I was seven years old the first time I thought “My brain is broken”. I spent the next twenty-five years finding ways to punish myself for being broken. I thought it was a curse because I was a bad person but I have come to see it as a gift.
Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t wish a mental illness like depression, PTSD or an eating disorder on anyone. It is an indescribably painful journey. I also wouldn’t change the gifts my journey has given me. I never thought I could get to the point where I would be thankful for my life, for being me. I can honestly say I am thankful for my life.
Dealing with mental illness is different from physical illness in many ways. If a person says they can’t eat something because they have diabetes or they are unable to concentrate on school or work because they have broken bones people understand. It is not the same if you say your mind is broken. Someone with an eating disorder says they can’t eat something because their mind is yelling at them not too and it takes all their energy just to breath. People tend to respond with little sympathy believing it is a choice. Someone is too physically exhausted to get out of bed because they are constantly drowning in an ocean of sadness or paralyzed with anxiety. Others don’t buy them flowers and offer support like they would if the same person was lying in bed because of a heart attack.
I can always tell someone who has been touched by mental illness because they have an understanding the rest of the world doesn’t. Many who have never experienced it react with fear or with pity, believing I am suddening less “normal” or capable because I have experienced the strength building trials I have. A person who has battled or loved someone who has a mental illness has a compassion but respect in their eyes knowing the courage it takes to face each and every day.
I used to be ashamed of my mind, my journey and my struggles. I am not any more. My mental illness gave me the gift of compassion. It has given me unconditional love for and from others. It has given me friendships and lessons that I never would have experienced without it. I would rather have a mind that was sad because I was hurt or that was once critical of myself than to have a mind that would purposely hurt someone. There is too much hurt in the world. I am grateful that I xan see the hurt and try not to add to it. I wouldn’t have that gift if it wasn’t for my journey.
Each step in my journey with my mental illness brought new lessons, new friendship, new gifts, new insights, new blessings. At the time I was going through the denial and pain of my struggles I couldn’t see anything good about it. But as I look at each phase of my life and my journey to happiness is filled with love and blessings.
There have been times I have been able to help another, to have empathy, to be a blessing to them because I walked a similar path years earlier. I have felt completely alone in my life at times. The first time I tried to kill myself I was 8. There were several conscious and sub-conscious attempts in the twenty years that followed. All because I thought I was alone, I was broken and I had nothing to offer the universe. But I had it all wrong. It was because of my struggles, my mind, I was needed on earth. It was my mental illness that gave me the gifts I most cherish about myself and my life.
I know I am loved unconditionally because my family loved me through my illness. I met my most precious friends and was in the place where the universe gave me my incredible daughter, because of my journey. I have seen suffering and offered compassion letting someone else know they were not alone…because I had felt alone in my darkest days. It helped me realize my mental illness wasn’t a punishment from God for being abused when I was five, it was a gift from the universe so I could find the perfect place for me to find a life of peace and love.
In my youth I prayed for God to cure me, to make me a better person. I would ask Him why He would give me this burden. But I was asking the wrong question.
I didn’t realize my struggles were His gift to help me be a better person. His biggest commandment was “Love One Another”…my mental illness was His gift to teach me how.