“I don’t want to get better.”
One of the most shameful things about mental illness for me has been the realization that part of me doesn’t want to get better. I knew that recovery from a mental illness had its ups and downs, but I never imagined just how much I would try to sabotage my own progress.
During the first few years of my struggle with depression and anxiety, I said I would do anything to feel normal again. I was paralyzed by the thought that I might live with these feelings for the rest of my life. My goal to “get better” overshadowed so many of my other goals as a twenty-something woman — my studies and social relationships were placed on the back burner while I focused on my recovery.
The first time a psychologist told me that he thought a part of me enjoyed feeling sad, I was appalled. I couldn’t believe he would say something so backwards. I was getting treatment, right? Why would I go to the trouble of taking medications and seeking therapy if I didn’t want to get better? Why would anyone want to feel so miserable and scared all the time?
I tried to ignore his comment, but it kept creeping into the back of my mind. I wanted to believe that I was trying my best, but I felt guilty, like I was keeping a secret. Here is the dangerous part of this new realization: I began to think that if I really was trying to sabotage my own recovery, I didn’t deserve to get better anyway. I started to internalize this belief that I wasn’t trying hard enough, that it was all my fault, that some part of me inherently loved being sick and that I would never get over it. For a while these thoughts brought me even further down and took away any sense of hope that I had. This is part of what depression does to you: it convinces you that you are no good and that there is no hope for the future.
I struggled with this internal dilemma for quite a while. I can’t remember exactly when, but slowly my brain started to listen to some compassionate people who were telling me, it’s okay. It’s okay if part of you doesn’t want to get better. It doesn’t make you a bad person.
After years of internalizing the thought, “I have a mental illness”, and after dedicating so much of my energy towards dealing with it, my depression and anxiety had become part of my personality. I realized that I couldn’t imagine myself without them, that I was actually scared of a future without them!
Think about one of your most defining traits. You identify with it and it becomes a part of you. That’s what happened with my mental illnesses. I had started to define myself by them, and I was worried that if they went away, I would be nothing underneath. I had gotten so comfortable with being sick that I was afraid to let go of that familiarity. I had to shift my perspective on recovery. Instead of this vague idea of “getting better,” I started to think about re-discovering who I was as a person. I had to relearn what had been buried under the cloak of mental illness — what do I like doing, what do I not like doing, what makes me happy, what makes me angry? What are all these little things about me that make up my personality?
Sometimes I still get this fleeting thought that getting better is a scary thing. It’s new, it’s strange, it’s different. It means I have to make a lot of changes and do a lot of work. That frightens me, and that’s okay. Just as I know that sometimes I will want to retreat back to the familiarity of calling myself sick, I also know that the thought will pass. It doesn’t mean that I’m a failure for wanting to be sick. It just means that I get scared sometimes, and that’s okay. Recovery is a scary thing, and not at all in the ways that I expected. But I will keep trying.
About Jasmin Yee
Jasmin Yee is an Ottawa-based young professional who has dealt with mental illness since the end of high school. Now 24, she has a passion for mental health advocacy and breaking down the barriers that make it so hard to talk publicly about mental illness. She writes about her experiences with depression and anxiety on her blog, as well as her thoughts on how to reduce stigma. Jasmin aims to develop a career in health promotion so that she can connect with at-risk communities and enable them to take care of their mental health.