The Advantages of Pain

Let’s have a discussion about the power hidden within struggle.

After the loss of control that a crisis brings, it feels impossible sometimes to regain a sense of self and place in the world. You doubt yourself, you doubt your beliefs, your happiness, or any chance that this darker side of life has anything other than despair and mental anguish to offer.

I see a lot of #mentalhealthawareness tweets and posts on instagram that talk about how hard it is to have anxiety or how depression stops people from living life or how their mental torment holds them back in some way, and because of that the general public should stop using mental health terminology as adjectives, or the general public should “educate themselves” on what it means to have this devastating “mental illness”.

Then, there are other posts which are meant to encourage people stuck in these dark times to remember that they are strong for dealing with the pain that they deal with, and no one can tell them otherwise.

I’m never one to silence a voice, or voices in this case, but I do think we miss the mark a lot. It’s not really about how hard everything is, it’s about what we’re taught from that hardship. If you feel you haven’t learned anything, I encourage you to dig until you hit water.

It’s also not really about you being strong. Everyone struggles. Every single person in the world. And this isn’t to compare pains to one another. This is to say that if there’s one thing the human race shares across borders, it’s pain. We’re built, physically and mentally, to endure a lot of shit. The struggle worsens, though, when you lose faith and trust in your body and/or your mind. When you believe you’re inept to face a challenge, you’re basically telling your body “I don’t trust you to handle this”, and your mind “I don’t trust you to make it through this”.

The problem with that, in my completely hypothetical and unscientific proposition here, is that your body and mind start mistrusting you too. And when you’re out of sync with the two major systems keeping you conscious and alive, than you’re existing in a void.

I think the greatest lesson I have learned in experiencing psychosis is how important my body and mind are to me. I felt such a strong disconnect from my entire self. Nothing made sense. My body had aches and pains I didn’t understand and my mind told me things that didn’t make sense, things that came to me like an idea for a short story and ended up as a first, incoherent draft of a horror manuscript.

Making a decision to come off medication became a catalyst for reuniting myself with my body—the first step in my real recovery. But it wasn’t the physical act of getting off the medication that saved me. It was the fact that I made a decision based on what my body told me. I sat for some weeks and listened to my internal system until the cries were finally recognized. Hearing those cries and abiding by them restored a lot of trust between my body and myself.

My mind came next. I plunged into utter darkness. Voices said I should kill myself, and I tried. I was tackled into safety. No, I was not hospitalized that time.

But for the first time in this darkness, I let it sweep me away. I didn’t shoot arrows or fill my moat. I let evil overrun my castle and I shook its hand. It pulled me down a spiral of agony and I saw the deepest, rotted pits of my mind. I didn’t cry because I was fearful of that. I cried because darkness lead me around these pits and showed me the decaying feelings I’d neglected. The traumas I’d abused. I cried because I’d been hurting myself and I never knew it.

It’s been over a year since my descent, since I stopped taking the medication, since I got back into the gym and nurturing my body. I’ve made space in my physical self and mental self for aches and pains and darkness. I have a voice who reminds me when I’m not okay, or asks me if I’m okay when I feel a little rocky. In fact, with all of the thoughts and voices in my head, I’ve reached a compromise: we either live in this body together or none of us live at all.

I want to live. They want to live. And so we leave space for each other.

“Recovery”, or whatever you’d like to call it, for me isn’t about being strong or resilient or tweeting about how much my life has changed or instagramming paragraphs about why hope should never die. It’s about a willingness to be terrified. It’s about reconnecting myself with what I’d been too fearful to face. Granted, I didn’t do this all on my own. I had friends and therapists and some bad group therapy experiences, all of which lead me back to looking inside of myself.

This is why you will never catch me on social media telling people what they want to hear. What they want to hear is the same script that’s everywhere: you can live a normal life. Take control. Be your best you. It’s possible to live with “mental illness”.

That’s all fine if you just want to exist. But it’s deeper than that for me. Giving up control gave me more freedom than fighting for control. I don’t “live with mental illness” because I’ve been labeled schizoaffective. I just “live with myself” like every other damn human being.

We think we’re so different from others. For some of us, that makes us feel entitled, like we deserve special treatment because “we’re sick”. And then we turn around and demand we also be treated the same as everyone else. Classic identity crisis if you ask me.

For me, that mindset just never quite cut the cake.

So, there is deep beauty in suffering, and deep agony in happiness. Our minds and our bodies are built for adaptation. They’re built to endure. Trust in this.

Would you like to continue the mental health conversation, see silly (and beautiful) photographs, and nonsensical two second videos? Great! Follow me:

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5 Comments on “The Advantages of Pain

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