Recently I have seen a number of statements and general topics on social media formats which show what I see as a resignation by sufferers of mental illnesses to a belief that the point at which they are now is where they’re going to be for life. Examples of statements include:
“It’s beyond happiness now, I just have to exist”
“Getting better is no longer an option”
“I will be depressed for the rest of my life.”
I am the first to say that I have been at that point myself. Ten years ago I simply believed that happiness was not an option for me, and that yes, how my life was then would be how it always would be.
Nothing took away any sense of hope more than these statements. Actually there was no hope (in my mind) , and I was simply existing. If I had read a post like this at all, I would have said “it’s easy for you to say” and probably “you just don’t understand my reality“.
But I honestly believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, this is what I believe:
“At any given moment, you have the power to say that this is NOT how the story is going to END”
― M.H.S. Pourri
Frankly I have as much reason as anyone else to close the book, shut up shop and say “this is how it’s going to be“. I have two decades of diagnosed mental illnesses. I have been told repeatedly by doctors, who were ready to give up, that this is just how it’s going to be for me. I know what it feels like to have no hope. My family knows too how it is to have no hope for me.
25 years ago I was healthy, relatively happy and quickly climbing my way to the top of the corporate ladder. My goal was to be Chief Executive. It’s almost funny to think of that now, because that corporate world I was a part of (and loved) seems so foreign to what my life became just a few years later. One unexpected bout of ill-health, followed by post-viral depression, and my life just spiralled down from there.
I know now that I’m never going to achieve that career goal. Actually it’s not what I want anymore either. But I’m not prepared to settle for nothing. I don’t want to accept that there is no cure, so that my life will be as it is forever. And I strongly believe that if I accepted that fate, then I would simply be fulfilling a very bleak prophecy.
As you may know, I am a Kiwi. We New Zealanders take a fair bit of pride in thinking we know more about our national sport, rugby, than we actually do. I admit from the outset that I’m not a rugby fan (there are a couple of us in the country!) but I know enough to know that sometimes it’s okay to shift the goal posts.
One end of a rugby pitch to the other is a long way, especially if you’re being chased by the entire opposing team. Just watching them, I know it’s a fair workout from one goal post to the other. I think it’s 100 metres.
Now think about rugby for school children. We know that full distance is too far, and so young children play ruby across the field (70 metres). It just makes sense and it’s realistic. It’s something they can work at to achieve.
Do you need another example? Try wheelchair rugby. It’s one of the toughest team sports I’ve seen. They play on a basketball court.
It’s the same when you’re learning to swim. I remember my big goal was to be able to swim the whole length of the pool. But that was unrealistic for this six year old, and so my first aim was to swim across the width of the pool. And I was so proud when I did.
I can look back at my life 25 years ago and think I’ll never get to my goal and so I may as well stop right here. Or I can shift my goal posts and work at something that is achievable, in spite of both my chronic mental and physical illnesses. That has to be better than sitting feeling feeling I’m doomed… and getting more depressed by the minute.
I know that it’s hard to see beyond mental illness, especially those illnesses that are technically with us for life. I’ve been pretty sick (thanks fibro!) over the past few weeks and yes, I would find it easy to give up and accept an invalid life.
But I don’t want to. I don’t know exactly what is ahead of me, or even what is possible, but I have hope for better than I’ve got now. It’s why I use the blog title I do. Infinite Sadness… or hope? is my expression of choosing hope over what I have lived with through illness.
I don’t know what ‘getting better‘ looks like. I don’t know what it is going to involve to get there. I know that my ‘being better‘ won’t look like the life I had 25 years ago. That’s just not possible now. There are so many unknowns and obstacles right now, that it would be so easy to settle for never ‘getting better‘. While it wouldn’t be comfortable, it would be the easy option. But I simply can not accept that. I have to hope that it will be better.
One last thing. Mental Health Awareness Month begins today (on NZ time zone anyway). Wouldn’t it be great to have it focussed on hope? Mental Illness is a terrible thing but I believe that no matter what diagnosis we have, there is hope for all of us.
I strongly believe that this following statement applies as much to the mind as to the heart.
“If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.“
― Shane Koyczan (2013)