I was chatting with one of my closest friends lately and she said she never imagined she’d be so stagnant at this point in her life. Just like so many others, she endured some events that shook her world and has been on disability for about 10 years. Chronic pain consumes her 24/7, and she was forced to leave not only her corporate career but everything else that filled her calendar back before her injuries.
I definitely could relate, since my life was derailed as a result of living with a mental illness, chipping away at my work and social life throughout the years. I had read that living with bipolar disorder, treatment-resistant-depression, and anxiety would progress as I aged, but I had no idea what my day-to-day life would look like at the ripe age of 56.
My friend and I commiserate during our chats, sharing our numerous losses, but we also remind each other to recognize all of the positive aspects of our lives. We’re very grateful for our incredible husbands who support us financially and emotionally, as well as our supportive network of family and friends. So why do we find ourselves in a quandary, questioning every move we make?
I think no matter how many times I tell myself it’s okay to be out of the workforce and simply do what I can, the self-loathing thoughts creep back in. Why aren’t I doing more? Why do I get almost nothing done when I’m stuck in a depressive episode? Why haven’t I learned how to cope with the mood swings my illness bestows on me? And why can’t I be more resilient, especially since I’ve encountered the effects of my illness for more than 35 years?
I think society has not quite accepted the fact that physical and mental illnesses should be treated the same, at least in regard to how we are “supposed” to cope and handle everyday life. There has to be some reason why the dialogue in my dysfunctional brain keeps telling me I need to do more and be more. I should stay productive, even in the darkest depths of depression, when moving from my bed to the couch downstairs seems like a monumental task.
Now, I know I can’t pin all of the guilt and shame on other people’s lack of understanding and acceptance of mental illnesses. I do recognize I need to take an ardent stand and simply let myself off the hook. Be kinder to myself. Overrule that negative narrative each time it pops up and remind myself that I am doing what I can and that is ENOUGH. That I am worthy and valuable, even if my biggest accomplishment during some days is unloading the dishwasher or taking a shower.
We are all burdened with adversity in our lives. But I don’t think our individual limitations should make us feel guilty or ashamed. I realized recently that if I truly believe this—if it is ingrained in my soul—my life will be so much better. Leaving self-doubt and criticism behind will lift a huge weight off my shoulders. And by doing so, I will make more room for joy, love and happiness.