One of the hardest parts of living with anxiety and depression is coming to terms with reality; realizing my own limitations because of my illnesses. When I was young, I was told that I could be anything I wanted to be—no dream was too big—and I believed that. I started compiling a long list of dream jobs early on: a veterinarian, a musician/singer, a ballerina, an actor/comedian, a fashion designer, a philosopher, a chef, a writer...the list goes on. I have always had plenty of ideas of what I want to do (in a perfect world, I'd do them all) but the struggle has been figuring out what I can do.
What I didn't realize when I was young is that following your dreams is never easy...sometimes you can't actually do everything you want to do. There are always difficult choices to make and struggles involved. For me, the struggle is factoring in how my mental illnesses might affect me in everything I do: mental illness "risk assessments". How many potential anxiety "triggers" will there be? If I have an anxiety attack, or a depressive episode, is there a safe space where I can go to regroup and cool down? Will I be able to find allies who understand me, who I can trust to talk to without feeling judged? I think about all of this, and I think about my long list of dreams, and the list gets whittled down. I can't do everything I want to do and take care of my mental health at the same time.
Taking care of myself has meant that I've had to let go of some of my dreams. One of the darkest periods in my life was in college. After switching majors a couple of times, I decided to pursue a degree in philosophy. I took a wonderful introductory class, loved everything I got to read, and wanted to learn more. I loved having an outlet to think about the big "why" questions that were always spinning around in my head. But, even though I loved it, I wasn't the student I wanted to be—I wasn't the student I thought I could be. And I had no idea it was because I was in the middle of the biggest mental "storm" that I've experienced to date.
I spent a lot of my college days and nights crippled by severe depression and anxiety. I did the best I could to go to my classes, learn as much as I could, and do my work, but it was completely overwhelming. After five years of trying to push through it, I just couldn't do it anymore. My illnesses grew into something bigger than I could handle on my own. I had to stop. I had to take a break. I had to get out of there and put my health first. And so I did. I left without finishing my degree; I had to let go of that dream.
I could sit here and feel sorry for myself about the things I've had to let go of, but I don't (okay, sometimes I do). I could dwell on the fact that it doesn't seem fair that I have to factor my illnesses into everything I do, but I don't (okay, sometimes I do that too). I could listen to the voices that tell me I'm a failure, a dropout, and not strong enough. Instead, as I write this, I feel thankful. I feel thankful that I'm in a situation in life where I have safe spaces to go to when I have anxiety attacks. I'm thankful for the people that understand me and are willing to help when I have depressive episodes. I'm thankful for the people who continue to believe in me, even when I don't believe in myself. And, I'm thankful that the choices I've made, and the dreams that I let go of, made room to put my health and sanity first. They have shown me that letting go is not always a weakness, it's a strength.
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And now, the song of the week...