This past weekend, I was catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. One, like me, has been going through some medical things lately. Completely different issues, but very similar paths in The Hunt for a Diagnosis. It’s led both of us to some problems with anxiety, and in my conversation with her, I told her something that she found very comforting: You can’t control what happens, but you can control your reaction to it.
In my case, I can’t control what my body is doing. I can’t control the pain or the ridiculous journey I’ve been going through. I can’t change anything that’s happened. I can’t turn any of the negative tests into positives just for the sake of a diagnosis. I can’t go back and tell people that I know it could be worse, but that this battle I’m fighting is no less real just because it’s not cancer and I’m not dying. I can’t go back in time and tell myself to calm the eff down about life, because stress may be what brought this all on to begin with.
But what I can control is my reaction to it all, and what stressors I decide to allow in my life now.
It’s something I’ve really come to grips with in the past month (two? three? I’m losing track), but I haven’t really been able to articulate it particularly well. I should’ve known that my favorite band (Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers) would be able to put it into the words I couldn’t come up with:
“Happiness depends on how you handle the day.”
I don’t think anyone fully understands what I’ve been going through since mid-July. No matter how hard they try to get it, or how hard I try to explain it, no one can truly know how this has all affected me in ways other than the outward, physical manifestation of pain.
And it’s something I’ve been hesitant to talk about or write about in a public forum, because mental health in our society is a scary subject. It’s almost taboo. I’ve been terrified to talk about it for fear of being judged, for being seen as weak.
Last week, Nicole (who is a bit of a blog rock star in my world) wrote about mental health battles (read that, seriously), and after wiping the tears out of my eyes, I emailed Nicole and poured my heart out to this amazing woman, who simultaneously felt like a stranger and a best friend. I told her that I could relate to her situation in a myriad ways. That my life, in which everything was finally going so amazingly well that I could hardly believe it, had come to this grinding halt and that aside from the physical health concerns, I have been having real and debilitating mental health concerns. I thanked her for being so open and honest about mental health battles.
And lastly, I asked her to carry me with her across that finish line on race day, along with the many others she is carrying in the fight for mental health care in this country.
I felt infinitely better having emailed Nicole, and I was content with that step alone. But then she emailed me back, one of the kindest and most sincere emails I’ve ever received. We’ve exchanged a few more and the conversation with Nicole has been a huge inspiration for me.
This week, I’ll be taking a step forward in getting the help I need with the mental and emotional effects of what I’ve been going through physically. You all know my penchant for self-help, but sometimes, you can’t help yourself well enough and you need to bring in outside resources.
And that doesn’t make me weak. It makes me strong, because I’m trying to make it better. Weakness would be giving in to it and letting it consume me.
My beloved Stephen Kellogg is right: Happiness depends on how you handle the day – one day at a time. And I’m determined to get that happiness back in my life for as many days as I can.
To the friends and family who have been helping me handle these days the past two months, I cannot thank you enough. I haven’t always handled it gracefully, but I’m working on it. I’m no longer allowing myself to stress about who has or hasn’t called or texted me. Or about how I’m going to pay the medical bills. Or about all the social events I’ve missed out on. Or about whether they’re getting on OK at work without me. Or about how difficult my first run back is going to be. Or about how outsiders are viewing me and what I’m going through.
I’m focusing on my health – physical, emotional, mental. My complete health, my whole self. Because if I don’t get myself healthy, none of that other stuff matters.
And to Nicole – thank you for having the courage to speak out about mental health, and for encouraging me to do the same. I only hope our society as a whole can learn to see it for what it is and work to make mental health care a basic right. You truly are a rock star, lady.