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Why You Need to Stop Looking at Mental or Chronic Illness 'Healing' in This Way

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

About 10 years ago, I tried to take my own life. This is an admission I’ve only recently begun getting comfortable with, but it’s my truth and I own it.

In my early 20s, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and an autoimmune condition called interstitial cystitis. My life was lived in constant pain. On top of that, I was newly married and trying to adjust to a marriage that was, in a word, tumultuous, all while being shuffled in and out of various doctor’s offices looking for some semblance of relief. Years went by and I tried multiple treatment modalities, including numerous surgical procedures with very little payoff. My marriage, my health and my life as a whole was failing.

I entered counseling that ultimately helped me to make the difficult decision to end my marriage. Though there was immense relief in this choice, there was also profound sadness. What people don’t often tell you is that even when a divorce is the right decision for both people, it’s still a mourning process. However, what I mourned the most was what I perceived as a personal failure: that because of my depression and medical issues, I had failed to make it work. I felt that somehow it was my fault I was sick, both physically and mentally. My physical health hit an all-time low after an unsuccessful surgical procedure that ended up costing me my job because I was unable to work. At the same time, I found out my ex was getting remarried and that sent me into a tailspin. It wasn’t that I missed him or wanted to be with him still; what I saw was him being happy while I felt like I was so far away from happiness of my own. That same night, I attempted to take my own life. The guy I was dating at the time broke down the door to the bathroom and saved my life. I wish I could tell you this was the moment that turned my life around, but that would be wholly false.

That night started a long and frustrating journey to healing. At that time, I defined “healed’ as a destination.” It was an end goal and once I reached it, I was “allowed” to be happy, whole and healthy. What I failed to realize in that moment was how that mentality didn’t allow for life to happen in the in-between. It failed to acknowledge all of the grace and love that gets us closer to that destination or that my life was still valuable even if I wasn’t healed and whole. During this time of trying to find healing, I went to therapy, tried even more treatments for my interstitial cystitis and endometriosis pain, started to feel better physically, began a new career, dated, took a single sabbatical, started dating again, got remarried to an amazing guy, started a successful business and podcast, and my life had been on a general upswing for several years. Sounds like a happy ending, right? Wrong. I was hitting all these milestones and though there were happy moments, I still wasn’t happy. I still wasn’t healed. I’d read all the self-help books. I was putting in the work, so why hadn’t I reached the end goal? Why hadn’t I been healed yet?

At the end of last year, my physical health began to deteriorate again and with that, my mental health went right along with it. One night, I remember crying to my wonderfully supportive husband and saying there must be something wrong with me. I should be happy and healed by now! I had done all the treatments, the therapies, the work; yet here I was, back in the same place. I felt sad, restless, confused and sick. What was so fundamentally wrong with me that I couldn’t find healing, no matter how hard I looked? Well, ask and you shall receive because the universe basically yelled in my ear with an answer: You aren’t finding healing because you’re constantly looking for it. It’s not a destination. Healing is a way of living. It’s the grace you give yourself on the days that the depression rears its ugly head. It’s the love you give yourself by slowing down when you don’t feel well physically or mentally. Mind. Blown.

I had been looking at this healing thing all wrong. If I could only be healed by feeling well or happy 100% of the time, I would never get there. That’s just not how depression works. That’s not how life works. What I could do was acknowledge my depression, give myself grace on the tough days and enjoy the happy moments in between. The second I stopped viewing healing as an endgame, my life changed radically. Now, those bad days are a little further apart and they don’t last quite as long, because I can acknowledge that feeling like this doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. It simply means I’m human, healing-in-progress. Often, we are so focused on the destination that we don’t see how much we are actually accomplishing. We don’t give ourselves credit for the wins, no matter how small they may seem and we certainly don’t give ourselves grace on the days we feel like we’re losing. There’s healing in letting go of finding healing if we can only let go long enough to find it.

Photo by JoelValve on Unsplash

Originally published: February 17, 2020
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