“What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?”
By Samantha Williams
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” How many times did you hear the question when you were five years old? When you were in High School? Sometimes we don’t achieve these lofty goals and that is okay!
Many of us have heard about the “grieving stage” regarding mental health conditions. Normally this is associated with the family members and the loved ones of those who have the mental illness. Whether it’s referring to the stress experienced providing care or finally reaching the realization that one dear to them may never accomplish the expectations of a normal life.
Less often does one hear of the grief experienced by the actual individual living with the condition. While it’s unclear if this is due to shame or disappointment, it is a very real aspect of any chronic ailment and mental illness is no exception of this.
Personally, I have kept what I feel to be the most discouraging facet of my condition to myself. I hate feeling like a burden to others and, frankly, I feel embarrassment when I give the subject thought. I am approached more often by former school mates that are asking after my wellbeing and what I have done since graduation than I’d like. I consistently flounder when I’m in the spotlight of those who were my peers during my teen years. Nearly all of them went off to college, landed prestigious jobs, and are proud parents to wonderful children while comparably I have stagnated, stayed in my hometown and often struggled with even going grocery shopping. How can I even begin to explain something like this when I sometimes labor to share something as mundane as my current emotion?
Due to medical limitations many of us living with mental illness find we are often unable to achieve lifelong aspirations. For some the cause can be the crippling anxiety that prevents them from pursuit of college education, the inability to cope with crowded places, and/or the disabling lack of confidence in ourselves.
Sometimes there is a profound remorse surrounding the perceived hardship our “failure” places upon our loved ones. We avoid discussing it and forgo the cathartic experience that often accompanies sharing our troubles. If sharing your personal grief is something that you have felt conflict about, I strongly encourage you to reach out. Holding in what we perceive as short-comings can fester within, inciting other hardships associated with mental illness to come forward.
It is extremely important to pause and take inventory of your accomplishments. Despite my own chafing and impatience at performing exercises like deep breathing or meditation, I have found this small activity to be more uplifting than I thought I would.
Gather up a pen and some paper. Ask yourself “What have I done that I am proud of today”? If one of your answers is along the lines of actually getting dressed or brushing your teeth, don’t be discouraged. I sometimes count myself lucky to get out of bed some days.
Follow up the first question with “What have I done that I am proud of this week?”
Next question- “…this month?”
And finally “What have I done that I am proud of this past year?”
Remember it is very important to take time to acknowledge how far you have come! You may not be working on your master’s degree or be the proud parent of an honor student, but you have likely come farther than you realize.
If you had asked me when I was in the thick of my worst depressive episode if I would be living in stability with my bipolar disorder, I likely would have laughed at you. While there are definitely setbacks, rough patches, and upsets in my life, I am profoundly appreciative to have come so far.
No matter where you are within your journey to living a satisfying life, the loss of your dreams are not the end. You are stronger than you know and are deserving of praise. The grief you experience in relation to your illness does not define you. It is not who you are as a person or reflective of how you will be for the rest of your life.
Samantha Williams, a Certified Peer Support Specialist, is proud to volunteer with NAMI Waco as a public speaker in local Middle and High Schools, and as a support group facilitator. With an ardent need to “pay forward” the kindness shown during the early stages of her bipolar disorder, she is extremely passionate regarding mental health conditions. She shares her home with a patient husband, three demanding feline roommates, and an ornery dog.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.