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Why Fighting My Mental Illness Isn't Like Fighting a Fellow Boxer in the Ring

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For a while now, I’ve struggled with various mental illnesses and have been lucky enough to have an incredible support network of some amazing people.

I’ve been told “we will win” and “people are on your side” and I have no words to explain how grateful I am for this. But the thing is, statements like this make it sound like I’m fighting another person, another tangible being that can be destroyed. I have people standing behind me, but in that way they must also be standing behind the evils consuming my brain. Because ultimately, the battle is between myself and myself. The illnesses and I are one and the same and it’s a strange concept to think you need to win a battle with yourself.

How can it be that the “me” who laughs and jokes and smiles is simultaneously the “me” who cries and shouts and has meltdowns? That the “me” who never runs out of nice things to say about others cannot think of a single nice thing about herself?

Through the encouragement and support of others, it’s suggested that my illness is somehow a separate, external existence. A fellow boxer in the opposite corner of the ring.

It would be easier if it was this way.

Instead, my mental illness is a parasite. A non-physical, intangible idea that somehow manages to steal from me the things I love and care about most. Mental illness are I are one and the same and it’s often near impossible to distinguish what is me and what is the parasite. I call into question whether we are in fact identifiable as separate. Surely anything in my brain is automatically me, because I am my brain.

But then I realize those thoughts — the hateful, negative, self-deprecating thoughts — are not me. I am a positive, upbeat, joyful person. I enjoy spending time with my friends, playing sports, eating nice foods and experiencing new things. I love learning and laughing and encouraging people to be the best they can be. So how has something so opposite to this become such a large part of my identity? But how can I in fact “win” against something inside of me, part of me? By battling this parasite, I seem to be battling myself. That is a strange concept. Something completely un-me has merged with what I believe to be me and I don’t know how to separate them.

How do I keep the parts I like while destroying the parts I do not?

Maybe that’s not the point though. Perhaps these parts can come together to create a “super-me.” One that is able to empathize with others because I am able to greater understand their pain.

I always understood “winning” against mental illness as eradicating it, killing it. But perhaps it’s not about fighting or battling or destroying. Perhaps it’s about twisting and accepting and utilizing. If I see this parasite not as something I must beat, but something that is there to improve me, it can become a positive part of myself. I can manipulate the negativity into a lesson. It has, in fact, taught me the power of a kind word. How many incredible people I have in my life. That struggling sucks, but when you think you’re being buried, you may instead be getting planted. I am stronger than I thought. I can’t be beaten.

So thank you to the people in my corner, the people telling me I will win. Because I will. But maybe winning doesn’t look like defeating. Perhaps winning looks like learning and improving and using. Like accepting this parasite and allowing it to become part of me, so I can bring it out when someone else is struggling with their own parasite.

You’re right, I will win and I am endlessly grateful to you all for remaining in my corner through thick and thin. But I’m not letting this parasite leave until it’s given me something. Something I can use to help others in the same way you have helped me.

I will not be beaten.

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Thinkstock photo via wabeno.

Originally published: March 24, 2017
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