Living with a Mental Illness – Without the imposter’s mask
It doesn’t matter how successful we were, how much money we made, how many people we knew, how many countries we visited, how many clinks of the champagne glass rattled the windows of euphoria.
Look how far I’ve travelled. See how many likes I’ve gotten!
Missing all the signs, I had fallen, gotten up, fallen, gotten up, and fallen again. This time so far that the consequences of my actions had ripped apart every relationship I had. Family, friends, work, everyone. Had anyone taken notice? Had I taken notice? Not until my mask of the imposter, so perfectly embedded, was ripped off and smashed to pieces.
The journey to recovery took me on an endless path exploring medical facilities, a plethora of SSRI’s, MAOI’s, Tricyclic and Tetracyclic antidepressants, hours of counselling, practising wellness techniques, and inevitably a major lifestyle change.
The question, however, is whether one can return to normal life once the hurricane had withered away or whether the destruction left in its wake is reparable? More importantly, how does one adapt to being back in society without cultivating a new mask?
Societal stigma has been spoken about a lot in recent times and general consensus is that mental health issues are on the rise and need to be addressed through increased awareness and education. The internal stigma, however, of “can I go back” or “will I adapt” raises the question whether adequate coping mechanisms have been adopted to integrate and reconnect with that which I knew, or thought I knew. Very often internal stigma or the “self” is ignored to focus solely on taking protective measures against that of what friends, family and colleges might think of me. Creating a sense of self-judgement and inadvertently installing fear of what others might think, is a core issue health practitioners should address, as much as any other form of coaching or counselling.
Having spent extensive time in the East and understanding the practices of holistic living, I realized that the term “wellbeing” had become a quintessential mainstay encouraged by councillors, psychologists and life coaches. In western terms, the interpretation often neglects the all-encompassing definition of wellbeing, with focussing attention on only certain aspects such as relaxation or meditation. The importance of holistic living goes hand-in-hand with not only surviving daily life but rather thriving at life. Acknowledging and accepting my mental health condition, I appreciate that holistic wellbeing is not a supplementary or replacement treatment to medicine, but rather a complementary practice. Introduction to a healthy, sustainable diet ensures that the body is nourished sufficiently to cope with daily stresses. Relaxation, sleep and meditation all contribute to the continued elimination of the effects external forces would have on my mindset. Additionally, exercise and proper abdominal breathing have effectively assisted in the reduction of stress and anxiety, and ultimately eased the cruxes day to day life with a mental illness.
Over the course of my life, I have heard numerous people use the phrase “I am who I am and cannot change who I am.” “Who I am,” however, is a mindset, and not a permanent body or reality because everything in the universe is always changing. The “mind” is a collection of thoughts, feelings and emotions, which can, and always do change. We are not our thoughts, we become them, and therefore we can change them in a way we prefer. Think, how many of us still believe the same things we did when we were children? Have we not changed since then? Will we not change again as we get older still?
A negative mindset by definition creates unhappiness, pain and suffering, whereas a positive mindset brings about joy, happiness, contentment and harmony. Remember that similar thoughts attract each other, whether they are good or bad.
Living without a positive mindset, spiritual and emotional growth is not possible. Our minds are, however, resistant and habitual. Our minds tend to blind themselves to themselves. I too, with my smiling mask, had always said that “I’m fine and happy,” yet under the mask, my thoughts, memories and emotions tormented me to such an extent that I eventually had to hit rock bottom to break the mask.
Healing is a gentle and slow process. Living each day with a Mental Illness is part of the healing process.