Mental illness has limited my life but I refuse to give up
We often hear about mental illness in the inspirational stories of people who have overcome incredible odds and thrived at life. People who have dragged themselves out of the darkness, who have pulled themselves up and are now doing incredible things. We hear of people who feel their mental illness inspired their creativity, given them strength (what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger), or has motivated them to push themselves.
What we don’t hear about so much though is the people who were on track for a successful life and had it irreparably derailed by mental illness. Not everyone will regain the life they had before and not all of us will thrive.
Before I got ill I was at university. I was on track to become a doctor, in fact I wanted to be a surgeon. I was intelligent, I had friends, I worked two jobs, I got good grades… Then it all fell apart. I could suddenly barely study, I could hardly think. I could no longer function at work and even small tasks felt overwhelming. I started to lose friends as I withdrew more and more and started to act erratically.
My dreams of being a doctor were falling away and I don’t think I even realised. Even if I had realised I don’t think I would have cared. I was so preoccupied with what was going on in my mind, nothing else mattered to me – my education and potential career no longer seemed important.
I never became a doctor. For the next two years I bounced around the country, in and out of hospital, in and out of employment. Until eventually I somehow blagged my way into teacher training and got a job at a college. At first this seemed great, the stability seemed to help. But slowly things started to unravel.
Once more I found myself self-harming, overdosing, having suicidal thoughts regularly and my bulimia got out of control. I started turning up to lessons late and unprepared – which is particularly bad when you are the teacher. I was having to cancel lessons at the last second because I was in A&E. And I was lying to the college, desperate to hide my serious mental illness, terrified what would happen if they knew the truth.
Eventually the college fired me. Justifiably.
There I was: 24 years old and so far having lost two careers due to my mental illness. It was suggested that perhaps my psychosis was being triggered by the stress of working, and I guess I hadn’t exactly chosen low-stress careers to date.
When out of work I seem to reach some level of stability – not recovered, not well, but stable. But I can’t exactly just not work, apart from anything else dealing with the benefits system is also stressful.
So now I work in bursts. I have to. Taking on temporary work for a few months and leaving when the red flags appear. If I work part-time I can work for longer but still after only a few months the illness will start to raise it’s head once more. This is not the ideal, not a long-term solution but, for now, it seems to be the best I can do.
My life has been limited by my mental illness. This is just a fact, it’s my truth. When I say this people get very insistent that I am being “a downer” or “giving up”, I’m not. I am simply living within my adjusted means. I’m trying to walk a tightrope between engaging in society and keeping myself somewhat well.
Mental illness has limited my life and that’s OK. It’s OK to live within your limits and we are not “giving up”. If anything, this is an act of refusing to give up.
Hazel Cornhill is a writer, speaker and mental health campaigner focusing on psychosis, self-harm and eating disorders. You can listen to their podcast Reality Tourists at realitytourists.wordpress.com or follow them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AnLasair.