Living With a Capital L
By Elliot Mears
When I first started to struggle with my mental health, I thought that was it, my life would be all struggle, all darkness, all hospital trips and appointments, all missed opportunities and lost friendships, all loss. I saw my peers doing things I never could, watched life pass me by as I was left behind, going through the motions of life to an extent but never really living. I wished I could be ‘normal’ and do everything everyone else was doing. I thought that eradicating my illnesses entirely and being ‘normal’ was the only way I’d ever have a meaningful life; recently I’ve learnt that isn’t true.
I think there’s a lot of power in the phrase ‘living with mental illness’, because it recognises both the presence of struggle and the presence of life. It acknowledges that in spite of everything, I am still here; life is still here. Living comes first, mental illness second - present but not in control.
Living with a mental illness will look different for different people and on different days. I don’t have to tell you that a lot of the time living with mental illness is being so petrified of the world you can’t leave the house or so low that you just cry and watch TV all day - but it can be so much more than that, some days it’s feeling anxious but still getting out and having an amazing time with friends, celebrating good grades or a new job that you fought so hard for, travelling somewhere you’ve always wanted to go- taking your anxiety with you but having a wonderful time anyway. One does not cancel out the other. While you’re in the thick of it it seems impossible to live a life worth living alongside mental illness - but it is possible. It’s easy to feel that your life is inadequate because it doesn’t look how you wanted it to. It’s okay to grieve for the life you thought you’d be living but don’t let that stop you living the life you do have or believing in a better one.
Maybe you don’t feel like you’re living with your mental illness right now, Living with a capital L that is. That’s okay. That doesn’t mean you never will be; I find so much hope in seeing others live with things that swallowed me up. Knowing that it is possible to be really living in spite of it all, that a diagnosis is not a life sentence. Life might not look how you’d imagined - but find me a person whose life looks exactly as they’d pictured it.
Living with mental illness means that in spite of everything you have endured, life is still here, you are still here, and I think that’s pretty incredible.