The other day I realised that I was over eight months self harm free. I felt something stir within me, something that I had not felt in a long time. It was a really powerful feeling and it seemed to fill up my whole body… No, don’t worry, it wasn’t a violent cannibalistic urge, or a desire to join ISIS. This strong sensation inside of me was actually pride.
This may not seem very significant. Surely it would be more exciting if I had realised my dreams of fulfillment lay in public nudity or learning the body language of spiders.
But it was, in fact, extremely noteworthy. Because like many who suffer from a mental illness, experiencing feelings of pride are few and far between.
I’m not talking about being proud of having a mental illness. Certainly, it is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s not really trophy worthy. It would be like congratulating someone for having cancer. Recovery, on the other hand, is definitely worthy of praise.
People with mental illness accomplish tremendous feats on a daily basis. Those recovering from eating disorders try to wade through a sea of terror and eat their meals. Those with social anxiety force themselves to go to the party, despite desperately yearning to stay at home. Those who are clinically depressed push themselves to get dressed and leave the house, even though they feel like they are capable of nothing more than breathing. Every unhealthy behaviour delayed, every healthy meal consumed, every dangerous urge avoided, every breath consciously slowed.
What is easy for many is incredibly difficult for those with a mental illness, and that should be acknowledged. Every day survived to the best of your ability is a victory.
And the bigger signs of progress – the weeks or months free of a particular behaviour, the weight restored or lost to a healthy level, the honesty with which you evaluate yourself and accept help, learning to be compassionate towards yourself despite what your head tells you – they each deserve an Oscar/Nobel Peace Prize/$10,000 gift card.
Unfortunately it is all too easy to disregard any progress, even if it is objectively significant. Common symptoms of someone with mental health problems can include low self-esteem, a distorted view of oneself and a highly critical internal dialogue. As a result we belittle ourselves for the situation that we are in and the illness convinces us that everything is our fault. Any progress isn’t good enough, it didn’t come about quick enough, there is still too long to go, and it should have been better executed. Or it doesn’t even feel good.
Take recovering from an eating disorder. Consuming a food item that you haven’t touched for years, not restricting any food group, or resting instead of over-exercising – surely accomplishing these insanely difficult feats would be met with some sort of exhausted pride, perhaps similar to that of finishing a marathon? Nope. After valiantly fighting the clutches of an eating disorder in an effort to be healthy and safe, the person is met with intense guilt, anxiety and worry.
It’s a vicious cycle because the motivation and sense of accomplishment that comes from realising how far you have come in your personal recovery is quelled by the mental illness itself: it simply wants to keep us trapped in our anxious negativity and hopelessness. Bastard.
So let’s try the following.
Currently, your illness might not let you say or believe it, so I will say it for you: congratulations on making it this far. Well done on not dying. Good on you for holding on and trying your best. You have every right to be proud of yourself, no matter what.
And guess what, believe me, eventually you will make enough progress that the illness will further relinquish its hold on you and you will finally revel in the unique and wholesome feeling that is pride… as a result of your mental health achievements. Yes, they are achievements and they are noteworthy.
Take care everyone. I truly appreciate any likes, comments and shares :o)