As I enter 2018 I am struck by a simple idea that I would like to guide me through this year. Actually, I’d like it to guide me through my life, but let’s just begin with this year. The concept of vulnerability is one that I first discovered when watching a Ted Talk’s video online. This is place I go to for inspiration and insight, particularly when times are tough. I encourage others to do so, because, every once in a while, something touches me to my very core.
Brene Brown is a qualitative researcher and she speaks to the topic of vulnerability in a way that exemplifies everything that I hold as a core value. It is the reason I write these blogs, it is the reason I advocate for mental health awareness, it is the reason that I share my stories. I believe these things are good for my soul and ultimately the true heart of ending stigma and creating community.
The truth is however, that being vulnerable is never easy. When do I share my stories and bare my soul to the world. Who can I trust to show compassion and how do I know that someone may not laugh or think I am “craving attention”, when I all want is to feel as though I am not alone. Having mental illness is often overwhelming and having to feel as though it is a secret and something of which to be ashamed, makes the struggle absolutely daunting.
We all have something in common. Those of us who suffer, who manage, who know someone who suffers, who have watched someone suffer and simply stood by, not knowing how or why to help. Those of us who are scared of mental illness, don’t understand, have had terrible moments of grief and despair as a result of mental illness and those of us who have had momentous moments of triumph as a result of mental illness. We all have a story. And if we are brave enough we can share that story and be willing to be judged and be willing to feel naked amongst a group of people who may not understand or feel any compassion or empathy.
However, I also believe with great sincerity that if we speak out, if we share our stories (the good and the bad), that we take mental illness from a topic of illness and turn it into a topic of people. It is no longer a distant and scary topic, but a story of your Aunt Janice, or you sister, your uncle, your father, your classmate, your professor, your grocery store clerk, your neighbor, your mailman. In taking a chance to be vulnerable we gain understanding and insight and hopefully we gain a sense of belonging. The community of mental health advocates is greater than we realize, and being brave enough to bare your soul, may make you fortunate enough to find a place of belonging and understanding.
“The Capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”
(quote from oxford dictionary)
This word come to me often and I garuntee we all feel the struggles that balancing school and work and life can so often put upon us. But as I approach each roadblock and each new challenge, I try and look to them as opportunities. This is an unusual point of view, but I also think it is incredibly helpful for a person that suffers from mental health concerns. One of the greatest factors that seperates myself from other people who don’t suffer with mental health concerns is my ability to cope.
Finding coping strategies is one of the central focuses of my psychological and personal care. When life gets difficult, and it certainly will, we can choose to let it bulldoze over it or I can choose to get knocked down, stand back up, dust myself off and try again. Each struggle, gives me a chance to prove to myself that I am stronger than I think, that I can manage tasks and torments that seeem unmanageable. With these experiences in hand, I continue to grow and so I anxiously await my next big challenge, I get excited when everything in my life goes wrong. I also cry and have moments of sheer terror, but resilience doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the fear, it means that we accept it and are able to move past it with an understanding that, I can’t change what has happened, I can’t change what may happen in the future, but I will be able to survive it. I am strong and capable and I will find a way. No matter what!!!! I am resilient.
I am a mature student and starting my life over again from scratch has been exciting and liberating. It has also been overwhelming and stress inducing. When I left a terrible and toxic past behind in pursuit of a brighter and more meaningful future, I expected that balancing work and studies would be difficult and was prepared to learn new skills in time management and stress management. I had no idea; however, that social dynamics would become my biggest hurdle.
I like to describe my current life situation like Christmas dinner. There’s the adults table and the kids table. I however, don’t belong at either. Many of my instructors and friends are fully accomplished and are years ahead of myself. On the other hand, I am surrounded by a group of young adults, most of whom are barely outside of puberty and so finding my place within this new environment of students has been a lonely struggle. My maturity does; however, give me some advantages: I am unafraid to be different, I am open with my emotions, have little time for gossip, have the capacity to appreciate a variety of different people, and have a passion and perseverance to overcome obstacles and find the positivity in every situation.
So, when the young students call me their “school mom”, I find comfort in the fact that I help nurture a group of individuals who need extra support and know that this capacity is appreciated. I take pleasure in being able to connect with a younger group of individuals, that teaches me patience and shows me an excitement that is admirable. I respect my own accomplishments and appreciate the growth that I have had, since I was 18, and it makes me excited to know that I am sure to see even more personal development as I go through this program.
Ultimately, I know that I don’t have to sit at the kids table or the grown ups table. I sit at a table of my own making and welcome a new group of diverse individuals. Many of whom will be older and younger, many whom I can teach or whom may teach me, but all of whom are on a journey of education and enlightenment. I have chosen, as I enter my second semester, to approach these struggles as opportunities. This experience will make me wiser, but perhaps keep me younger and I will carve my own unique place in this world, choosing optimism over fear.
I have anxiety and I know that my future success will be built upon the achievements of today. I go through my head and imagine a day, four years from now, when I accept my degree and am acknowledged for my hard work and dedication. What scares me most; however, is having that degree mean nothing. In a world as it exists today, people leave with degrees that are meaningless and instead spend their adult years, moving from one precarious position to another. I want to write a post that is inspirational and helpful, but mostly I want to write a post that is honest. I struggle day in and day out to achieve my best, impress my professors, earn the respect of my faculty, involve myself in student activities, maintain romantic and personal connections, work to support myself and my academic endeavours and maintain my own mental health.
I feel as though the weight of my entire future happiness is resting on the achievements of today and I hope I am not alone, when I say that it is overwhelming. I manage everything entirely well, I remain calm and persevere under the pressure and achieve more than I ever thought possible. I manage until I no longer can. I sit alone, crying in the bathtub, hyperventilating and feeling the panic surge through my body. I feel a weight on my chest and rationally, I know that I am not having a heart attack, but it feels so real. The worst is when I begin to feel dizzy and like a fuzzy feeling comes over my head, as though I am walking through a dream, as though I am stepping outside my body and I can’t manage to climb back inside.
I know that I need to accept less than perfection, I know that I am running a marathon and not a sprint and I know that something must give, or else my mental health will be the ultimate sacrifice. I will work hard this semester to accept that perfection isn’t always obtainable. I am trying to coach myself to respect myself and this is the true way to earn the respect of my peers and professors. I will try to be compassionate with myself. In that moment however, I had to settle for finding the strength to climb back into my skin, settle my breathing, calm my heart and dry my tears. For today, that will have to be enough, for today, I will have to be enough.