How Do You Grow When You’re Managing Mental Illness?

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I think I’m going through a quarter life crisis. In the last year I’ve gotten married and bought a house, and suddenly I have this future looming in front of me, one where I’m committed and responsible and adult, one where I can’t have teenage dreams of dropping everything and running away or images of myself doing anything, trying anything.

Sure even as a teen it’s not like I was spontaneous or carefree, but it’s odd to feel like I’ll never have the kind of hope that you have when you’re young, the possibility of a whole life, the vastness of it yawning in front of you.

When you’re young, you have the expectation of novelty. You know that there will be experiences you’ve never encountered before, that you’ll grow and change and mature, that you haven’t reached your final form as it were. And sometimes that’s scary, but more often than not you face it with the kind of confidence that only youth has, especially a youth that hasn’t failed.

But here I am at 27, and while I realize that isn’t old I feel so old. I feel like I have failed and failed and hurt and boxed myself in to a tiny existence of what I’m capable of with my mental health. I have spent the better part of 10 years becoming intimately acquainted with my shortcomings, with the things that I can’t do, with the ways that I fall apart when my support system isn’t what it needs to be. I have starved myself and hurt myself and contemplated killing myself, and I’m highly aware that preventing those things again is always my number 1 priority.

No one spends their youth dreaming that their first goal will always be to not kill themself.

I feel so limited by my brain these days. It’s not that I’m doing poorly. I’m happier than I’ve been for a lot of my life, I know myself better than I ever have, I know how to manage my mental health. And that’s what scares me. I know that what may be the best course of action for me is not changing, is holding on to these same patterns and routines that feel safe.

But I hate this feeling that this is all I’ll ever be. I feel like I’ve stopped growing and the next 50, 60, 70 years will just be stasis.

I know that I have to keep growing. More than that, I know that I have to take on new responsibilities, because adulthood doesn’t stop just because your brain is fucked.

I’m buying a house. There are a lot of things that are challenging for me when it comes to behaving like an adult, and this is one of them. I know that my abilities aren’t quite the same as other adults like me. Sometimes just getting up the energy to sweep the floor is more than I can handle (which means that more often than not my house has piles of cat fur in the corners, or that the kitchen table is covered in dirty dishes, or that my room is a mess of clothes and junk). But I’m reaching a time when I’m outgrowing the apartment life. I want space to make my own, I want space for my cats, I have hobbies that require rooms and equipment, I want freedom.

So how the fuck am I supposed to take on adult responsibilities (which to be honest aren’t even the growth that I’d like) and care for my mental health without overloading myself? What happens when I make mistakes?

Mental illness can make you cautious, afraid of setting yourself up for failure. You try not to push into too many new situations and ensure that you’ve always got support when you do. IT can feel a little bit childish, like you need someone hovering over you all the time, but really it’s more like learning to walk again: you stay close to a wall or railing in case your legs give out. But you want to walk. You want to grow. You want to see new things and expand your world. HOW?

This is where I’m stuck: I feel like I’m walking this delicate tightrope of continuing the self care that has worked for me while also trying desperately to keep myself from boredom and self hatred, to sate that urge to accomplish that has gotten me in so much trouble in the past.

It feels completely impossible. One inch too far towards self care and I grow frustrated and self hating because I’m accomplishing nothing, I’ve wasted my potential, I’m so far behind, I’m bored, I’m stagnating. One inch too far towards accomplishment adn competition, and my body falls into exhaustion, my anxiety ramps up to ten, I’m always worried about when I’ll have the time, I forget to see my friends and I miss a thousand important connections with my husband.

I can tell that I’ve been making mistakes lately. I’ve been pushing too hard and I see it reflected in my anxiety and my fatigue. I started therapy to start coping with it better (again), and I’ve been explicit in telling my friends “make me say no more often”, as well as telling myself that I can’t join any new things. That’s something. But I’m still struggling to find the balance, because I spent threeish years not quite feeling like I was really growing, always looking out for what could be hurting me or pushing me too hard, and in some cases feeling like I was taking advantage of my diagnoses just to be lazy.

That feels awful.

I wonder if I’ll spend the rest of my life like this, tracking symptoms, falling asleep for 12 hours at a time for no apparent reason, pushing and pulling and starting and stopping, circling around balance and never reaching it.

Probably.

And I’ll probably never feel the freedom of thinking I could live thoughtlessly and easily again.

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