By Brittany –
Do you ever find yourself thinking “what if…”? Creating scenarios in your brain of what will happen if you get better? Or scarier yet, if you don’t get better? What if it’s all too much? What if you lost it all? What if your burden is too much for you to carry on your own—let alone what it’s like for your loved ones who helplessly watch on the sidelines, unable to fix all of the mental and physical demons for you.
Life can change in the blink of an eye, and we often take it for granted. We get complacent, comfortable, cozy. Yeah, things could be better, but they could also be worse. I don’t like that phrase—our experiences with everything are relative and subjective to all the other experiences we’ve had in our life thus far. It’s hard to say how you would react if those “what if’s” came true.
Anxiety has helped me a lot, because when the “what if’s” happened to me, it actually wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated it would have been. I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t more broken or debilitated. I’ve got this, I’ll be ok. One day at a time, one breath at a time, I’ve got this.
Until I didn’t anymore.
You see, as a chronic migraine and invisible illness warrior, I am one of the most resilient and tenacious people you will ever meet. I get up every day (or almost every day) and fight an invisible battle to most of the outside world. And I do it with a mask on, a smile on my face. However if you look beneath that smile, you see the grimace. Sometimes I power through, and by sometimes, I mean most of the time.
But it catches up to me. It’s not sustainable to keep going. However, if I stop, I pay for it by being unable to do anything but lay in bed and cry all day. So I keep going… Until I can’t anymore.
I hide most of my pain from the world and my loved ones around me. I do this because so much of the time I wind up comforting the ones who are heartbroken by my pain, which is exhausting and heartbreaking for me. Trying to help someone understand what I’m going through isn’t good use of my very limited energy.
But in not doing so, I’m doing myself a disservice, I’m not being honest. I stuff it down, I stifle, I can’t breathe and when I finally gasp for air and help, and it blindsides people. Because I was fine, I was doing what I needed to do to survive, I put a mask on and I did the thing.
But at what cost?
The demons enter. I gasp for air and they pull me under again. My body says “No more, I told you to stop and you didn’t listen. Now you must pay.” I thought I learned this lesson 1,000 times before. But I must keep going. I don’t have a choice anymore. I’m my only savior. But it’s all too much and I can’t anymore.
The chronic pain, anxiety, and depression cycle is a bitch. It’s unrelenting and they each fuel one another. It’s like when someone flicks their cigarette butt out the window driving down the highway. It begins to smolder in the dry grass, but it’s fine, it’s not turning into anything. That is, until a light breeze comes along.
The flame ignites, but people are driving down the highway singing to their tunes, caught in the beauty of the blue sky and sunshine around them, so they (and by they, I also mean “I”) don’t see the small flame and little bit of smoke that looks like dust. And then a gust of wind comes along, giving that little flame enough energy to engulf everything around it, and before we know it, the fire has jumped the highway and engulfed the forest on the other side of the road.
Everything is fine, just as I said, until it’s not anymore. Panic arises, fear takes over, the wind gets stronger and the fire gets bigger. Not a cloud in the sky, and a fire is raging. This is the cycle of invisible illness and mental illness.
If someone had been paying really close attention, this disaster could have been controlled or diverted. It’s really no one’s fault that they weren’t paying attention, that they didn’t see the very subtle signs. They were enjoying their day, their journey, so happy to finally have a beautiful day and the freedom of the open road in front of them.
I let my flame smoulder for far too long. No one could have helped me, even though they wanted to. I needed to be the one to make the choice to ask for help, to see this wasn’t something I could manage on my own anymore. This was a job for the professionals. I could sit here and have a pity party, beat myself up for not seeing the signs before everything went up in flames, and I did do that briefly, but that serves no one, especially myself.
It’s a horrible feeling to say I can’t do this anymore, I can’t go on like this. It’s all too much and it’s gotten the best of me. But there are professionals for a reason, people who have dedicated their lives to helping us when we’re down. It’s not supposed to be a burden we carry on our own or we put on our family or friends.
If we don’t get honest about where we’re at though, nothing will ever change, the wind will get stronger and the fire will burn out of control longer. Although our society is getting better at accepting and putting importance on mental health, we still have a ways to go and there’s still shame attached a lot of the time.
Even if people in your life don’t understand what you’re going through, you’re not alone. There are people hiding away like I was, crippled by demons, doing their best to fight and survive on their own. But it’s a lonely and scary road to walk alone.
I’m fortunate to have a few people in my life who have seen my struggles and demons unlike anyone else, who also live with debilitating invisible illnesses that have broke them on multiple occasions as well. One used to be a pillar of strength, my rock, my savior, and it was with this person that it was the hardest for me to get honest with about where I was. But at the same time, when I did, the weight of the world got a little bit lighter.
These people didn’t do anything to fix it, they just listened. They sat with me, held my hand and listened. Having someone who can hold space for you in some of your darkest moments is a gift few people receive when they really need it.
When you get honest about where you’re at, in any area of your life whether it’s physical, mental, financial or in relationships, it releases the hold it has on you. It releases some of its power and weight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely terrifying and heartbreaking, but with vulnerability comes freedom.
I started seeing my pain psychologist after an outrageous migraine, anxiety, and depression took me to the darkest depths I’ve ever been to. I have a long ways to go, and as I write this, migraine, anxiety, and depression are trying to stop me from being honest. They’re trying to draw me under again, and it might happen.
If it does, I know I’ll be ok because I’ve been to hell and back, and I’m still standing. If it does, I’ll reach my hand out for that comforting squeeze that reminds me I’ll stand on my own two feet again, and this too shall pass.