Can we start by talking about how exhausting it is to live with a mental illness? (Or four, preach!)
This week I sat across a friend of mine and listened to her talk about all the darkness and struggles she’s experiencing. We laughed and cried. We talked through truths and lies. I held her hand. We hugged goodbye. And I prayed I didn’t say anything stupid. Please, God. Because half of what I told her was to stop taking everything too seriously.
I’ve lived with mental illnesses since I was 12. At least, that’s when I first realized something was wrong.
Depression stole my hope. Anxiety stole my joy. Panic stole my breath.
It almost took me altogether. One snowy night in December when I just knew the end had come. I was 22 and exhausted, but by some miracle, I lived.
Exhaustion is part of it.
You just. Get. Exhausted.
Healing comes. It does. It comes, and it’s beautiful and stunning and surprising. But still, sometimes, your body remembers things it was never meant to remember. Technically, it’s called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes, I make jokes about it. About how jumpy and overreactive I can be. (I think it’s a good sign if you can laugh about it!)
Here’s my question: why can veterans have PTSD and be “disabled” but regular people just have to go on living every day like it doesn’t exist??
(Not saying anything negative about PTSD in war! Goodness knows I can only imagine!)
But do you see what I’m saying??
It. Takes. Time. And we give so much grace to others and barely any to ourselves. We’d NEVER tell a firefighter to “get over it” or a soldier that “it’s not a big deal.” And while I can’t understand either of those realities, the things happening inside our bodies are all very similar. Maybe not exactly the same, but so similar they get the same diagnosis.
We are so hard on ourselves!!! And heaven forbid we laugh! Laugh at the dark thoughts we have. Laugh at the absurdity of living with a mind that’s been commandeered by events that happened in our childhoods or teen years or whenever…
I’m starting to think that half the problem with mental illness is that we take it so seriously. We take it on as an IDENTITY when it’s NOT AN IDENTITY – IT IS A WOUND.
Look. I’ve lived this. I don’t live it every day anymore, but it was my daily life for twenty-plus years, so, I think I have some authority for a voice in this conversation.
If we can’t learn to give ourselves grace, take the hard days with a grain of salt, and laugh through it, we probably won’t survive – that’s just the God honest truth of it all – and we certainly won’t come out on the other side of mental illness happy and healed and whole, living rich emotional and relational lives, finding joy in small moments.
I’m still here. I’m winning. The darkness that has wanted me gone so many times hasn’t overtaken me yet. Overwhelmed me? Yes. Overtaken? No. Because I’m a fighter, and every ounce of healing I find just proves to me that healing is mine for the taking.
Might I walk with a limp sometimes? Yes.
Guess what? It’s possible to survive this. Survive the hate. The fear. The raw bitterness. The terror and that sinking pit that wants to eat you alive. Survive whatever happened to you that should never have happened.
You would NEVER look at a first responder with a limp or a missing limb or a wound and think “you have no value, you shouldn’t be here.” Yet we are walking with invisible wounds, living inside them every day, and we tell ourselves the most horrible things.
You exist outside of your mental illness, your trauma. Those are wounds that happened to you. They are not you.
I believe that one day, every tear will be wiped away.
I believe that one day, all our wounds will be healed – not just the visible ones, but the INvisible ones. The ones we try to hide and the ones we beat ourselves up over.
It’s ok to learn to walk with a limp. It’s also ok, to strive for deeper and deeper healing.
I believe full healing is possible. But I also know we live in a broken world. I know that grief can literally kill you. I know that some wounds are so deep they break you in ways we don’t have words for.
This is the tension we live in. That already but not yet tension of light and darkness that doesn’t just wrestle in the world around us, but inside our very minds and souls.
You are still here. That alone is a miracle.
I don’t know if I will ever completely stop mourning all the things that have been stolen from me or all the lies that have been spoken over me. But this I DO KNOW – I am here. I am strong. A bad day or a bad week doesn’t mean I haven’t come far in this healing journey. It doesn’t mean I am weak or bad. It just means I’m human. It just means I’m experiencing the brokenness of the world.
God has not left or given up. He isn’t mad that you’re not “all better” yet.
He is good. And kind. And he never grows weary or faint. He never sleeps or grows tired. He is never shocked that trauma deeply affects us. He who filled the oceans and fashioned the layers of the earth is not weak or fearful.
Stand tall, my friend. You are not alone. And you never have been.