How Accepting My Mental Illness Changed My Life

It never came as a surprise to me that I had depression. By now I have done the research and went through enough therapy to be certain, but even as a fourteen-year-old I was pretty sure there was something off about alternating between crying easily, but then being unable to experience emotions other than intense distaste for myself.

Thinking back, I didn’t really fall apart until I was nineteen and starting college. I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school. I didn’t do any sports. At most I was editor of the yearbook club. I preferred to hang around with the teachers and took solace in reading and re-watching movies. When I did have encounters with kids my own age, I seemed to throw them off. Looking back, I am sure it was odd for them to see someone get off a phone call only to start hysterically crying because the person on the other end of the line just screamed at them for leaving the house without cleaning the toilet to their liking. Yes, specifically the toilet only. That was from my family.

Photo by  Joshua Earle  on  Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Back then I asked people often, “What do you think of me? What kind of a person am I? A likable one? Is getting along with me hard?” It shouldn't be surprising to know that people responded affirmatively often. It didn't help that I would always start crying.

Today, I am aware that I am in control of making myself into the kind of person I want to be. But that took years of therapy to understand.

And yet, I managed.  I was obsessive and focused on doing things according to procedure, so I finished college with an A- average. I became the go-to person in the family for general information and trivia. Held jobs. Scheduled and kept meticulous ‘To-Do’ lists organized around my two-home arrangement. Doesn’t that sound like someone who has it together? How could this someone have a mental illness? Sure, all of us get overwhelmed and stressed and overworked, but what made my situation a mental health disaster?

Why couldn’t I continue on such a path for an indeterminate amount of time just fine, without a diagnosis, like others seemed to be able to?

I have asked myself that plenty of times. Life was hard enough, with parents divorced and my being moved between two countries, to ever want to slap a “mentally ill” label onto myself. Was it so that I could finally allow myself to experience the emotions I had buried? Maybe to feel like there was a real reason behind everything I had endured? Did the bliss of ignorance subside and make my illness undeniable, or was it something else?

I would like to think that meeting my now husband was the pivotal moment when I stopped being able to continue “just making it” and had to confront the reality of how truly unhappy I was. He cared for me, he spent time listening and didn’t think any of my ideas were stupid, or any of my interests for that matter. He was forgiving when I wasn’t my shining, smiling outward self.

Him showing me love opened up the floodgates for other emotions. I learned that plenty of people would be kind and caring. There was now no way to put two images of my life next to each other without seeing the earlier version crumble into pieces, filling me with disgust. I had a taste of joy and now I wanted it in my life all the time.

Taking the road to get better, while without guarantees, was what would create a life worth living for me.

Whether my lack of emotion was due to chemicals malfunctioning in my brain or circumstance was unimportant compared to the fact that I wanted to understand the truths about what my life really was like. What else had I believed to be okay within my environment and my feelings that truly wasn't?

I learned that it wasn’t okay that my mother took me away from my home in the U.S. to Russia. That is called kidnapping. I learned that it was not right for my parents to expect my sister to raise me and take care of me while they were both alive, healthy, and earning more than decent income. I learned that not all families end in divorce. I learned that it was not ok for my uncle to slap my butt and tell me it would help it grow. It wasn’t ok that I would vomit up my food to stay slim.

Are you overwhelmed yet hearing all of this at once? I was.

All of these were situations I had lived through, and they came rushing at me like a river. I became unable to see past them or shut them away any further. And that meant I wanted to them out. Whether by ending my life, taking medication, or going to therapy, I wanted them gone.

Since we can’t run away from ourselves, I needed to learn tools to cope and come to terms with what how my life had been managed by others previously.

So now, you tell me. Was ignorance bliss or was awareness my savior? Was my diagnosis my crutch or my comfort and explanation? 

Should you continue sleeping through the nightmare because you just want some rest, or should you violently wake yourself up and go through the painful process of dealing with things?

I am not sure whether feeling such relief is the case for every person who gets diagnosed with a mental illness, but I am here, aren’t I? I am not suicidal (on more days than not). I partly own a home, I have a dog with a following on Instagram, I have bought myself a car, paid down half of my student loan, married the love of my life and been accepted into his family. I am now a writer and an advocate, an educator and presenter.

Did I live through all of that because I had no other options or did I learn about my illness and choose to recover because I needed attention? I don’t think I had a choice either way.