Author: Aubrey Good
I woke up this morning well before noon after going to bed well before midnight. I greeted my husband and baby, ate a well-balanced breakfast, and glanced at the headlines before shutting down the app and heading out the door for a run. As I ran, my thoughts flashed back to 2016: 24/7 commentary flooded the newsreels about the state of American politics, foreign affairs, and natural disasters. Not much has changed. But then I remembered how angry and erratic I was, unaware of the poor state of my mental health.
I would spend those days enraged, unable to turn away from the divisive and unkind rhetoric inundating my television networks and social media feeds. Thoughts sped through my brain at lightning speeds, and I’d pace all night into the early morning until the alcohol I’d consumed finally led me into a fitful sleep. My sleep patterns were terrible, my diet no better. I had no concept of triggers and boundaries. Any suggestion that I needed an attitude and lifestyle change was met with scorn.
I reflect on this time with mixed emotions: sadness, compassion, and gratitude:
Sadness for the difficult road I followed before taking that first step to ask for help. There were opportunities to accept help and to help myself, but I was not in a proper state to want to take them. I suppose there was a part of me that felt comfortable in the chaos and misery. Accepting help also meant accepting that there was something not right with my thoughts and actions, and that was too overwhelming for a time.
Compassion for myself in the past. This step is a work in progress and one that I am currently working through with a therapist. It has been difficult to look back on tumultuous moments from my past without feeling shame, embarrassment, and the desire to detach myself from those memories. I went through a phase after beginning treatment where I wanted to call every person who had ever encountered me while unwell and explain that I had an illness and would appreciate if all prior memories be wiped clean. I worked to overcome wondering if people were judging me as a person with mental illness, paranoid that I was seen as “crazy” and scolding myself every time I had a recurring episode.
Gratitude for the individuals and organizations that have helped me manage my mental illness and create a better life for myself where hope abounds. But also, as I ran, the guided instruction I played through my headphones kept reminding me to celebrate my strength. I know that it was referring to physical and mental strength related to the exercise, but I felt a sense of pride course through every fiber of my being. It almost took my breath away, the realization that I do feel strong, mentally, and physically, and proud to be me. I am thankful for the strength I found within myself to seek help and commit to creating a full life for myself.
It has been a long five years full of trial and error in treatment approaches, navigating relationships, establishing boundaries, recognizing triggers, and giving myself the grace to have bad days and periods of instability. I have had to overhaul my lifestyle, create healthier routines, and rid myself of habits, people, and situations that do not contribute to my wellness. And then I have had to check in with myself, adjusting any of these components when necessary, and maintaining accountability for managing my mental health through the various seasons of life I encounter.
I can’t go back in time and do better or change the parts that I would rather have not experienced. Instead, I can see the progress I have made and know that prioritizing my mental health has made all the difference. The past five years have taught me that even during the most difficult of times, better days lie ahead.