I am not my mental illness.
There’s a charcoal painting perched beside my computer desk with the line I am not my mental illness etched into the silky canvas. Charcoal dust is falling like rubble off the surface, leaving residue against the yellow, metal legs of my desk. I created this painting when I thought that grief was a mental illness. After all, I couldn’t control my grief. It felt like it controlled me.
When I lost my mother at 26-years old, I felt burdened. I felt as if the gravitational pull that made me feel centered was abandoned. I felt small. I felt useless. Mostly, I just felt sad. How could I not? I had lost my best friend.
At the same time I was burying my mom, I was also planning a wedding that she had a role in. Suddenly, attending bridal appointments, fittings, picking out flowers and sitting at a bridal shower felt like painful reminders of what I wasn’t able to share with her. Instead of them being happy events, they were events I couldn’t wait to be over.
Learning You Know What’s Best
The night before my wedding, after my anxiety grew to an all-time high, my then-fiance and I decided to cancel our ceremony and opt for a more intimate setting with just our parents and bridal party.
Tensions were high from those around us, but there they stood, surrounding us with kind words and love as we said “I do” and carried on with our day.
At the end of the day, our wedding was everything I’d hoped it would be: warm, fun and full of love. I didn’t want to miss my mom that day. I didn’t want to be so consumed with the fact that she wasn’t there, as much as I wanted to celebrate those who were. At the end of the day, I had to do what was right for me.
It’s not easy to make a decision that doesn’t conform to traditional standards, but at the end of the day, you need to constantly have yourself at the forefront of your mind. Only you know what your limitations are, just like you’re the only person who knows what’s going to make you truly happy.
There cannot be shame in that.
Accepting Your Decisions….and Moving Forward
When we got back from our honeymoon, I realized how positive my outlook had become. The stress had melted from my shoulders and that weight I’d been carrying around since the day she died suddenly began to evaporate. I felt ready, for the first time in a year and a half to begin the process of putting my mother’s death behind me while simultaneously honoring and celebrating her life and our memories.
There’s empowerment in the decision that I made, just as there is empowerment in realizing how strong you can be when you have no other choice. The strength to make the tough decisions and to put yourself first is such an empowering tool and one that I’m learning to use in my favor.
At the end of the day, we all have limits. We all carry pain and worry, but on the other side of those daunting emotions, comes the positivity of knowing you can get through it; that you will get through it.
Finding What Works
On the back of my mom’s memorial card was the Serenity Prayer which reads,
“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”
I chose this prayer to immortalize my mom because it summed her up in the most breathtaking way. After being diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer, my mother’s vibrant courage sustained her for six whole years. In her weakest moments, she found the courage that’s been hiding inside her the entire time.
When she died, I knew that this saying captured everything we could ever say about her life, her choices, her disease, and her perseverance.
On the eve before my wedding, my mother-in-law wrote me a letter saying that my mother’s memorial card fell out while she was cleaning. She then wrote down the words of the Serenity Prayer and in particular, “the courage to change the things I can (wedding).”
When we lose someone, I think a common desire is to know they can still connect with us or watch over us from wherever they are. And maybe it was my mom giving me a sign that everything I had to do was right in front of me.
Regardless of what truly happened, I learned that you always have to have the courage and the love for yourself to do what you believe is the right thing. By doing this one, simple change, I found my inner peace – and I can forever live with it. I hope you can find the same inner peace with whatever you may be struggling with.
I want you to ask yourself: what is something you can change right now to bring happiness and comfort to your waking hours?
Change doesn't have to be on a major scale. Change can be small. It can be as simple as deciding to have your favorite coffee in the morning as opposed to jumping in with the rest of your responsibilities. As I said, only you are responsible for your happiness. At the end of the day, all you and everyone deserves is unrivaled happiness.