When it comes to mental illness, I constantly feel like I have to earn working on myself.
I write about my mental health struggles semi-regularly on this blog, and sometimes, I find myself with the urge to justify the effort I’m putting in to improve them. To go in to the really nasty symptoms, the horrible stuff that it does nobody except my therapist any good to hear, to make sure people understand this is serious. It’s real. I’m not just saying this, not just asking for help or sympathy or even space to work on myself because of a few bad days.
There’s this sense, I think, for a lot of people dealing with mental health issues, to “earn” their treatment, their recovery, or even just improvement by underlining how terrible things have been for them. It’s the same train of thought behind the notorious “My Eating Disorder Story” genre of YouTube videos, the ones featuring painfully emaciated pictures of their subjects, in my eyes – here are the pictures of me at my very, very worst, even though I know they will be used as triggering fodder for other people suffering from the same disorder, because I need you to know it was bad enough to justify what came next. While those videos can be incredibly damaging, both for the people making them and the people consuming them, I get it, I do. We want to be the sickest, able to justify the perceived self-involvement that comes hand-in-hand with self-improvement.
Recovery and symptom management require the sufferer to focus on themselves, it’s unavoidable. And, even in this new era of self-care (whether that’s actually real or just a hip bandaid to slap on our wellbeing is another matter), taking that distinctly unglamorous and un-Instagramable time to ourselves to do that work can feel selfish. The only way to justify it, it seems, is to point to how bad things are – to prostrate yourself in front of the world at your worst to prove you are, truly, The Sickest, worthy of the help you’re seeking, the work you’re doing. You parse out the currency of your suffering to earn the promise of your betterment. See how bad I was? So now I’m allowed to get better, right?
It’s something I’m trying to train myself out of, but even now, I find myself with the urge to share some of the grimier, uglier details I know wouldn’t actually help me to put out there. Some part of me wants to prove myself worthy of this effort I’m pouring into making my life a little more liveable. But the truth is, I – and everyone else dealing with mental illness, actually – doesn’t have to prove a thing. You’re not selfish for caring for yourself, even in the demanding, difficult ways mental health struggles often require. You’re doing what you need to do to make your life liveable and you will always have my total support. Now, if I can find a way to apply that to myself, too, I’ll be on to something.
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