A Real Life Story of Mental Illness:
THE CHOICE YOU HAVE WHEN YOU HAVE NO CHOICE
I didn’t choose mental illness and I’m pretty hands-down-certain you didn’t either. Whether you’re the one with the diagnosis or you’re the one with the one with the diagnosis, you have no doubt come face to face with this little word: Acceptance. Okay, maybe it’s not that little but we can’t mention it without being reminded of the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Acceptance is the only sane choice we get to make in situations where few choices are available to us. Don’t let the zen connotation of that word fool you though—acceptance isn’t a passive activity or a one-and-done decision.
Like many virtues, acceptance has components and it involves a process. If I overlay my mental illness acceptance process with that of the acceptance process of a double amputee I can better visualize what is required for me to navigate—not only my illness but also the acceptance of my illness.
Truth be told, I’ve been selective with acceptance. I have accepted that I have Bipolar 2, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic Anxiety Disorder and Cluster B personality traits found in persons with Borderline Personality Disorder—in that dis-order! Acceptance of this took me thirty years to fully embrace. It came in small doses and it still requires regular maintenance. I accept that I have mental illness. There.
I’m not, however, as accepting of my limitations as a result of mental illness. I’m a first-born-type-A-never-give-up-fixer-survivor-kinda-gal which means I’m more apt to attempt annihilation of my limitations as accept them. Given a little more time…with a little more effort…after a little more experience I could kick limitation to the curb. Sounds a little nutty, right? No matter how much I hate the inconvenience of my limitations, barring an immaculate conception grade miracle they’re here to stay. Might as well accept them.
Accepting my need for medication hasn’t been a no-brainer either. How many times have I stopped taking pills that keep me out of the proverbial pine box—refusing compliance because I didn’t like the side effects of weight gain or feeling flat or admitting weakness or being inconvenienced or misunderstood or judged? Or because I thought prayer and Bible memorization were effective alternatives to antidepressants and psychotropics? As many times as I have embraced acceptance surrounding treatment I have in equal number failed to embrace it. I can’t resist including here a familiar and indicting quote:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.
Here’s another acceptance challenge: People won’t get you. There are those in this world, and in my own tiny tribe, who will never understand me, acknowledge my struggle or validate my suffering. They see the high functioning side of me and are confused when depression sends me into isolation. It’s difficult to accept that sometimes I’ll be falsely accused, maligned, judged, stereotyped, invalidated, uninvited and avoided simply because I have faulty wiring. Failing to accept this only sets me up for heartache and a whole lot of unnecessary crazy-making.
Of the many things mental illness presents and challenges me to accept, what sometimes requires the most faith, is remembering that God is not mad at me and He’s not tapping an impatient foot waiting for me to get it together. He’s not irritated with me because I can’t always show up…or follow through with plans…or complete projects I’ve begun…or shower daily…or read my Bible faithfully…or cook dinner…or fein happiness. Accepting His posture of grace toward me helps me to accept these things about myself. Does mental illness give me permission to be an intentional and perpetual flake? Absolutely not.
Back to the double amputee visual. How absurd would it be for a person without legs to refuse acceptance of his situation and attempt life as before? Would he, in great faith, leap from the bed convinced and determined to go about his life as if he had legs? Would he expect to run a race without first enduring rehab, prosthetics and practice? Would he rush out of the house to help someone else if one of his prosthetics was missing or in the repair shop? You get my point.
I’ve come to accept and take comfort in my utter dependence upon God. This thorn in the flesh affliction I have presses upon me and I in turn press upon God. The Apostle Paul called his affliction a gift:
“I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (MSG)
There are many things we can’t choose about mental illness but if we want to live our best life (sorry for that over-used term) we must begin with choosing acceptance. At first glance it may not seem like much of a choice, but it is.
Accept the diagnosis if accurate.
Accept the necessity of medication.
Accept the invalidation of people who don’t understand.
Accept your limitations and periodic setbacks.
Accept yourself as one loved by God.
Accept your utter dependence upon Him as the gift it is.
The choice is yours, dear one.
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