I am like the tattered pages of the coloring sheet I tore out from my adult coloring book entitled “Calm The F*ck Down.” I thought about those tattered pages for a while and how badly I just wanted to tear them up, throw them away and start over because they weren’t perfect. I’ve felt that way about myself, too. Not perfect enough to be worth saving, or worth loving, or worth seeing…you get the picture. Instead, I stopped and took my time so that I was at least able to make it look like a full picture and not end up ripping it in half.
On some influencers instagram page her bio read “I am a recovering perfectionist” and I felt that so hard. I wanted to start saying the same thing about myself, but it was a bit presumptuous. Truth is, I’m not in any sort of recovery in any sphere of my life. I want to be able to say something like that confidently. I am deeply attached to the idea of being perfect. Sure, in some ways I am sure I seem really unapologetically myself and you’re not totally wrong…but unapologetically me has to perform, she has to be the favorite, the most kind, the funniest, the most memorable, and the least problematic. I find myself feeling with my eyes closed in a dark room, reaching for something, searching vehemently, relentless and not even being able to grasp even the shadow of perfection. It causes me to berate myself constantly, using words like “lazy, useless, stupid” and my all time favorite “disgusting.” Disgusting is the loudest, most clear and pronounced word that I hear as my inner critic bashes me into submission. It’s shocking to me that I associate lack of productivity and perfection with being disgusting. Sure, lack of accomplishments could really be tied to one being, lazy, or less intelligent…but for it to be tied to their inherent worth felt even far for me. Yet I feel it in my bones when I hear my inner voice hurling the word disgusting at me over and over again…it feels so true, so cruel, so painful, and it feels like it fits perfectly in my chest cavity, like my breast bone and ribs connect. It sounds as familiar as my sister’s voice. It feels like a part of my home. A heavy, burdensome, large, oxygen sucking part of my foundation.
Here is a secret, I am off my medication. I’d lost insurance multiple times while moving from job to job, the healthcare marketplace was not affordable for me, and finding a clinician who accepts patients with no insurance at a reduced rate, was like looking for the north star on the cloudiest night…finding a culturally competent, and trauma informed therapist/psychiatrist proved to be even more difficult. It had been traumatizing finding a mental health provider after my dad died. The place where I ended up going treated lots of people who struggled with substance use disorders. They treated me like I was some junkie looking for xanax to get high. I feel dehumanized, and infuriated. I just wanted to be able to go to work, so that I could take care of my mama. I wanted to be able to breathe even if just for a few minutes during the day. I can’t imagine how others must have felt who struggled with something as difficult as substance use disorder, and were further dehumanized when they sought help. When I was able to get meds from my primary care doctor (who I have not seen in over a year) I stopped taking them, because I wasn’t sure that I would be able to get them again. I didn’t want to get myself feeling good, grounded, and stable to have it ripped away when my access to care was unreliable and unpredictable.
If you are one of the people who are fortunate enough to not experience more than one depressive episode, don’t abandon your mental health. Mental health and mental illness are not inextricably bound. It is worth mentioning however, that depression is a highly recurring disorder with 50% of people who recover experiencing one or more depressive episodes. People who experience two depressive episodes are 80% likely to have another episode. I know all of these facts to be true, yet I am so ashamed that I am relapsing, again…and I can’t count how many times I have been in this place. Nor can I count the countless times I have crawled on bare knees and hands, dragging myself one inch at a time out of the darkest, deepest, and scariest holes. I don’t want to do it again, yet help seems so far away, and so unattainable. Mental illness isn’t black and white, it isn’t full recovery and no relapses, it isn’t existing in total darkness, or illuminating light. Sometimes you find yourself alternating on all sides of the spectrum, suspending over chaos and nothingness…
I was scared to even publish this. Because I thought of myself as the perfect recovered depressed, anxious, compulsive, traumatized product. I’d recovered from emotional abuse, and a mother who used crack frequently. I’d survived the loss of people closest to me, been raped…I graduated with honors, I was active on campus, I got awards and accolades. I am perceived as kind, fun, adventurous, brave and I don’t feel like I am any of those things, but I pretend vehemently that I am for the sake of perfection. What would the people who love me think of me? Would they be tired of finding reasons to love me when I am sad? What about the people who looked up to me for support in dealing with their own mental illness? What about the people I was so proud to prove wrong? Would they relish in my failure, did that eliminate all I’d worked for? The answer is I don’t know the answer to any of those questions and the fear about it looms so heavy. But, I’m gonna do it anyway, because I have seen first hand how there is power, liberation, and healing in being vulnerable. I am just a girl sharing my experiences with other people who wish to listen. I hope that if you’re reading this and you feel some of these things, that you know you are not alone. I wish I had some more encouraging or inspiring words to say, but all I can say is that I love you, and you aren’t in this alone. Keep living to fight another day soldiers.