The philosopher Nietzsche famously once said ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Though this may sound a little extreme, I do think there is something to it. Especially when it comes to experiencing and ultimately overcoming issues related to mental health. Rather than a weakness, struggling with a mental health issue is in fact a real strength.
For many years I considered that suffering from a mental health condition was a weakness. It seemed so, certainly when I was at the lowest points in my life. Like when it seemed my condition was in total control of me. Unfortunately I felt like that for many years. And it is only now, now that I have really started to talk openly and honestly about my experiences that I see them as a strength. What is more I realise that they were always a strength throughout all those long years of struggle.
Why a weakness?
The reason I saw my condition as a weakness was simply the fact that it stopped me from doing so many things. I suffered from pretty extreme social anxiety. As a result my social life became almost none existent and I struggled to do the simplest of things, like getting on a bus or being in a crowded space.
I ended up being so disheartened by all the things other people seemed to do with ease, without thinking, that at points I felt just could not on. Not only did I have to deal with the effects of the anxiety itself (what fun those panic attacks were) but also the embarrassment and overwhelming sense of failure that came along with them. For me it was a total weakness and could not possibly be anything else. In my own eyes, I was a mess, a total failure.
After I got help, things became clearer. Throughout all those years of struggle I had been building resilience; unimaginable resilience. Of course it took a while but in time I recognised that fact. All those experiences put me in contact with emotions that were raw and in the extreme.
There was no running away, no lying to myself everything was ok, no speaking to anyone. I experienced things, felt things emotionally that the vast majority of people will only experience in very rare moments, for really short periods of time. Like jumping out of a plane or being in a car crash (both of which I have been involved in!).
I experienced similar emotional reactions on practically a daily basis, in trying to do those simple things. So extreme did they feel to me. Throughout I felt that I was constantly at my breaking point but somehow managed to just hold on.
Recognising my strength
Of course when I was suffering I had no idea of this. It was only when my therapist pointed it out to me did I recognise the fact. And then it became almost all too clear to see. In the years that have followed it has become even more so. I found that I could use the mental resilience I developed to help me get my life back on track.
The resilience gave me strength in stressful situations. It allowed me to get in touch with my emotions, recognise when I was being triggered by things and clearly see my anxiety for what it was.
It is the most important factor in actually bringing my anxiety under control and continuing, over the years to be able to do that. Without all those years building that resilience I simply would not be able to achieve that.
It is funny how when I was really struggling, my constant refrain was that I would do anything just to make it stop. Now, I am genuine when I say I would not change a thing about my past. I would even go so far as saying that it was a really good experience for me in the long term.
I know this will not be the case for all and I don’t want to be flippant here. However I think the benefits that I now have access to where worth all those years of struggle. I am more of a whole person now. Those experiences have shaped me and made me who I am. And most importantly have given me so much empathy for those who may be experiencing something similar.
It’s going to be ok
This is, I suppose, where the title of this article comes from. Struggling with a mental health issue is in many ways like running with weights. Trying to live your life, trying to do everything in it, is twice as hard as it is for everyone else. When you are wearing those weights all you want to do is take them off.
You are not thinking of anything else apart from their crushing load. Its’ only afterwards that you realise how much stronger they have made you. All those things that were hard now seem that little bit easier.
And this is what I really want to say. To anyone out there struggling with a mental health condition you are not alone. It may seem like the worse thing ever but in time, with help of course, you may see some positives. I cannot guarantee this and trust me those positives could take a long time to be made clear.
But there is hope. Often when you are struggling, hope is the only thing left. It may feel nigh on impossible sometimes but don’t give up, you will get through it.