In 2008, I was in a car accident that should have killed me. I was fortunate because I walked away from that accident with minimal physical damage.
My left driver’s side airbag deployed. I lost complete use of that arm. It became dead weight and I couldn’t feel anything.
Up until that point, I had the privilege of two good arms. Everything changed when I had to learn how to function with only one. It became an uphill battle to complete even the most menial tasks.
There were many points along my recovery that I lost hope.
With rigorous physical therapy and time, I saw improvement. I was able to regain almost complete use of my arm. However, it will NEVER be the way it was before the accident. There is permanent nerve damage. More than a decade later, nothing has changed.
Without sharing this, you would never know what goes on beneath the surface. My arm looks and functions the way anyone would expect it to. You can’t see when it goes limp suddenly and stops working. You can’t tell that the simplest touch can cause agonizing pain. You wouldn’t know that sometimes I accidentally injure that arm because my pain receptors are malfunctioning.
That’s okay. I have learned to live with any complications and limitations that may exist. I adjusted. I adapted because I had to. I live a two-armed life in a two-armed world.
Similarly, on the surface, you wouldn’t know I have a mental illness. The vast majority of the time I have the ability to appear just like everyone else. I am, by most standards, very high functioning for my condition.
Like my arm, there are nerves in my brain that just don’t work. There are connections that should connect and don’t. There are receptors that never fully developed. There are neurotypical functions that simply don’t function.
Once upon a time, both of my arms worked as a well oiled machine. For more than the first two decades of my life, I had the opportunity to learn the multitude of ways I could use them. I felt the difference when things didn’t work the way they were supposed to.
Alternatively, I lacked the previous knowledge and experience to know the “right” way my brain should be working. I have been mentally ill my entire life. For me, there is no before or after. There just is.
Often, I would get explanations from others as to what I should and shouldn’t be doing. It didn’t make sense to me. It was a puzzle where the pieces didn’t fit.
I’ve been in some form of treatment—family, individual, group, inpatient, outpatient, intensive outpatient, support groups, etc.—for years. I rode the medicine merry-go-round more times than I can count. I’ve tried my best, sometimes more than others, to use my coping skills when appropriate.
And I’ve come a long way. Managing my mental illness is an exhausting full time job. Some days I don’t make it into work. Most days I do.
I don’t always get it right, even when I think I did. I’m still learning. I’ll always be learning.
I’m not giving up hope that there isn’t more opportunity for growth. I’m not giving up hope that I’ll find a medication that mitigates my symptoms effectively. I’m definitely not giving up hope that there is an even better version of myself I have yet to meet.
What I crawled on my hands and knees through broken glass for was self-acceptance. There are parts of me that cannot be fixed. It isn’t fair of me to expect my damaged arm to perform at the level it did before the accident. It isn’t fair of me to expect certain things from my brain that it may never be capable of doing because of faulty wiring.
I am both hopeful and accepting reality. This is something I have to work at every day, fighting an uphill battle against both external and internal stigma.
It’s amazing, all the things I can do with my broken parts, and it’s okay if there are some things I can’t do. Maybe I’ll learn them with time, and maybe I won’t.