Save my life Grad school has been amazing! I am truly shocked at how much I am still learning about myself and my emotions. When I finished 7 weeks of normal save my life school, I thought I had learned almost everything I needed to know to survive in this confusing messed-up world. But then HU came along and presented me with even more valuable mind-chaos to grow through by untangling each thought and emotion. It’s hard to believe that over 4 months has gone by since I became a ‘life’ student…recess is still my favourite class.

Yesterday’s topic in class was ‘The Pathways of Recovery’. Its lesson revolved around the feeling of hopelessness, which is incredibly common in people with mental health illnesses. Have you ever told yourself, “Why try, everything goes wrong anyway?” Or what about, “Things that are going good today, won’t last.” Well I sure have! These phrases fuelled my pessimistic outlook on the world, and if still used, will force me to have trouble believing recovery will make a real difference in my life. All-in-all, these self-defeating beliefs are NOT ok to live with.

Now you may be thinking, “But Natalie, SO MANY bad things have happened to me! It seems like just when I get my head out of water something pulls me down again.” And you know what, sometimes this is true. But all kinds of things can and do happen in people’s lives; some good, some bad. Hard times don’t discriminate. We ALL have terrible losses that hurt us to the core. We all have experienced sadness that we thought was never even possible. Some people get diagnosed with cancer, go bankrupt, get divorced, and some have even experienced the loss of a child. Life just sucks sometimes! It’s pretty cut and dry. But what I am learning is that choosing to cope with these terrible circumstances in a healthy way, rather than numbing instantly and hiding from our emotions, is possible. Yes that is correct, the way we cope with the atrocities of life are a choice. I never thought those words would come out of my mouth!

Before learning any coping skills over the past 4 months, when something bad happened to me I numbed it right away, usually with alcohol. Furthermore, I would hide from situations in my life which may cause conflict, thus causing me pain. This avoidance of pain is an unhealthy way to behave as well, and often lead me slowly into a horrible depression. Rather than tackling a problem head on and getting it sorted out right away, I would ignore, ignore, ignore! I thought it would disappear! What was I thinking? It only grew into a bigger problem every day.

The bottom line is, I didn’t like to feel. But if I want to stay on the recovery path I have to start trusting in my ability to get through hard times, no matter how gross they make me feel. I can’t just run to a bottle of wine or down a jar of pills at the first glimpse of sadness. Clearly those choices made everything worse. Adopting the ability to choose to accept the normal pain life brings us is going to be tough at first. Thinking with a rational mind when all I’m use to thinking with is an emotional mind, will take time and practice.

What I’ve learned in school is that we have to give ourselves TIME and permission to process a painful event. We need to allow ourselves to experience ALL the normal human emotions which may come with the situation. That’s when thing get scary for me. Then we need TIME to develop a game plan, and TIME to implement it. Healthy people do these things instinctively. Buggers. But with practice this can be second nature for anyone with mental health illnesses too. I usually want the pain and discomfort to go away fast! But oddly enough, the sooner I accept that it will take TIME to get through a loss, the sooner I will heal from the loss.

Recently I have experienced this ability to get through pain with time and it’s quite empowering. My heart break with Ian has hurt me A LOT. And at first I definitely didn’t cope with it in a healthy way. I wanted to rip my heart out of my chest rather than feel the pain of losing someone I love. But as time has gone on, it’s getting better. I’ve tolerated the distress adequately and allowed time to go by. I still have bad days and need to talk it out with a friend, (healing isn’t progress every day) but overall I am able to tell myself that what I’m feeling is normal and that it won’t last forever. Even through the biggest heart break of my life I still haven’t picked up a drink; that’s cause for some pride 🙂

Shit is going to happen. At times life sucks. And especially for people with mental health illnesses, the fight to get through tragedy can also be a fight for their lives. I am by far NO expert in this ‘give yourself time to heal’ world; I’m a freshman at best! But through the effort and determination to stay on the pathway to recovery, we can gain life stability and improved life outcomes.