Living between the Lines
I have a terminal illness. It started when I was two and since then it’s slithered its way into the depth of me. Like a cancer, it's spreading into all my organs, slowly creeping into every last one, until its become so hard to breathe I’m not really sure how to anymore.
No, I don’t have cancer, or any of its horrible variations. My terminal illness is in the form of Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Manic Depression, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. All lethal on their own, one can only imagine how they’ve grown and affected my body and mind together.
The comorbidity of mental health illnesses is something we don’t discuss as often as we probably should. We don’t discuss the overlapping symptoms, and the symptoms that are in grey areas which rarely show themselves in individuals with just one mental health illness. With these illnesses overlapping, the moment you rid yourself of one, another takes its stead. By the time you heal that one the old one might be back, in an endless cycle for your entire life.
It has been twenty-two years since I started my struggle for survival. Like many others, I struggled unknowingly for most of this time. It wasn’t until high school, that I finally found a name for one of the the four illnesses that had taken residence. I was homeless, I was starving, and I was dying. My body was shutting down from the malnutrition and stress - causing a rib to break and be deemed irreversibly damaged. Only then did I realize that something might be wrong.
Because of this reality I have learned to "Live Between the Lines." Between the bouts of depression and anxiety. Between the daily reflections and triggers. I have grown to live, to function at the highest capacity when at my best, to counteract my lowest capacity when at my worst.
Most people I work with rarely understand why I try moving as fast as possible, impatiently pushing for more and more to get done, despite having months or years left in projects. Rarely people understand how I connect the dots of the past, present, and future in order to move a project along all three lines into a finalized version that normally takes years to achieve.
I move in this way due to the fact that I might not have a tomorrow. Every moment might be my last, like I have an aneurism set to go off at any moment. I can not trust that it will not happen now. I have learned to live every moment like it’s my last, ensuring closure for everything around me, hanging out with loved ones as if for the last time, working in ways to prevent someone from having to pick up the pieces.
This might sound like a nightmare, like an OCD version of life and death and everything in between, a compulsion to make sure life moves on after my death, but in reality it isn't. I am at peace with the realization that I may not wake up tomorrow, that I may not be here next week, or that I might live sixty more years. Because I Live Between the Lines I am more efficient, more flexible, and more understanding of all walks of life. I have learned to appreciate the things I never asked for and be grateful for the things I did. I have learned to live and love as if this is the last moment that I’ll be doing either, because it might be. Because on the flipside of being efficient, loving, and in the moment, there’s the side where there are no sunsets, no hope, no dreams, and only quaking death exists. I know that it might last for a moment, or months, or even years and despite knowing that sunrises do exist, I live in a world filled with illusive delusions that allow me to hibernate away from reality.
I Live Between the Lines, not because I am not happy or at peace in my life. I am happier than I have ever been, tranquil to the depth of my core; a core that includes the mental illness. I still live valiantly, because I know every moment can be my last with a terminal illness. Not only in the bad times, because illnesses are elusive and sometimes you jump into a world the light can not touch. You go from being on top of the world to freefalling into an abyss that you’ve always known existed but never known. And even in the happiest moments, the illnesses become a part of your soul, your identity, something you can no longer shake off because it knows you better than you know yourself. So I have to make sure to stand back enough when a train approaches because I’m always tempted to jump. I can walk up a skyscraper to watch the setting sun, and be tempted to maybe take that extra step. This all might sound terrible, but I have achieved much in my short life, and have become very successful in being alive. Most importantly I am happy, I am at peace, I have learned to love and be loved, and despite it all I love myself. And I am proud of the person that I am, a person I’d be proud of with or without the Mental Illnesses and despite of them.
I am happy. I am at peace. I have terrible diseases that might take me any moment now. And that’s Okay!
Because of this disease I have lived enough for two lifetimes, a lifetime for me and a lifetime for the illnesses.
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Founder and Executive Director of Life in My Days, Inc. He is an Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, and a Novelist. 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.