We all like to think that we come into the world perfect and healthy, as long as we have five fingers or toes on each hand and foot, two inflatable lungs, and a heart properly in its cage. It has always been too easy to allow those pains and struggles unseen to fade into medical obscurity, and by association, into the outskirts of what is deemed legitimate and worthy of acknowledgement.
I was deemed “healthy” for most of my childhood and into my young adult life, after which point I developed blood problems, untraceable pains, and both skin and reproductive conditions without origin or explanation. Only then was I inducted into the world of doctors and medication of any kind, and presented with the various inquiries all people suffering long to hear: “What’s wrong? Where does it hurt? What can we do to help you?” Only then was I, medically speaking, and to the world, worthy of the unfortunate title of “unwell”.
But when I look into the days of my youth, I know now that I never was truly healthy, and the clearest symptom of this was the simple truth that I was never, ever happy. The average five year old does not sulk on the outer rim of the playground, wondering anxiously if someone might approach her, wondering why she is so far removed from her peers, unable to explain the strange force that stands between her and “friends”. The average seven year old does not skip out on every recess, running errands for teachers, drawing, reading, doing anything possible not to have to be outside, to not have to interact, knowing so clearly that she is not welcome and not wanted. The average thirteen year old does not think of suicide constantly, nearly romanticizing the notion of death until it becomes her closest confidant, her cherished secret like the open flesh on her covered arms. And the average twenty year old does not spend every free moment playing back the thoughts, the words both said and unsaid, the looks cast of two decades of outsiderdom, and still feel every single fraction of that emotional pain.
It took me almost two decades to accept the fact that I wasn’t healthy, and to understand what it actually meant to be unwell. I was not, nor have ever been, “average”. I do not wear this as a badge of pride or scarlet letter of shame. I find it difficult to mourn something that I never was, just as I must claim what I have always been, despite how painful it might sometimes be to accept that my illness is in fact a part of me.
Thankfully, for many of us, the process and implications of reaching a diagnosis, learning what it means in the context of your own life, and learning to cope with mental illness has become somewhat more transparent in recent years. The stigmas are steadily being dismantled. It was only through this process– primarily people stepping forward to address their struggles and to extend a proverbial hand to others in similar states of mind– that I came to actually realize that what I was facing was so much more than moodiness or simple anxiousness. What I’ve learned along my own journey through this process is this: knowing is the first step to accepting, and from acceptance one can most often make out the silhouette of recovery somewhere on the horizon.
That is one of the catalysts for the creation of this blog. I spent years thinking, believing, that I was just strange and overly sensitive. I mean, I am those things, but there are also much greater forces at play in the landscape of my brain, things that will not go away by “taking a leisurely stroll” or “thinking positive thoughts instead of negative ones”. I hope that through writing this blog that someone out there might realize how truly not alone they are. I’m hoping to open the doors of understanding just a little wider, both for those who read these words and think “woah, relatable” or “oh my god, is she for real?” All parties are welcome.
So no, I was never actually healthy. I lived for twenty odd years with a debilitating sickness (several really,) without even knowing it. I’m sure many others have, and it’s more than likely that others still are. The World Health Organization claims that about one in four people in the world will at some point in their lives face a mental or neurological disorder. That means that around 450 million people are currently suffering from, fighting, and trying to rise above or rid themselves of a mental disorder right now. If these illnesses are among the leading causes of ill-health and disability in the world, why are they not as commonly discussed? Why are the stigmas against mental illness and the associated shame still only in the process of being dismantled? I don’t really have the answers for all of that, but I do know that it’s a terrible thing to live with an invisible illness, and no one deserves to carry the weight of silence or isolation along with them on their journey to recovery. I hope that one day, maybe very soon, no one will have to.