I have shared bits and pieces of my story on social media, and I've shared even more during my speaking events, but for all that I've shared I haven't fully shared it all. I don't think it's possible to share it all, not with all its intersectionality, all the bumps and pieces in the road. I'm currently editing my memoir, and even that seems so light compared to the reality of it all.
So what's Mental Illness actually like? It's like you're alone, in a pool of water, in a cave, and regardless of the direction you're going, you're always drowning, either by the water, or the cave. Some days the cave is far scarier than the depth of the pool of water, other times it's not.
The water represents everything life throws your way, every single problem, every single micro-aggression. Deeper within the water, you have vines reaching for you, they are trauma. The foundation, deep beneath your feet, is slick and slippery, and represents systemic forms of oppression and your relationship with society. at times of belonging you have solid ground beneath you, and you realize you can breathe in the water, even dance, but those are rare.
Above the water, in the toxic air above, you have hollowness. You have an area with no hope, no faith, no compassion, and the higher you rise, the less there is. The walls echo here, and everything given is taken from you, with nothing in return. There's no energy, there's nothing, but a tiny, fragment of a light above. The light does not reach within the depth of the cave, nor does it reach the water. You must stand above the water, in the most toxic of parts of the cave, for it to reach. In this light, there's hope, but there is no compassion, and there's no faith. There's just hope.
This light is your best friend in times of need, and for many, it is the only refuge. But this light is not your friend, this light is Active Suicidality. It gives you hope, but not the kind anyone would wish for you.
The other light, the light making the walls of the pool is where recovery exists, past the pain and trauma, past societies expectations of you, and you only reach it by jumping back in, and swimming through it all.
That's Mental Illness. Each Mental Illness, pulls you in different directions in this pool. Depression makes you stop fighting it. Anxiety causes you to believe you are always drowning. Body Dysmorphia pulls you down, trapped within societies expectations, and feeds the other two. PTSD gives monstrous forms to the trauma underneath the water, pushing you further and further into the cave. They all do, they all push you deeper into it.
You may recover, you may reach the light all around. You may be happy, and you may be at peace with the pool and cave, but the pool and cave are home. You can change your relationship with them, you can even escape the cave for times, depending on the comorbidity of your mental illness, but it become a part of you, a part that's not easy to escape. There's no 'just get better,' or 'just try harder,' for after a while, leaving the cave, means leaving yourself behind.
That is the reality of Mental Illness. It changes you, for better and for worse. You will gain skills most people can only dream of. You will be molded into something stronger, something more powerful, more compassionate, and so much more. And it's your choice what you do with those skills. You may spread the light, or extinguish it, but that decision is beyond Mental Illness. For Mental Illness does not make us good or bad, they just are. And the sooner we start differentiating between the two, the sooner we can begin ending the stigma surrounding Mental Illness.
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Co-Founder of Muslim Community Link, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on twitter, instagram or facebook.