More Than My Illness

February…I hope you are better than January. In January I struggled a lot. My anxiety was a lot, it was intense, it was heavy. I felt like I was walking through thick mud, that every step I tried to take was difficult…a struggle.

The anxiety I was dealing with was at times so intense that getting out of bed was too much. I had to fight to get even the simplest of things accomplished. But I still didn’t think it was enough. I was so hard on myself, that I only increased my anxiety and suffering.

I am exhausted. My body is tired. My muscles ache. My head is in this fog like state. My anxiety is bad. I have dark circles under my eyes. I want to curl up in a ball in my bed and hide from the world. Sometimes things can get to be too much. And with that I get overwhelmed. My mental illnesses can start to spiral from that feeling. The need to have control can become overpowering. It is at this point I know I need to let go and remember what I CAN control.

I do my best to explain what my anxiety is like. What it looks and feels like, what it does to me. I share because I want others to know they aren’t alone. I want others to feel like they have someone to confide in. That if I can do it, so can they. The anxiety I live with is 24/7. 365. And sometimes I feel like people forget that because they can’t see my illness. I don’t have a cast on a broken bone. I don’t have crutches to help me walk. I don’t have anything to constantly say “Hey, I am sick.” Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. I don’t want to be labeled or stigmatized. But at the same time, it could help on my bad days. Because on my bad days, it can be hard to get the words out. Literally. It can be hard to put what I am feeling into words, and then say them out loud.

I can hide my illness. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard “I never would have guessed you have a mental illness.” A good and a bad thing. But society has taught me that there are people out there who don’t get it and choose not to. They use words like crazy and insane. They only see the illness. They don’t see that I am still a human being,

A few months ago, I got a job. It’s the first job I’ve had in almost 5 years. Do you know how awkward it was to tell people that I wasn’t in school and was unemployed? But because of my anxiety disorder and depression it was hard to find a job that understood who I am, and what I needed. It was hard to find a place that understood I had psychiatrist appointments and counseling appointments. That my number one priority was my mental health. I became ashamed of asking if I could leave early to go to an appointment. I was ashamed of who I was. I was ashamed that I couldn’t do certain things because at the time I was going through a medication change and was experiencing withdrawal side effects. I love my new job. It has given me a purpose again. For awhile I didn’t know if I would ever fit in somewhere. If I could count on receiving a paycheck. But I’ve found a place where I fit. And I get to use my schooling and personal experience to help others.

Being open about living with a mental illness means you will never know how someone will react to that. You won’t know how they will react to you. They can either accept you and help you or accept you and stigmatize you. After not working for 5 years, it has taken me awhile to get into the groove of working again. And I have pushed myself to do more, to learn more at work. But I have hit some bumps in the road. Everyone does stuff differently. I have my own way of doing things and sometimes it takes me a little longer to get used to something or I must build myself up with confidence before I try something new. This was the case when I was trying something new. I was struggling a little bit but wanted to push through it. I knew I could do it. I knew I wanted to work through the uncomfortable anxiety I was feeling. But unfortunately, someone else had a different plan. They saw me struggling and decided that I didn’t have to work through the anxiety. They decided that I should just go back to what I was “comfortable” doing. I stood up for myself and said “No I’d like to stay” but they already had their mind made up. Me and my anxiety became a burden for them, and they thought by excusing me they were helping me. They assumed because I was struggling and nervous that I couldn’t work through it. They only saw my illness, not me. I was an inconvenience to them and how they were doing things. Did I have a good cry after that incident happened, absolutely but let me just say that I am damn proud of myself for trying to overcome my anxiety and sticking up for myself.

If I can teach anyone anything, it would be to please see the person first and NOT their disability or illness. I am a person who lives with mental illnesses. I am not a mental illness existing in a person. Remember, person first.

Please don’t assume you know what is best for someone else when it comes to their illness or disability. That all people who have a similar diagnosis are the same. We aren’t. And there is a pretty good chance that they know what works best for them and what doesn’t. That they know their limitations. That they know when to push themselves and when to take a break or ask for help. We know what a good day and a bad day looks like. If you are curious and what to help them, just ask. I’d rather have a million people ask what I need than 5 people taking it upon themselves to make decisions for me.

I have come a long way in the last 5 months. I am beyond happy to tell people that I have a job that I love. I have accomplished so much, and I am proud of myself. On days where I think I could be doing more; I have to stop and remind myself of the barriers I have overcome. I need to remind myself that my hard work pays off, and everything happens for a reason.


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