My 2017 has been all about mental illness, mental health, and recovery, but it seems the end of the year is going to be about revelations thanks to my 2016 life planner, now re-purposed for 2017!
CW: small mention of passive suicidality.
I shared this photo on Instagram with the caption
I had a really shitty start to 2017. So shitty that I never even looked at my Leonie Dawson planner. In fact it took 4 months of 2017 (6 months in total) for me to begin crawling out of that depression .
But I made it. In April I still felt I wasn’t meant to be alive this year, that it should have been over, and I was sad & angry that it wasn’t.
And yet here I am in November, and I feel more confident, content and accepting of myself than I think I ever have.
2017 was shit, and amazing. It was full of the kind of emotional pain that you think you can’t live through, and the kind of self love & pride that fills your soul right up.
It’s not going to be smooth sailing for me, ever, but with every little step I get stronger, happier, braver. The good times get better.
So let’s give 2017 mkII a go!
Problematic mental illness revelations
And then I had this light bulb moment, and I cried:
Again I shared my thoughts on Instagram, this time a little tentatively, partly because my thoughts were still jumbled, and partly because ‘let it go’ is (rightly) a divisive statement for many people with mental illness.
I feel like this is maybe a problematic post but here it is: my mental illness is a part of my identity, but I can be me without it. I can be me without having to suffer with it.
My mental illness has, and will continue to shape who I am, and that’s OK. But it doesn’t have to be my everything. And its a bit scary to realise that when it has been all consuming for my entire life, but letting it go, letting it not be my sole identity, is OK. Its hard, but its OK.
If its not OK for you yet, or ever, that’s OK too. But maybe you’re a bit like me and you’ve been hanging on to it in the belief that letting it go would leave you empty, or missing something, or alone. Maybe you found identity in your mental illness as you slowly began figuring out who you are and now you feel that letting that go will result in every other label/identity you found disappearing with it. But you can let it go, and I can too.
Let it go?
I’ve thought some more about this now, clarified where my head is at, and I realise that maybe, for me, ‘let it go’ isn’t quite accurate. It’s not really what I was trying to say, but it also kinda is.
I feel less like I’ve let go of mental illness, as a label, as a lifestyle, as an identity, and more that I’ve just absorbed it into my identity as just ‘me.’ My mental illness means I experience things differently, it affected my formative years, it has changed how I view, think & feel about everything and, while it is better managed now, it continues to influence my experience of life. The difference is that it is now more integrated. I think of myself as a whole entity, and my diagnoses make up a part of that, but they are not important, or standalone parts.
I do, however, feel like I’ve let go of the belief that I must be suffering all the time, in order to be mentally ill, and that I need to somehow defend or prove my diagnoses. For someone who talks as much as I do about how mental illness doesn’t look like anything (I even blogged about it), I have a lot of internalised nonsense that disagrees!
My mental wellness now does not prove my past self a liar. My recovery (I use that to mean ‘learning to live with mental illness’ and not any form of being cured) does not mean that those still struggling are not trying hard enough. My recovery means only what I say it does, it represents only my story. My recovery is just that, mine, and I will no longer let other people define it for me.
Also published on Medium.