When it comes to mental illness, I like to be the champion. The advocate. The information bank just waiting to enlighten and educate you. A source of awareness, a spark for understanding. But the whole world of mental illness and living with one is just as new to me as it is to many of the people I'm trying to help understand. I'm still learning, and now that I'm back at school, it feels like a crash course. And I think a lot of people with mental illnesses can relate.
I'm learning that I can't handle the same level of commitment and activity I used to.
I'm learning I need more sleep than I used to.
I'm learning that I need to replace guilt with grace and prioritize my needs over others' wants.
I'm learning that, while I want to be open and honest about my fight, sometimes I just want to say "I don't want to talk about it." And that's okay.
I'm learning to respond to "How are you?" with something other than "good" and "Are you okay?" with something other than "yeah" when I need to.
I'm learning that sometimes, crying in public becomes inevitable.
I'm learning that I have triggers, and sometimes they don't make sense, and I can't control my reactions to them. So I'm learning to live with panic attacks and tears when they come.
I'm learning how my illness is defined and handled outside the psychiatric world, and how it should be defined and handled.
I'm learning who I am without the energy and productivity of mania.
I'm learning what it means when your illness is categorized as disability.
I'm learning to let truths be truths for me too, without requiring anyone else's validation.
I'm learning to say "no." Even when someone else doesn't like it or doesn't agree with my decision.
I'm learning to stand up for myself and my needs. And I'm learning to lean on others when I need them.
So if I tell you no, or I say I can't handle something -- if I back out of a commitment or say "I don't want to talk about it" -- if I say I don't have time or something is not my priority -- don't be mad. Don't be hurt. It's not personal. Don't get upset. It's not about you. It's about what I need to stay sane and be healthy.
I'm not being selfish or making excuses. Even I'm still learning that when I say these things or make these choices, it doesn't make them personal or offensive or selfish or cop-outs. If I'm going to live life with a mental illness, these responses and decisions are necessary to my well-being.
I'm still learning that.