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Grieving Who I Was Before My Mental Illness Diagnoses

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Once upon a time, I was a whole egg. My runny, gooey insides were safely cocooned in a solid, outer shell. I felt whole.

Then I fell off my perch and the shell cracked. The soggy, fragile contents spilled out and there was nothing holding me together. I was a mess.

I shook and I wept and I panicked. Sorrow and sadness wrapped themselves around me like a cloak. I learned really bad ways of avoiding the emotional baggage I’d hidden away all my life. I didn’t know how to cope anymore.

The trouble with breaking something as brittle as a shell is it can never go back to the way it was. It can be patched and stitched and glued. It can be held together with Band-Aids or covered in clingfilm. But it can never be whole again.

I am eternally cracked.

Day after day, year after year, I wait for the girl I used to be. Someone who didn’t panic at the drop of the hat. Filled with boundless energy and eternal optimism. Someone with hopes and dreams. I used to be that girl. The one you could depend on to do stuff — because I had the fortitude for it.

I can’t do those things anymore. I’ve reached the ripe old age of 55, so perhaps my mind and body are just starting to slow down. But they’re a bit hasty. I’m too young to be old.

I don’t know how to repair my cracked shell. I’ve done five years of psychological therapies, inpatient and outpatient. I’ve Googled. Talked hundreds of hours to my poor, patient friends. Written a gazillion words. Still, I feel fractured. I can’t seem to keep my shit together for any great length of time.

Since coming out of hospital — almost a whole year now — I have become stronger and stronger. I’ve had some really great days, even great months, but I have an acute awareness of my limitations now. Especially energy. I’m very easily worn out from peopling. The wearing out is not just mental, it’s physical.

The past month I’ve been under a cloud of malaise, barely able to get out of bed. Dragging my weary ass around to the occasional outing outside my house.

It really pisses me off.

I want to be able to peg out washing, walk to the beach, write articles, have coffee with friends, edit biographies, go to the gym, create posters, stack the dishwasher, attend appointments, moderate forums, feed the cat, and maybe even talk to people. I want to do all those things in one day and then repeat again after a good sleep. I can’t.

When I push myself, I end up in a hole. Like I’m in now. Being incapable of doing a bit of part-time work from home feels feeble. It’s embarrassing. I used to work full-time and a half, run a household, and engage in a busy social life. The cat was well fed. I miss those days.

I grieve for those days. But if there’s one thing I learned in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), it’s the concept of radical acceptance. I can bash my head against my cracked shell but it won’t make the shell any more whole, it will just hurt my head. Accepting the inevitability of change and my current life circumstances almost makes it easier to bear. The outcome is no different — I still feel lazy and useless most of the time. But at least I’m more rested while engaging in self-deprecating thought processes.

When the soul tires, the best solution I’ve found is to rest. It seems so obvious, but it doesn’t feel good and I’m still filled with a yearning for the old me. So, I’ve rested. I’ve stopped forcing myself to engage in activities that wear me out even more. I let myself be lazy. It’s like putting Band-Aids on a broken eggshell, but at least the pieces are holding together just a little bit.

I’m patching things up.

I can’t return to the old me. She’s gone. Forever. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps it’s not. It doesn’t matter — I can’t change it. A whole pile of people in my life never met the old me.

The new me has emerged over the last five years and she’s more tired and fragile. Much more prone to isolating when the going gets tough. It’s called self-preservation. I haven’t always had a high level of self-preservation, this is new territory for me.

In the meantime, I’m piecing myself back together again and while my trajectory is generally forward, every now and then it’s stagnant. I’m regrouping, ready to move forward and see what this new patched egg looks like.

Unsplash image by Colton Sturgeon

Originally published: October 9, 2021
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