“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.” – Brene Brown
Sometimes I am hesitant to share my story with people who are struggling with mental illness because I often get the response: “I don’t have your strength. I could never do what you did.” First, this is simply not true. Everyone has inner strength, but we don’t find out how strong we are until life tests us and asks us to tap into that strength. I would not know my strength today if I hadn’t needed it. Second, this reaction saddens me because I want my story to inspire and empower others, not make them feel like I am some super hero they can never measure up to. I hope that by sharing how I empowered myself, you will see that it is possible for you to do the same thing. So, let me share with you the “secret” to my successful recovery, which is very replicable.
The key to my strength is self-love. In other words, despite having hit rock bottom, I valued myself and recognized my own self-worth as a person who deserved to get better and have a chance at a happy life. I valued myself enough to put in the sweat and tears to get better from OCD and major depression, the same way I would help a friend who I deeply cared for. In the midst of the darkest times of my life, I believed I was worth the struggle. I loved myself enough to seek help and follow through with my treatment plan. Actually, my parents sought help for me because I was diagnosed when I was thirteen, but I have had to seek help for myself as an adult and I have navigated the maze of the U.S. healthcare system alone. I also loved myself enough to get better again when I had a major relapse. And I continue to love myself enough to seek help when I realize I am sliding down that slippery slope. As a result, I have not relapsed from my OCD in over twenty years. At age thirteen, I had never heard of the term “self-love,” but in hindsight, I now see that’s what enabled me to get better and stay better.
There are many barriers to treatment that I seek to address through Voices for Health, but one barrier that can’t be addressed at a policy level is that most people do not believe in themselves. Without self-love, it doesn’t matter if we find you the best therapist who takes your insurance or get you off a waiting list. Only if you love yourself will you actually show up to therapy, do the work, and get better. As you start to see results, your self-love and confidence will grow. You will be grateful for all of this hardship because it gave you the opportunity to know yourself better and see how much strength you had all along. Now, you will see what you are really made of. Without these challenges, you never would have realized you had it in you. See every challenge as an opportunity, not as a curse.
I was fortunate to have parents who believed in me, did not define me by my illness, and taught me that I was worth fighting for. Many people do not have that kind of support system. Being surrounded by people who value you makes it easier to value yourself, but if you don’t have a support system you can create one. Find a local support group for your condition or find an online chat room or e-forum. Eventually, Voices for Health will offer these services, but while we are in the start-up stages, you can always feel free to reach out to me for support. Just remember that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who else believes in you if you don’t believe in yourself. If you learn to practice self-love, I promise you, you can get better and stay better.
Just like difficult times test your relationships with other people, they also test your relationship with yourself. If you have ever been there for a friend who is struggling, you know that it is easy to be friends with someone when life is going smoothly, but you discover the true strength and depth of that friendship when challenges arise. These are the times when your friends need you the most though. Likewise, it is easy to be a good friend to yourself when life is is not throwing curve balls your way, but when times are hard, this is when you need to be there for yourself the most. Love yourself the same way you would love a friend in your current position. Treat yourself with the same love, care and compassion with which you would treat that friend. Ask yourself what advice you would give that person. Follow your own advice. You will also find that loving yourself makes you a better friend to others. You can’t be there for anyone else if you aren’t there for you.
If you are struggling with self-love, I encourage you to see a therapist who is certified in the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model of psychotherapy, an evidence-based approach to helping people have compassion for the “parts” of us that cause pain and suffering. In a future post, I will explain more about IFS (which has made a positive difference in my own life), but for now, here is a list of IFS therapists that is searchable by zip code.
I hope this post has helped you realize that you do in fact have the strength to seek treatment, get better and stay better, just like I did. If I can do it, so can you. You don’t need to have mastered self-love at this point. You can work on that with your therapist, who will be a key member of your support system as well. Just loving yourself enough to schedule (and show up for) an appointment with a therapist is a huge step in itself. You are already on the path to self-love and recovery.
Photo credit: selflovehealing.com