I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be normal. To not feel crippling fear in unfamiliar situations. To have the confidence to bounce back after minor setbacks. Because of my mental illness, I may never be normal. Realising and accepting this took a long time, and made me completely re-evaluate my life.
Five years ago I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. But looking back on my childhood I realised I ignored a ton of mental health red flags. I was always an anxious child; tiptoeing around my parents, afraid of or intimidated by people. My mum used to say I was a ‘glass half empty’ person. But were these personality quirks, or a sign of a bigger problem that I didn’t face until much later?
The hardest part about living with mental illness is the lack of understanding from others. Some people are incapable of seeing things from a different perspective. They can’t wrap their heads around someone who looks healthy, but is falling apart inside. Some people have their hearts in the right places – some do not.
I envy people who can act on something without a second thought. Who wouldn’t question stepping out of their comfort zone. Or don’t freak out at the slightest inconvenience. I have to plan every possible outcome of a situation before I can make a decision, and none of them are positive.
My whole life is an obstacle course, and I face my fears almost every day. Not because I want to; but because I have to. I’ve changed myself to adapt to the environment, instead of changing my environment to help me.
Over the years I’ve learned a few workarounds so I don’t feel like I’m falling behind in life. I set mirco goals, so I can still have ambition without it overwhelming me. I’m open about my mental health so I can get more support at work and home. I practice proper self care and know when to stop and recharge. And I set boundaries for myself so I can still socialise without fear – most of the time.
I used to stress myself out trying to follow the current. Other mentally healthy people may be more capable and adaptable than me – but that doesn’t make me a burden. I’m wired differently, but I work just the same. Once I made a few adjustments I realised that life didn’t need to be difficult. Now I’m getting closer to creating the life I actually want. One day I’ll look back on all these challenges and wonder why I put so much pressure on myself to be ‘normal’.