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Celebrating Small Victories

Yesterday I had a shocking realization. This whole quarantine thing is starting feel *shudders* “normal”. It has been about a month now since quarantine first started, and like other transitions in our life it takes about a month for us to become accustomed to our circumstances. Despite the uniqueness of our situation, a global pandemic is no exception. The plus side of this normalization is that I am starting to resist my daily activities less. In the beginning, I was grieving the plans and expectations I had for the next couple months of my life, and I had a really hard time coming to terms with that. I had found a comfortable routine that was working for me and I indignantly didn’t want to have to give that up. March was the first time in about 7 years that I was beginning to feel like a competent and authentic version of myself and I was genuinely angry that something out of my control was screwing it all up. The adjustment period was not pretty and the growing pains of this quick adjustment really challenged my ~stabilized~ mental illnesses. The only solace that I had was the fact that even though we are all in different boats, we are weathering the same storm.

This global event has forced a lot of us to become introspective and as a result there is a whole new awareness for mental health. A traumatic event like the one we are experiencing has caused a lot of mental illness in people who have never experienced it and is making pre-existing conditions more acute. I was so encouraged to see supportive messages that urge us to be gentle and to not put too much pressure on ourselves to be productive. I know this can be so important to hear as it acts as permission to give yourself the love you deserve. However, for a person in recovery from her mental illnesses like myself, hearing these messages was actually pretty harmful.

My mental illness has always told me to give up and to sleep, shutting the world out and my shutting my mind up. Hearing messages that encouraged this kind of lack of productivity felt like permission for my mental illness to rear its ugly head and tell me that instead of pushing through the discomfort, I should “be kind” to myself and take it easy. So it’s what I did. I started to lose the discipline that I worked really hard to cultivate and things started to slip through the cracks. I began turning in my online assignments late for class and procrastinating the work that I am very fortunate to still be able to do from home. I would let myself sleep through my yoga classes and skip the exercises that I used to enjoy like going for a run (“enjoy” is used loosely in this context). Without realizing it I had lost every source of enjoyment and accomplishment that helped to bolster my mental wellness and recovery. What I was left with was an identity crisis and an open door for my mental illness to criticize me for being a failure.

After lots of days of reflection, trial and error, and refocusing, I realized that those areas that I was being “gentle” with myself were actually essential for my sense of self worth. I think this is a concept that is often overlooked, that a person with mental illness needs their life to be full of reminders that they are capable of more than their brain is telling them. Obviously, I don’t mean that we need to push ourselves further than we are capable of going. I mean that we need to respect our boundaries, but to also make sure that no matter where we are or what we are doing that there is time in our day to feel a sense of accomplishment. It can be something as small as getting out of bed, drinking some water, and making sure we eat nourishing food. These small victories should be celebrated as they are reminders that we have power and control over our minds and bodies. We may be incapacitated by external restrictions, but we do not need to lose our sense of self as a result. We are just as capable now as we have always been, there just may be more hurdles in our way.

So that brings me to this week. It started out pretty rough if i’m being truthful. My mental health was feeling worse than it has done for a while and I was experiencing some turbulent mood swings. I found it hard to even get dressed in the morning because I feltlike I didn’t know who I was. If everything about ourselves is stripped away: our job, our school, our friends, our sports, our hobbies, who are we left with? So I made it my mission this week to hold myself accountable while also not beating myself up (a difficult balancing act to master). Instead of saying: “I can leave this assignment for tomorrow, I’m too tired right now,” I said, “let me look at the assignment and at least do something that moves me forwards.” I find that this is kinder than leaving the assignment all together because it sets myself up for the best chance at success for the following day. A message from past me to future me that I’ve got my back. A week of doing this has proven to myself that even under immense stress that I am still capable and I am still me.

So combined with the feeling that this is all becoming our new “normal,” I am also seeing that I have more strength within me than I had realized before. If you had asked me a month ago if I could handle my current circumstances I would have predicted that I would be failing out of my class, failing to meet my work commitments, and curled up in a ball under the covers. I’m sure you’re like me and wish that you could have realized your true strength without having to give up so much personally, but it is a lesson that we can learn only from these tough experiences. It is only until we are pushed into a corner that we can actually see how we would react, and we can find strength in our reaction. Recovery is all about choosing the life that you want for yourself rather than accepting the life you know. You transform from being a victim of your circumstances into the person in the driver’s seat. This realization is POWERFUL. I have two choices every day, to show up as the person I know and that has gotten me this far, or to show up as the person I know I am capable of being. I don’t know about you, but I think the person I am capable of being can not only handle this situation, but thrive and I am excited to get to know her.

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