Happy Independence Day

Today one of my colleagues asked if I was going to celebrate the 4th of July and I told them no, that the 4th of July was the anniversary of a bad experience for me and so I do not celebrate it anymore.

Ever since that conversation, I have been pondering whether I should in fact celebrate today as the start of a long, hard road to recovery rather than the day I was admitted to a mental hospital two years ago. The experiences that followed my time in the mental hospital show a steady improvement in my mental freedom from depression, paranoia and anxiety. So, really, I should be celebrating today not only as the independence day of the country of my birth, but also as the start of my road to independence from my lifelong struggle with mental illness.

Today I celebrate the day that I started to gained independence from the negative thoughts and fears that have plagued my mind; the fear of failure and mistakes, fear of other people and fear of cameras watching me in my work and home.

My journey towards independence has been slow but steady. Immediately after leaving the mental hospital, I rarely left my bed and slept most of the day. I had no energy or motivation. I was scared and suspicious of my friends, neighbors and people I passed on the street on my way to the grocery store or the doctor’s office, so I simply preferred to stay at home in bed.

With the guidance of my mental health nurse, I started to challenge my paranoid thoughts about people and objects and, after a few months, I stopped the paranoia medicine and could leave the house and go back to work.

After a few months more, when my research contract ended, I found myself without a reason to leave the house or wake up before noon. Due to the medicine, I was constantly tired and hungry. I spent most of my time at home in bed or on the couch reading or sleeping. I gained two sizes and 10 kg in a few months.

This was a low point in my recovery, when I was on strong medication, unemployed and feeling that perhaps I was not going to pull out of my slump and that I was just a burden on my husband, my family and friends.

This experience reminds me of something I heard Professor Stephen Hawking say at his birthday celebration on Sunday. He said that when he went to zero after he was diagnosed that he was grateful for everyday after that point; every additional day was a plus. I agree completely with him. Everyday is another day that I am alive.

In order to regain my motivation to leave the house, I started a short weekend shift as a volunteer in a charity bookstore. I have always been an avid reader and thought that sharing my love and knowledge of literature with others would be a fun, relaxing way to transition back into work. It helped that the manager of the bookstore gave me lots of positive feedback and made me feel welcome and appreciated each time that I volunteered.

Since that point, I have made steady improvement in my mental health, going from temporary paid work to a fixed term contract to my current six month probation with the hope of a long-term position. My fixed-term employment provided six months in a nurturing environment and, with my doctor’s advice, I started to reduce my medication. My current position has proven more of a challenge and I have had a set-back in my road to recovery, leading to an increase in my medication; however, there is a silver lining of hope.

I have hope now and it is a precious thing. I have hope that I will be able to come off the medication in the next year or so and then I will be able to drive again and perhaps have a child, but more importantly that I will be at peace with who I am.

So, yes, there is a reason to celebrate today.

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