I’m Living Proof: My Mental Health is Not a Curse

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Ocean Beach I'm Living Proof Podcast

Dear Gwyneth,

I know you’re having a hard time right now imagining better days. I remember at age four, when you bravely started therapy and got your first diagnosis, panic disorder, how confused you were to experience a mental health crisis when you were barely old enough to speak. The hallucinations, the dissociation, the voices, the panic attacks, the night terrors, the shifting moods—it made you feel scared of yourself and your brain, and most of all, it made you wonder what you had done wrong to deserve a childhood like that. It felt like a curse.

And now you’re scared because you’re entering high school and these things haven’t gone away. Soon you’ll get your bipolar 1 disorder and complex-PTSD diagnoses. You’ll fight through three hard, long hospitalizations. You’ll have college interviews and ACTs and high school memories all stolen by that psych ward. You’ll battle self-harm. You’ll go on medications that feel like they’re failing you. You’ll be laughed at by nurses when you tell them you plan to go to college. You’ll question every day if you’ll ever find happiness, or if you’ll live in a cycle of mental health crisis forever.

But you know what happens next?

You’ll learn to ask for help. You’ll graduate with a full International Baccalaureate diploma. You’ll be accepted into Georgetown University, and you’ll lead disability advocacy there by telling these same stories you once worked so hard to hide. You’ll finally get the accommodations you need, even if it was hard asking for them. You’ll stick with therapy for 16 years. You’ll travel all over the world. You’ll stumble upon your dream career. You’ll dedicate yourself to self-harm recovery, you’ll relapse, and you’ll brush yourself off and try again. And it will all be worth it when you get to host your first “six months clean” party with your friends. You’ll dedicate yourself to an 8-month DBT program. You’ll get an adorable emotional support kitten named Eloise who will give you a reason to wake up every morning and get out of bed. You’ll even (and I know this is hard to imagine) experience days where you don’t think about your mental health at all.

I can’t tell you that you’ll have magically “cured” any of your diagnoses as a young adult. I still have episodes. I still get manic, or depressed, or panicked or paranoid. I still have setbacks and I still get scared of myself from time to time. And I continue to struggle every day with accepting that I will never get my childhood back. But in a strange way, I’m glad my mental illnesses will never be “cured.” I’ve learned I actually don’t want them to be. Because these conditions are not the curse you think they are. They will build you into a creative, insightful, resilient, brave, empathetic, and empowered adult. They will close doors for you that, in the end, open even better ones. And though it often feels like it comes at too hefty a cost, that nothing could ever be worth a lifetime of mental health struggles, I would never want you to lose those special qualities. It may not be easy, but it is a part of you. A beautiful part.

So next time you look in the mirror, don’t be scared of what you see. You are not some monster. You and your brain are okay just as they are. And one day, when you enter your 20’s, you’ll be proud of that brain—for all the ways it protected you over the years even when you feared it, and all the battles it fought quietly behind the scenes so you could still achieve your goals, and all the pain it endured, and failed to endure, while you judged it for doing so. You’ll make peace with it. Maybe even grow to feel grateful for it. But most importantly, you will never let your brain stop you from experiencing your life. How do I know all of this is true? Because I am living proof.

Your 20-year-old self

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I’m Living Proof Archive

I’m Living Proof created to share inspiration for young adults living with mood disorder. These archival posts represent the stories shared between 2015-2020.

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