Mental Health: the Ongoing War with Self
Dear Toughest Woman I Know,
Who could you be, I wonder?
The immediate answers are also the most obvious choices. Who wouldn’t acknowledge their mother, grand-mother, aunts, sisters, friends, Icons, or someone they know personally, and admire for accomplishing such and such, in spite of something being in the way? That’s how heroes are made in the eyes of the beholder. Success and victory grant the right to be “tough”, “resilient”, etc.
And heroes must be tough and admirable. Heroes ought to be in the spotlight, because they always overcome any and all adversity, and then are done with it, moving on to the next exciting adventure. It is always only after achieving success and victory that one is considered worthwhile, that one is praised and valued. That one is called tough and resilient. But there is nothing during. No recompense, no encouragement, only: “Where is the result?”. “How well are you progressing?”. “Is the end in sight yet?”.
Credit is rarely ever given where it is due. In the during. The success isn’t the tough part, the struggle is. We neglect to value the journey. We praise only arriving at the perceived destination. But what if the finish line is never in sight? What if we don’t even know that it exists? Can we still be considered tough then? Can we be considered tough for trying? For being in an ongoing war, a thankless, self-sustaining war that has no end in sight?
Deep down into the shadows of your own neglect, of your own deliberate discarding, of your own belief of inherent unworthiness, there is someone there who deserves to be considered tough. You might not even be aware that you keep pushing her away, yet you firmly believe that acknowledging her is wrong, and that she should never see the light of day. Because she has done nothing. She has accomplished nothing. Therefore, the very idea of giving her some credit, some value, some worth of any kind is simply preposterous.
And yet, the toughest woman I know is you, dear me.
Immediately, feelings of outrage arise: “How can you possibly acknowledge yourself before any other woman of this world! How ungrateful, selfish, and self-centered you are! In this world where you are nothing, where real women, with real strength, have real problems, real struggles, and real reasons to deserve empathy, recognition, and kindness! Who do you think you are? Shame on you. Go back to being quiet, small, and inconsequential as you have always been, and should always be. Stay in the shadows of your betters, where you belong. The nerve.”
And yet, the need persists.
The tiny, dirty, forgotten little girl within reaches her hand out, in plea. In hope that someone will reach out and take her hand. Reach out, pull her up, and take care of her. Reach out and validate her existence, her efforts, her journey, her wounds and her abandoned state. That someone will see beyond her faults and failures. That someone will see that she is more than she appears, more than the rags and the tear-stained cheeks, more than the forgotten after-thought she looks like. That someone will see her.
After all, this little girl grew up with parents who tried their best, but who were never available, never listened, never acknowledged her, never played with her, never asked her questions nor cared for her answers. Parents who loved conditionally and were quick to take it away.
And a song plays in the background.
“Notice me. Take my hand. Why are we strangers when our love is strong. Why carry on without me?”
She was invisible. All she ever wanted was to be noticed, to matter. To be loved.
So she worked hard to be worthy. Tried everything she could think of. There had to be a way to win her parents’ love back, right? She wasn’t sure how she lost it, what she had done, but if she worked hard enough, she would find it again. She had to. But nothing changed. She wasn’t good enough. Nothing she did brought any kind of victory. There was no success to be had there. So she let herself give up. And in giving up, she fell.
The emptiness of the void called to her. She was tired. So, so tired. And drained. The darkness engulfed her. Nothing she did mattered, so why even bother. Nobody loved her willingly. Nobody wanted her around willingly. How could she want herself? Clearly, she was worthless.
Time passed, she moved around, new faces, new beginnings, new opportunities, yet it was always the same. She tried being someone else, anyone other than her, but it was like she was tainted from within. No matter the mask she wore, no one wanted to keep her. No one cherished her, though she tried and tried. She fought and fought to be seen, valued, heard, but they all turned away. Despite all her efforts, struggle, and what she thought were victories, she still wasn’t good enough.
So she fell again. Deeper down into the gaping maw of infinite darkness that had been her home for a while. She thought she had vanquished it before. She thought she had climbed out and been free of it. She was wrong. This was her home, where she was apparently meant to be. Where she obviously belonged. The only place that welcomed her with open arms. She gave up. Again. What a loser that made her. Not that it mattered. Nothing did anymore. And how silly those important things now seemed to be, from where she was surrendering herself to the void once more. How silly, and unnecessary.
Being disconnected felt right. What better way to deal with the pain than not to feel it at all? Why feel anything at all? It was then that she felt the bottom underneath her, cold, unforgiving. What if she never felt anything again? Would it really be so bad? Would it truly be so bad to put an end to her misery? No. No, she didn’t think it would be. She didn’t belong here anyways. No one would miss her. No one would even notice.
She knew talking wouldn’t help. No one would understand. How could they? She probably seemed happy enough, always wearing a smile on her face. She had relative financial stability, friends, family, what did she have to complain about? She was probably just being dramatic and should get over herself. Her life wasn’t that hard.
But the truth is that it’s never about the outside world. It’s about the inside one. The invisible one. The one people could see if they bothered to try. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Nobody cares about the substance, only the appearance. The fluff, the glitter, the fireworks. The temporary fix.
This letter is for everyone like me who have taken those terrible plunges into the abyss of depression, who have managed to claw their way out, only to be thrown right back in.
This letter is for everyone like me who has ever felt broken beyond repair, who constantly seek to escape reality in whatever fashion they can come up with, because this world is too dark, scary, cruel, unforgiving, and careless to deal with.
This letter is for everyone like me who have been paralyzed by their anxiety, who have felt crippled by it, who feel powerless to act in the face of their fears, terrified of failing, stuck in their belief that they are not worthy, nor good enough to receive any kind of blessing from life.
This letter is for everyone like me who have been abused, emotionally, psychologically, and physically, by strangers and loved ones alike, who have been taught to just shut up and take it. And be thankful for it.
This letter is for everyone like me who struggled with PTSD episodes due to their trauma, both validated and not, diagnosed and not, understood and not, given consideration and not.
This letter is for everyone like me who came to the conclusion that it was just better, easier, simpler to be done with life.
This letter is for everyone who has overcome these challenges and more, and also for those who are still on their healing journey.
This letter recognizes everyone like me who are still standing, still fighting, still dealing with mental health, regardless of where you are on your path. Regardless of how many times you fail, or slip up, or tumble, or fall down, or can’t get up, or whatever. You are strong, you are enough.
I see you. I know you. I am you.
I believe in you.
You are tough.
I am the toughest woman I know, not because I have overcome all these things, and have achieved success and victory against mental health and have moved on to other things, but because mental health is an everyday battlefield and I’m still in there, despite doing well these days.
I am the toughest woman I know because I put myself out there and talk about it, share my stories, communicate the truth of it, and hopefully help others like me who need love and support.
I am the toughest woman I know because every day I choose to wake up, get up, be grateful of still being alive, live, laugh, love, and heal.
I am the toughest woman I know because some days, I have to make those choices over and over again every hour, down to every minute.
It’s easy to look at people’s victories and successes and admire them for those, and call them tough for having overcome those things. But I choose to value the toughness of someone who is still in the thick of it, who can look at themselves as the broken human they are with humility and self-acceptance, and still choose to be proud of themselves, choose to acknowledge where they are and their progress, and not give up on their journey. When you can’t see the finish line is when it’s easiest to give up. But someone truly tough keeps fighting on because they believe they are worth it.
In my world, I am the toughest woman I know.
My hope is that people struggling with mental illness everywhere can recognize that in themselves too.