I have been labelled many things: stubborn, fussy, picky. I sleep too much, I don’t go out enough, I don’t push myself enough. But I don’t hear these words, I hear not good enough. But in most cases our reactions to other people’s opinions of us are actually projections of how we feel about ourselves.
For a long time, it didn’t take much for me to feel like I wasn’t good enough. Because that’s how I felt about myself on the inside. When I first started struggling with my mental health, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I didn’t know I had an actual problem. I was young, and going through the phase of figuring out who I was. And it just felt like whoever I was, it was wrong.
So how did I go from looking at myself in the mirror, pleading to be somebody else, to finding my peace?
Well first things first, after years of panic attacks, nausea, messed up sleeping patterns, and refusing to go anywhere, I decided it was probably time to seek professional help. I was 20 years old and nobody I knew had ever had counselling. Because at that time nobody really talked about mental health.
After breaking down in tears in my GP’s office, I had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and was diagnosed with a General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I couldn’t believe it. All this time I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was real, and not just because I was weird. It had a name, it was a real thing, and other people experienced it too. My counsellor said it to me calmly, and casually, like she was telling me it was raining outside, or the sky was blue; not that I had a mental illness.
I felt this huge sense of relief. I had felt like a lost cause so long. And the reason I chose to get help was because there was so much that I wanted to do with my life, and I knew that this was stopping me. I wasn’t ready at 20 years old to give up on the hope that things could change.
However, the diagnosis was just the start. The real work was only just beginning.
I had a lot of difficult social situations to navigate, and I still felt like I wasn’t good enough. It didn’t matter how many milestones I achieved; my first tube journey on my own, my first trip to an unknown destination, my first date, my first relationship. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that once someone knew the truth about me, once someone got close enough to see the cracks, that would be it. Even though I had found my tribe, and had a great family, I still felt this way.
It took me a long time to start changing my thought pattern. To stop telling myself that I’m broken, or that I’m weak. I started to focus on what I did have and rather than what I didn’t have, and be grateful for it all.
Then one day, something in me changed. I’d had enough of hearing the same story over and over again. The one where I’m down and out, or a mess. I was exhausted by it. Because that isn’t me, it was just easier for me to see myself that way. The same way I’ve always seen myself.
I started thinking about everything that I have achieved over the past ten years, and not to sound like an advert for the Navy, but I’ve done things I never thought I would. The realisation that set me free, was that my strength comes from my mental illness. My superpower is that, no matter what, I push through. It doesn’t matter how much it scares me, or how sick I feel – if I want to do it then I’m doing it.
I stood in a crowd of 70,000 people at a concert. I visited four countries in three years. And I’ve been up a mountain in a cable car in -10 degrees; and held my nerve as the wind rocked this glass case from side to side half way up.
Twelve years ago, I couldn’t walk to my local off license.
Some days, I still don’t want to get out of bed. Some days I don’t have any fight in me, and I need to regroup and let myself be. That’s okay too. I’ve learnt that sometimes you just need a day off. I listen to my body and what it needs. I don’t feel bad for saying no to going out, because I’m honest with people that sometimes my mental health comes first. If you break your leg, you don’t keep trying to walk on it. You go to the hospital, get bandaged up and let it heal. Sometimes we have to let our brain heal too. From the constant doubt, self-loathing, negative thoughts.
You have to give yourself some love sometimes too! With the same energy that you tell yourself that you’re no good, tell yourself that you’re a warrior. That no matter how bad you feel, you still show up every day. Remind yourself, that you are who you need. It’s not easy, because loving yourself is hard in a world that keeps telling you not to.
It was then I realised that this anxiety that I’ve lived with – that sometimes drains my energy from head to toe, that scares me awake during the night, that chokes the breath from me – has its positives too. I’m on edge quite a lot, but it also means that I can sense danger. That means I’m going to keep you safe. I’m hyper aware and sensitive, I can sense a shift in the air and adjust. I can read situations and predict what’s going to happen before it happens. I mean, if I could choose to have another superpower, I would definitely trade for something like teleportation. I’d save a fortune on holidays. But alas, this is the one I have.
You see, my mental illness is not my weakness, it’s my superpower.
I’m sure you have one too, and I’m sure it’s unique to you.
I hope you discover it and shout it from the rooftops. I hope your power seeps out from your every pore, and shines bright enough to make the stars envious. Most of all, I hope you celebrate your super power every day. Even on the days when you don’t feel like it, and embrace it all.