Recently, in a Q&A with my readers, I was asked, “What’s the greatest challenge you face every day?”
I was immediately intrigued by the question, because I tend to think about my struggles with mental illness on a sliding scale, not in absolutes. So instead of thinking about a particular problem as the “greatest” challenge I face, I approach the situation from a more relative point of view. No problem (with some exception) is usually better or worse than another. They’re so unique that it’s difficult to judge them against the same criteria.
When I was asked to name my biggest daily challenge, however, I began to consciously adopt a more absolute perspective – just temporarily, to see what it would be like. If I could objectively rank the issues I deal with daily from least to greatest, what would the top of that list look like?
Before I started electroconvulsive therapy and my depression cleared up significantly, the answer probably would have been, in a word, hopelessness. When I was constantly depressed, the world felt like it was bearing down on me. Everything seemed to be designed for the success of the mentally healthy – everyone else be damned. I couldn’t work a job because I spent most of my energy just getting out of bed. I couldn’t be in a long-term relationship because my borderline personality disorder symptoms made me a terrible partner. I was doomed to live with my parents forever, and when I couldn’t live with them anymore, I was, for lack of a better word, screwed. Unable to sustain myself without a place to live, a source of income, or basic life skills, I’d have to find some sort of community home to call my own.
No matter what, one thing seemed inevitable: I would always, always be miserable.
The future weighed on my brain like a tumor that’s benign for the time being but promises to spontaneously turn malignant at any moment. No matter what I achieved or how many distractions I found to keep my mind from wandering toward my disastrous future, there it loomed, threatening me with eternal misery.
It seems safe to say that the specter of my seemingly inevitable suffering was the cause of my heaviest despair.
At least, that was the case before I finally found a depression treatment that works. Thanks to ECT, for the first time in years, I’m not just not depressed – I’m also not afraid of being depressed later. I can probably go to school, hold down a job, and maybe even sustain a successful relationship now.
Naturally, my list of most troublesome daily issues has re-arranged itself to accommodate my shifting emotional state. Now, my greatest mental challenge is coming to grips with the sudden realization that I can live a successful life. I have a long path ahead of me: many years of education, work, struggles, and yes, occasional bouts of depression, anxiety, and personality disorder symptoms. Now, however, I can look to my future with hope. Instead of seeing a helpless grown woman fighting tooth and nail to stay alive (let alone feel good!), I can clearly make out future opportunities for my own personal advancement, satisfaction, and if I play my cards right, even joy.