On the Edge

If you live with chronic mental illness, I’m sure you can relate.

An accurate personification of mental illness is a roller coaster. There are constant random turns, dips and dives, peaks and valleys. You never know what direction you might go next.

Obviously we can prepare as much as we can. We take care of ourselves through medication and/or counseling, we make sure our other areas of health are in check, we take each day at a time. That’s all we really can do.

But to some degree, we have limited control of where our mood might go, within a single day, week, month, or year. While we’re feeling happy and content in this current moment, how will we feel in the future?

We cannot avoid feeling depression or anxiety if that’s how our brains operate, if they default to those lower moods. Yes, if these disorders are coming from situational circumstances, they will clear up and you might never have an episode again. If you have full-blown major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder, or anything else of that nature, chances are you’ll live with the disease for the rest of your life. You will always need some form of treatment. You will always have that different perspective on living that the majority of people might not fully comprehend.

So how do we find any sense of security and stability if we cannot guarantee what direction our mental health might take? Is there even a point to have long-term goals and plans if we just don’t know?

I mean, planning life for anybody is never a guarantee. So often I’ve had certain aspirations for what my purpose in life might be and it took a complete 180, regardless of mental health was a factor. But especially with mental illness, what I assumed was a status quo quickly transformed into a major high or low.

Keeping in mind this spontaneous-seeming changes, it’s hard to be the loved one of someone who is mentally ill. I’ve been fairly content for awhile this summer, but there has been major life changes for me. Good things, not-so fun things. But even if I do feel like I’m in a more positive space, I have bad days and bad moments.

Right now I might be doing well, but I have created tensions and divisions in my life at my weakest. Whether that be my eating disorder tendencies or constantly keeping people at a distance and isolating myself, understandably people will be cautious. I am just always teetering on the edge of good and bad.

So I feel very conflicted when in a position where I feel like I’m okay. Like there’s nothing I can ever do to somehow redeem myself as someone who will never hurt others like that again. At the same time, I don’t want others to see me as a victim or degrades the progress I’ve made for myself, even if I might take a step backward at some other point in time.

From either side, it’s a lot of to ask of someone. You cannot expect trust to fall from the sky or a healthy mindset to last forever. While you shouldn’t have the mentality that turns you into a pessimistic victim (“Why try at all if I’ll never be taken seriously? Why be happy at all if it’s just temporary?”), you have to be realistic. You have to understand why your loved ones are concerned, just as they should understand that you’re trying your best.

Luckily, we are malleable. We are a product of so many influences, and we always the opportunity to change. Just like a rough patch can arise, so can your next best day. We operate within the means of mental illness, but we are not slaves to its every whim. We have the ultimate choice to be our best selves in each moment. It could mean accomplishing everything on your to-do list, or it could simply be eating regular meals in the day.

If you don’t want to make that choice for yourself, do it for your loved ones, your support system. If you put forth an attitude that is proactive and optimistic, your family and friends should be willing to provide you with the patience and encouragement you need. Whoever doesn’t fit that bill isn’t worth keeping. Your intentions and efforts to keep moving forward should speak volumes.

As we continue to talk more openly about mental health, it’s also crucial to communicate every angle of what life looks like, the times we might feel antsy to discuss. We highlight our rock bottoms and our triumphs, but it’s the in-between that can really define our journeys. Not only can learn about the potential triggers and stressors that can hinder our well-beings, but we can also we learn what steps we can take to rise above what feels like an impossibly difficult time and find the strength to reach a point of feeling good again. If you have the potential to become extremely depressed or anxious, you have the potential to become extremely happy, too.

It’s a scary edge to be on with mental illness. No easy way around that. But living on an edge doesn’t undermine your strength.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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