At this point, you probably don’t know that I have a lot of mental illnesses. I do, and they suck. I have been formally diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among a few other things that affect me less.
I’ve been in treatment for a while now, and I’ve been hospitalized a couple times because of these things. I’ve been suicidal, and I’ve had active plans on how to kill myself. I’ve been in the midst of a panic attack (because I have a hair on my face… no joke) at work, trying desperately to keep myself together. I’ve had flashbacks to my extremely abusive childhood that render me completely helpless.
You name it, I’ve probably been there.
The thing is, though, that recovery isn’t much better than having illnesses in general… when you first start out. See, the only way to heal from pain is to go through it. You can’t go around it, under it, over it, beside it, or anything else. As Toph said to Aang in one of my favorite TV shows, Avatar: the Last Airbender: There’s no different angle, no clever solution, no trickity trick that’s going to move that rock. You’ve got to face it head on.
That’s extremely true of most things, especially mental illness. You can’t just avoid the problem or try to come at it from a different angle. You have to face your problems, and that’s hard. Believe me, it’s hard. You’ll have to sit through hours of therapy, delving into the deepest, darkest, most painful parts of your psyche before you’ll get better.
And you’ll get worse before you get better.
I know that’s not a super optimistic way to look at things, but it’s true. When you’re dealing with mental illness, it’s almost impossible to make a linear progression from bad to okay to better. It usually goes from bad to worse to Jesus-Christ-why-am-I-doing-this-to-myself to decent to okay to better. That’s totally normal, and you shouldn’t be discouraged if that’s the path your treatment is taking.
Take my PTSD for example. I’ll write another post explaining how I got PTSD in the first place, but let’s take a broad overview of it now. If you’ve ever seen any war movies featuring veterans affected by PTSD, you’ve seen the flashbacks. It’s like the guy is right back on the battlefield, watching his buddy get blown to bits in front of him. It’s horrific.
When I first started dealing with my PTSD, I got emotional flashbacks to when I was a kid. I could hear the yelling, screaming, and fighting I grew up with as if I were there. These flashbacks are caused by being triggered. Now, what do you think is going to happen when you talk about the things that caused you to have this mental illness inthe first place?
Bingo, you’ll get triggered.
I haven’t gotten to this point yet, but I’m sure I’ll have a breakdown or two in my therapist’s office. But that’s okay. This is some serious shit you’re wading through, and you need to be able to let it out. Pushing it down and repressing your feelings will only make the imminent explosion much worse.
So, don’t be discouraged if you’re getting worse before you’re seeing positive results. It’s a totally normal thing to have happen. If you’re just starting treatment for any mental illness, you can expect it to get more intense and harder to deal with until you get to the point where you can manage it.
Stay strong, friend. You and I both will get there one day.