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When People Tell Me My Goals Aren’t Big Enough

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This evening I ran into a coworker I hadn’t seen in some time. She expressed surprise that I’d returned to my former job since I’d completed my degree. She began telling me what jobs I “should” apply for to earn more money.

• What is PTSD?

What I said was, “As long as I’m making enough to live on, I don’t believe I need to earn more money.”

What I thought was, “The last two times I took a job that was too much for me, I became psychotic.”

Another time, I listened to an acquaintance open up about his suicidal thoughts. I was happy to hear him, until he segued into a diatribe about how none of us should take psychiatric medications because they poison us in the long run.

In the past this implicit criticism of my choices would have caused me to go home and throw out my medications, leading to withdrawal and months of internal hell. What I was able to say now was, “I believe in people’s right to choose whether to take medications. But for me personally, it got to the point where my life was so unbearable that I didn’t care about the long run. And I’m willing to accept risk in order not to go back to that place.”

As someone living with a (usually) invisible psychiatric disability as well as physical illnesses that cause chronic pain, one of the things I find most difficult about other people is their sometimes-grandiose ideas for my life. I’ve been encouraged to work more, work at more prestigious jobs, buy a car, buy a house, get a doctorate and move to a larger, more stimulating city.

As dreams are built for me without my consent, so are my limitations minimized and dismissed. When an acquaintance asked if I was planning to have children, and I explained how endometriosis had made me infertile, she responded, “Oh, don’t believe that! Doctors are always wrong about those things.” I’ve been told I must not really have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because I don’t “look” like someone with a mental illness, and that if I “just read Eckhart Tolle books” I wouldn’t have PTSD anymore. A provider once stated that my endometriosis would heal if I released the “stuck energy in my pelvis” by reducing my “stress.” (Combining these unwanted pieces of advice leads to the of course sensible conclusion that if I read Eckhart Tolle’s books, the reduction in post-traumatic stress will lead me to begin having babies.)

Perhaps people think they’re inspiring me by telling me that illness and disability don’t have to stop me from meeting my goals. But often they’re referencing what they assume are my goals, or what we’ve been raised to believe should be my goals.

I don’t mind not having a house, a high income or biological babies. What I do mind is intense, torturous suffering. I mind being in such physical agony that I rock back and forth on my bed, begging God to take away the pain. I mind living in constant, inescapable terror, hiding from people because I’m too afraid of them, and feeling under attack at every moment.

I’ve lived through this suffering for so long that finally doing better feels like a miracle. And it’s taken so long for me to figure out how to take care of myself (and to become willing to take care of myself) that I’m going to keep doing it, regardless of whether it lines up with others’ expectations. I will work two part-time jobs that I love rather than overworking myself and ending up in intensive psychiatric treatment again. I’ll allow myself to stay in bed for 10 hours a night. I’ll take care of my body not just by eating well and exercising, but also by using Western medicine.

I have a cozy apartment, sensitive friends, a nourishing backyard garden and a beloved cat who wakes me from my nightmares. Why strive for anything different?

I’m not going to f*ck with this.

woman looking out at clouds and lake
Cat on her birthday


Originally published: January 28, 2016
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