Surviving or Living

Surviving means denying death. It means focusing on staying away from hunger, thirst, mortal wounds, and other such life-threatening things. Also, when you live with mental illness often your symptoms are so severe it feels like you are dying or what you imagine dying must feel like. So, you learn to live in a survival mode just to make it through most days.

While surviving focuses on how not to die and to withstand another moment in time, living centers around life and how to embrace life to the fullest and enjoy the beauty of living. Both have the same end result–living.

Recently, I realized I spent the last twenty-five years of my life surviving–figuring out sometimes just how to make it through and survive another minute–one minute at a time–1440 minutes 365 days a year for over twenty-five years.

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I tried to enjoy life as much as I could through the pain, sorrows, loss, gray clouds and fog of mental illness. Anxiety, depression, mania, mixed bipolar episodes and dissociation interfered with my ability to function and live some days. Surviving life makes it difficult to appreciate the beauty of living. Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond happy to be alive and am blessed to have survived but I missed out on participating fully in many moments of my life.

Every minute of my life wasn’t bad or difficult either, but I was never completely free from the sensations and feelings mental illness emits. Surviving life meant being slightly removed from life. People who live with mental illness must learn to cope and survive their symptoms nearly every day.

I lived with mental illness almost every day of my life but more severely after the birth of my first child over twenty-six years ago. Once I was diagnosed and labelled with mental illness and started taking psychotropic medications it seemed I entered a twilight zone there was no escaping from.

Twenty some years ago a Psychiatrist said, “You will never be normal again, but we can get you to live a functional life.” What kind of life sentence is that? I was supposed to accept that? We (people with mental illness) should just settle? Shouldn’t we be allowed hope? The answer is YES, of course. We should have hope and something to look forward to besides just acceptance of this devastating news and illness.

Other than the many days and months I struggled with debilitating suicidal ideations and thoughts, I fought my diagnose–hoping my life would someday get better. I wanted to get better and not just maintain a functional life. I had to have hope and something to reach for and shoot for. I aimed for a better future.

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A mental illness diagnosis does not mean your hopes and dreams for your life must vanquish or dissipate. Never. Maybe life will change, as life usually does but it doesn’t mean it has to be less. You never have to be less than you are. Instead let your diagnosis make you become more. Keep striving to make your dreams come true. Make new dreams or keep your old ones or maybe reinvent them. Do whatever it takes to survive and eventually thrive.

We must keep fighting and living with hope that our symptoms and life can get better. I believe we should. No doctor should ever take your hope away and tell you that you will be less than you are and can only live a minimal functional life like one of mine did. No one knows this for certain.

I spent so much time being sick and learning how to cope and get through the moment that I missed many opportunities to live in the moment and enjoy the beauty of living–the way we are supposed to live. We are supposed to live in the moments we are in and be present in the moment to get the most out of our lives. I am so blessed that I can now live fully in my moments and appreciate the absolute beauty of living.

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Part of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is mindfulness which is learning to be fully present in the moment. Don’t people realize how hard it is to live in each moment when you have a mental illness?

When you live with severe mental illness symptoms sometimes the only way to cope is to pretend you are not in that moment and you do not exist. I spent many moments in the psychiatric hospital or when I was severely depressed or in the middle of a mixed bipolar episode getting through a moment by pretending, I did not exist at all or I was not where I was. I needed to do that to survive at the time.

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I hope you can all love your life and enjoy the beauty of the moments. There were many moments that were beautiful when I was living in the middle of my severe symptoms. I tried my best to live as thoroughly as possible when I was with my children peeking through the pain and fogginess so I could live in the moment, but mental illness made this difficult. I wish I could relive some of those moments now that I am mentally well, but I know I can’t. I greatly appreciate that I am blessed to be mentally well now and will make the most of the rest of my life that is for sure.

Life is so much easier when you can live and enjoy the pure beauty of living without having to be strong and survive through it. When you can just enjoy the pure natural easy beauty of living, that is living.

I promise you one day you will make it there. You can reach it. It is possible. You can make it through the impossible to the possible. There are no impossibilities only possibilities. Life is full of them.

When you are surviving another minute try to find the beauty through the pain and survive it anyway you can. Just survive. Make it through. You can do it. Recovery is possible. I am living proof.

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