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic.

Most of it was because of the simplest of things I no longer take for granted, like having energy, being able to walk without pain or mobility restriction, not having to take medications or not having the slightest clue what therapy meant. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, because I’m not. Pretty much all of those things have saved my life and have brought me back to myself after very hard moments. I’m grateful for them, but I certainly miss a time in which I didn’t need them, in which I never contemplated the aforementioned scenario, in which I felt the luckiest and happiest girl alive.

For many years, I felt guilty. I felt like I had let that little girl down. She was so full of joy and energy and hope, and I felt like I couldn’t keep up with her expectations about how life had to turn out. So, I distanced myself from listening to stories or watching videos of my young self. I didn’t need the constant reminder of the time in which I wasn’t depressed, anxious, with suicidal thoughts and a growing disability as a consequence of early RA.

And I thought I could suppress the old me, but it chased me. The medication started working great, I started applying the tools I’ve learned in therapy in my real life, I accepted myself and came out of the mental health closet, found my people, started practicing gratitude and even found a kick in wearing a cane. I can’t trace back my steps and I can’t pin down the moment when it happened, but the old me came back. Wiser, tougher, stronger and more resilient. A me who swears a lot and sometimes can be pessimistic. But that girl who dreams way too much, who hopes, who feels lucky and joy with the simplest things in life came back. And I’m glad she did, I’m glad that the struggles of the past have given her a new home, a bit different, but comfy and amazing.

So, I watched the videos last night. I stopped running away from the young me. I saw her, she shined with her own light and lived by her own rules. She didn’t give a single bit of care about what people thought of her. And I see that in me, I’m trying to live by my own rules and tell my story without caring about other people’s opinions. I’m trying to break a mold and be happy with what makes me happy, not with what society expects from me. I still cherish my family like my biggest treasure and find in them my greatest joy.

I don’t know if 3-year-old Mariana is proud of 26-year-old Mariana. I bet she is … but more than that, I’d like to tell her she’s my greatest inspiration and source of wisdom. I realized I have to go back to the start, to the roots, to the basics to be myself and find myself again. So, thank you kid. I know life didn’t turn out even a single bit of how we hoped, but it’s pretty damn good. I’ve got you. I’ve got us.

Original photo by author

Originally published: February 24, 2021
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