It will always get better, but we can’t sit back and wait for it to happen.

Breathe in.

Journal entry: October 12, 2016

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“I don’t want to be here anymore.
I’ve made the date.
I’m going to kill myself on the 17th.”

As I read these words, the very ones that I wrote one year ago, I can physically feel agony that I was in. I was planning the end to a life that I believed would never get any better. I remember feeling the urge to end it all right there in that moment. I held my broken body tight trying to muster up the courage to make it through the next five days. On the 15th, I was traveling to Montreal with my parents. I knew I couldn’t do it before then; if I died, they wouldn’t go and they deserved to go. So, I decided it’d do it after. I didn’t have anything else to look forward to, and it had to be done before I celebrated another birthday on the 22nd. With all of these thoughts flooding my mind, I barely got any sleep that night.

Fast-forward to October 12, 2017

No longer hopeless, but hopeful.
No longer broken, but whole.
No longer suicidal, but alive.

Breathe out.

Some of you may be wondering… How? How did she overcome the desire and longing to end her own life? How did she feel alive again?

Well, it was a monstrous mountain. It was heavy; it was rocky, but it was not impossible.

In January 2017, after months of self-harm and the on and off desire to end my own life, I received the diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These labels, which may frighten some, actually filled in the missing pieces. My thoughts, feelings and behaviours began to make sense. Now, it was time to fight my demons and take back my life.

I stopped drinking alcohol on January 16th. I’ve been sober for 271 days (and counting).

I began Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) in February.

I have been self-harm free since February.

I began focusing on my love of yoga and mindfulness.

I practiced letting go.. of everything in life, even my thoughts.

I rid myself of toxicity and negative influences.

I began Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) in May.

PE allowed me to face the abuse and torment I experienced. I was able to let go of the fear and anger I felt towards my abuser.

I learned to radically accepted (but not condone) the traumas of my past.

I completed 6 months of DBT in August. I have learned how to appropriately deal with my [often] abrupt emotions. I have found a sense of calmness in the present.

I have learned to challenge my distorted thoughts which, in turn, has diminished them.

I have learned the importance of self-love, self-care and self-acceptance.

I no longer ruminate over the past or worry about the future. I have fallen in love with my present life.

I understand that some days will be hard, but there is nothing that I can’t handle.

I have found peace and purity.

For those of you who may be deeply struggling, please know that it does get better. This is not the generic cliche, but the voice of someone who has reached rock bottom many times since the age of 12. It will always get better, but we can’t sit back and wait for it to happen. We have to do what we can and ask for help from others. It is possible to gain control over our lives again – but we have to take the first step. We can all experience what it means to feel alive. And we all deserve that.

Keep smiling,
Emily

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Physical illness vs mental illness?

*This piece will discuss my personal experience with mental illness (anxiety, depression, bulimia, ptsd, bpd) versus physical illness (cancer). Both mental and physical illness vary person to person. Illness is not all or nothing – people experience it differently. With that being said, this post is not to invalidate anyone’s circumstances or struggles. I am simply voicing my own personal experience on how mental illness continues to be treated differently than physical illness.*

Before I dive into the depths of my personal encounter with various illnesses, I think it is important to touch on the aspect of health. We all have health. We all have physical health (our body) and we all have mental health (our mind, thoughts, emotions). Only when our health becomes jeopardized, we may develop illness. If our physical health is poor, we can develop physical illness. If our mental health is poor, we may develop mental illness. However, we all have health.

Mental illness refers to severe and long-lasting impairment and distress of our mind. This may result in extreme emotions, thoughts and behaviours.

Physical illness refers to severe and long-lasting impairment and distress of our physical body. This may result in physical diseases such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, MS, CP etc.

Mental illness is often invisible to the outside world. By invisible, I mean that it is often happening inside of our head. We may struggle with dark thoughts, crippling anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, etc. We may look like we’re happy, yet we’re actually crumbling. However, physical illness is often visible by the whole world. If we have cancer, we may have lost all of our hair. If we have CP or MS, we may be in a wheelchair or using mechanisms to help us walk. Yes, all illnesses profoundly impact our lives. But, the ominous feeling of our illness being invisible to the outside world makes us feel like we are all alone.

Despite numerous campaigns that bring awareness to mental illness, our society is still conditioned to empathize with those struggling with physical illness, whereas the severity of mental illness continues to be under-looked. When I was going through chemotherapy in 2014, people understood if I couldn’t get out of bed or go to social events. I was reassured that it was completely okay to sleep for 16 hours a day. It was even suggested. I was flooded with love, support and flowers. However, when my anxiety was overwhelming or my depression wouldn’t allow me to get out of bed, I was viewed as lazy, overreacting and attention-seeking. I often felt like I was so damn alone because my feelings were swept under the rug. All I really needed was someone to reassure me. I needed someone to tell me that it was okay to listen to what I need – just as I would if I was battling a physical illness. Unfortunately, feeling profound shame and guilt for having mental illness led me to talk about it less and less. I pushed it away and pretended that I was okay when in reality, I was dying inside.

Not only is mental illness underlooked, it is often invalidated. Nothing feels worse than finally opening up to someone (“I can’t shake this sadness”), and getting the reply of (“Don’t worry, everyone has those days!”). It invalidates our struggles. It makes us feel as though our extreme emotions and distressing thoughts are normal. Because of this, many people do not reach out and receive the help that they desperately need. Yet, when someone says, “Ow, my stomach really hurts today. I feel like I might be sick”, people reply with, “Oh no! You poor thing. You should go home and rest”. We discredit mental illness with our words and behaviours (without even fully acknowledging it).

Furthermore, physical illness is regarded as life-threatening. The majority of people are horrified by the thought of getting diagnosed with cancer. Yes, cancer is a terrible, life-threatening disease, just as many mental illnesses are. Borderline personality disorder often coincides with severe self-harm behaviours. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an abnormally low body weight due to food restriction. As we can see, mental illnesses are just as life-threatening and serious as physical illnesses. However, mental illness continues to be viewed as attention-seeking or selfish. “People have it a lot worse than you.” “Why are you sad? You have every reason to be happy!” “I don’t understand; you have nothing to be scared about.” These sentences should never be a response to someone battling mental illness, just as they would never be said to someone fighting a physical illness.

Additionally, many of us fail to realize that mental illness and physical illness are often interconnected. Individuals with physical illness are more likely to develop mental illness. For example, many people battling cancer are diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Our physical state affects our mental state. We feel grief and loss of innocence and normality. In addition, individuals with mental illness (who do not receive the help they need) are more likely to develop a physical illness. For example, some people struggling with mental illness abuse drugs and alcohol. These substances can significantly impact our physical health. This shows us how interrelated human illness is.

For those who have read this entire post and still fail to see my argument, remind yourself that mental illness is actually an illness of our body. Mental illness is a disease of the brain. As we learned in childhood, the brain is an organ of our body. So, just like we may develop a disease of the lungs, thyroid, heart, etc., the brain may become diseased. You can call it a physical illness if you’d like, as our brain is tangible and concrete, just like all of our other organs.

This gives us something to think about the next time we feel as though our mental illness isn’t that serious. Spoiler alert: it is, and it requires professional help.

My hope is that one day society will view physical illness and mental illness as equally important. They both significantly impact our lives. They are both serious and require attention. Just because mental illness is invisible doesn’t mean it has to stay invisible. Please reach out. You do not have to struggle alone.

Keep on shining,

Emily

 

Left picture: September 2014. One day after chemotherapy. One glance and you can see how sick I look. Oh, the sympathy I received from having cancer…….

Right picture: December 2016. We see a bright smile so we think, she’s happy! She’s doing great! Yet, I was suicidal, abusing alcohol and self-harming.  I was struggling to stay afloat. I was waiting for the day it would all end.