Sometimes I question why I want to write for this blog, or want to join the effort to spread hope. I question what I possibly have to offer. How can I convince someone to hang on?
When I was a medical student I accompanied two doctors and a nurse as they went to tell a young man that his cancer had returned, and that it was pretty bad. We were all squashed in a tiny room. His little kid crawled on his lap while another toddled around. The room was too hot. He didn't say very much, but he didn't have to. He had just been given a death sentence.
There's something about the fragility of life that evaded me for many years. I didn't respect the fact that I was alive. At all. When I was sick with a mental illness that has the highest mortality rate, I couldn't connect to it. My life seemed irrelevant. I had no fight in me. Dying seemed almost a welcome reprieve.
There's very little a person can do when they have cancer, beyond taking their medicine, having surgery and praying things will be ok. And that's the frustrating thing about physical illness.
But mental distress is just as frustrating. The power often lies with the person. Getting well can rarely be done alone, and yet the work that needs to be done must be carried out by the person themselves. I wanted to just show up and have someone 'fix me', and when I realised that wasn't going to happen, it was pretty devastating. The only way was through. And I didn't want to go through.
But now as I find myself close to the other side of mental illness, I realise that life is incredibly valuable. It's a gift. I now understand that it wasn't that I wanted to die, I just didn't want to live life as I had been. Who would? Living with emotional distress is akin to living with cancer. A darkness grows inside and starts to rot you from the inside out. But although the work had to come from within, I am so glad I did it. I'm so proud I stuck with the process of recovery and didn't throw the towel in.
A while ago I was called in the middle of the night because a patient had died. It wasn't the first time, nor would it be the last. I stood behind the nurse's station reading the medical notes and trying not to burst out crying as each family member respectfully nodded at me. The last goodbyes were over, and the reality had started to sink in for the loved ones. I suppose it's times like these I look back with gratitude, as I was deeply moved. One of the nurses was trying to locate chairs for the elderly relatives with tears streaming down her face and I just couldn't shake the thought that life is fragile.
We get raw deals in life. And being gifted a mental illness or emotional distress is a raw deal. But we make of it what we can. The main thing I want to say is that life is precious. And it's only when you get through the pain will you realise this. So please don't give up. You have not been given a death sentence, and you can 100% learn to be free of distress. You can. You have been granted the gift of a second chance; a way out. You just need to put one foot in front of the other and slowly walk through it. Do the self care thing you have been avoiding. Rub the dog. Go for a walk in the park. And if all that seems too much, simply hang on. That's it. Don't make any rash decisions.
Don't throw the towel in, just hang on.