I am not crazy, or wacko, or certifiable, or any of the many words that are used to describe someone with a mental health illness. I am a productive, creative, happy person, and I am living with an anxiety disorder. There, I said it. That used to be very hard for me to say. I was embarrassed by the thought of having a mental illness. What would people think of me? Would they look at me as a person who is less than whole? Would they think of me with pangs of pity? Would they still be willing to be my friend? Would people cast me out as they would a pariah? How would my family react? Would I become that crazy old aunt about whom everyone laughed? And what would I think of me? These questions filled my thoughts, and definitely held a place in my subconscious thoughts even at times when I was not actively thinking about them.
Today, after a lot of work, I am no longer embarrassed or ashamed of this condition. I actually feel a bit of pride when I tell people that I have an anxiety disorder. Yes, pride. I know it sounds strange to think of an anxiety disorder as a source of pride, but it is. Just saying the words out loud, “I have an anxiety disorder,” is a huge accomplishment. I feel pride in that accomplishment. I feel pride that I have been able to find the strength and courage to rebuild a solid, productive, happy life. I feel pride in all that I have learned about myself, my mental illness, and mental illness in general. I feel pride that I have taken ownership of my illness, with no more denials or excuses. I feel pride in each day that I awake to inner peace. I am grateful for each day that I am able to live with inner peace.
I know that I will always be recovering, and can never take wellness for granted. I will never be able to assume that I am free and clear of another major episode of anxiety. I don’t like that piece of this illness. Not a bit! However, I am learning to accept that element of uncertainty. I remind myself that I know how to do the hard work. I know where to go for help if the work becomes more than I can handle on my own. I hope that I never need help again, but I might, and I know that. And I want to be very clear. I am not fooling myself or being cocky about this disease. Not for one single second! I appreciate, beyond words, the good and solid place that I am in right now. That is all I can take for granted – right now. I know that inner peace is fragile. It can disappear instantly, and without warning. But I will not let that frighten me, because it will not change the future, just make the present more difficult.
It feels awful when, as in the past, I found myself in the middle of a downward event. I hated it. It felt like happiness was forever and a mile away. And should that ever occur again, I will need to remember that it will get better. I will be happy again.