Why I personally believe that coping with longer term, chronic illnesses and disabilities is more a journey of acceptance and self discovery rather than a battle to permanently end suffering and pain.
A few weeks ago, after months of weekly sessions, I said ‘goodbye’ to my counsellor as she passed the baton over to me and I felt ready to become my own therapist. I had been diagnosed by my GP with Depression and Anxiety a few years ago and ever since then I have been through a whirlwind of emotions and experiences – some high points, but many excruciatingly horrible low ones too. This particular batch of counselling is the most recent in a long line of therapy and support I have accessed over the years to help me work on my mental health issues which have reared their ugly head in my life time and time again.
The same day I took the big step of going it alone away from counselling, I came across this hashtag on Twitter – #HowIFightDepression . Many people were discussing this, including the mental health charity Samaritans.
After all the work I had done within therapy to focus on compassion, self awareness and self acceptance (which, when you have low self esteem and constant critical thoughts about yourself as I have, are very difficult things to do!) it made me question whether or not “fight” was the best word to describe what I had gone through and where I had ended up.
Many illnesses from something as small as a cold, to something as life threatening as cancer, are often described like battles to be fought against and won. Obviously being ill is a state no one really wishes to be in, but sometimes if you are taking longer to recover from the illness than you originally predicted and hoped, the language of warfare used can make you feel that you aren’t doing enough. When you have a mental illness and your own thoughts are telling you that you aren’t good enough and you should do better, phrases like “you have to fight this” can conjure up images of yourself being too weak to even try and give you the constant worry that other people won’t believe that you are trying hard enough.
What I’ve learnt, and what I’m still trying to build upon now, is that half of the issue that comes with mental health issues, particularly anxiety and depression, is around self acceptance and self compassion. In my case, I’ve really struggled to accept myself and figure out exactly who it is I (and no one else) wants to be.
By telling ourselves to “fight” depression and anxiety, in a way it is telling us that we shouldn’t allow ourself to feel so low and vulnerable and that it is a bad place to be. Whereas if we are kind to ourselves we can say “OK, this is how things are at the moment, I’m feeling like I’m in a really bad place. It’s understandable why I am feeling like this, and it is ok to feel this way, but how can I take care of myself to make sure I’m safe and I can gradually feel better?”
The second way may seem a much more long winded answer, but in my opinion, its letting you be more at peace with yourself by accepting how things are currently and that change will happen, even if it is gradual. Marilyn Monroe once said “If you can’t accept me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best”. Well, I’m hoping that if I am able to accept and be kind to myself when I’m at my worst, then hopefully it will be easier for me to accept and be less critical of myself when I am actually doing really well!