[Note: While most of my blog posts up until now have been about validation, I’ve decided to start writing about mental health as well. I’ve debated for a long time about whether I would feel comfortable writing about mental health, as it might get more personal, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to do, and now feels like the right time. This is a post that I originally wrote for the Mental Health Crisis Angels, a group that provides free support to anyone who is struggling emotionally. You can contact the MH Crisis Angels here: https://twitter.com/MHCrisisAngels, https://mhcrisisangels.wordpress.com/]
A few years ago at my workplace, we had to take a health and wellness survey. We answered questions about food, exercise, seatbelts, sunscreen, and other factors that they considered to be related to wellness. At the end, the survey gave us each an overall “wellness score,” which was supposed to determine how healthy we were.
One of the questions asked how many days of work you had missed in the past year due to illness. This was one question that caused my “wellness score” to drop. I had missed several days of work due to illness that year, unlike the previous year, where I had taken no sick days at all. In the previous year, I had severe anxiety about calling out sick. I was just so terrified of everyone judging me or not believing me. I used to drag myself to work when I had a fever or was throwing up because the prospect of making that phone call was so much worse than pushing through the work day. In recent years, I’ve worked through this anxiety in therapy, and now I’m able to take sick days when I need them. My “wellness score” doesn’t show it, but I’m actually doing much better now than I was back when I never stayed home sick.
This got me thinking about how we define wellness, and what it means to get “better.” A lot of people wouldn’t recognize that for me, being able to call out when I’m sick is actually a sign of healing. We often think of recovering from trauma or mental illness as becoming more “normal,” more neurotypical, or more socially desirable by other people’s standards. But sometimes, getting better can mean just the opposite:
· Getting better can mean arguing your opinion in cases where you used to pretend to agree with everyone else.
· Getting better can mean questioning things that you used to accept without question.
· Getting better can mean saying no to things that you felt pressured to go along with in the past, even things that most people thought you were okay with.
· Getting better can mean telling someone that you’re not okay with gum-snapping, pen clicking, or anything else that bothers you. It may seem to them that the problem just arose out of nowhere, when in reality, you've been suffering in silence for years.
· Getting better can mean starting to wear earplugs or headphones, or getting other accommodations that you need, not because the issue just arose, but because you’ve become assertive enough to state what you need.
· Getting better can mean insisting on taking your own transportation instead of carpooling, heading home when everyone else is sleeping someplace overnight, or ordering a plain cheese pizza for yourself because you don’t like the toppings everyone else chose.
· Getting better can mean not telling people that you are "just getting some exercise" when you are actually jumping or spinning around for emotional reasons.
· Getting better can mean getting out of a situation that was never okay for you – quitting college, leaving a job, breaking up with a partner, cutting off contact with a family member, or ending therapy that isn’t working for you – no matter how many people disapprove, because you now have the courage to do what is right for you.
· Getting better can mean speaking out about bad things that have happened to you more often than you ever did before, because you know your story is valid.
· Getting better can mean seeking help and support more often than you used to, because you're no long ashamed to ask for help, and you no longer feel pressured to make it on your own.
Getting better won't always mean that other people will like you more. It won’t always mean that you’ll fit in any better than you do now. Your recovery may cause people to see you as less agreeable, less easy-going, more “high-maintenance,” more “needy,” or more “negative.” Your recovery may involve speaking out more, not pretending to be okay, and not fitting in with other people as easily as you did before.
I haven’t fit in as well since I’ve started speaking out more. I don’t pass as “normal” the way I used to before. And yet, I know the friends I have now love me for who I really am, and I know what recovery means to me. I’m not working to become more likable, more “normal,” or more desirable by anyone else’s standards. I’m just working to get better.