Life

A Conversation with My Younger Self…If I was 99

Dear 25 year old me,

Greetings from the year 2088. I thought I’d write to you because I know you’re struggling with some things.

I know that you’ve been working on your anxiety and you’re worried that you’re not improving as quickly as you should. I just wanted to say that you shouldn’t worry. You recover from the anxiety and you’re a stronger and more empathetic person because you went through it.

You’re also worried about being single. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with the wrong person. And don’t worry; I won’t tell you exactly when, but sometime after your 2.0 graduation from university, you meet the man you’re going to marry. You have children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren. They visit you, and sometimes they bring you food because the food at the seniors home isn’t always the best. I’m sorry to say that you’re not as mobile at age 99 as you were in your twenties.

By the way, that’s another reason you should take Grandma’s advice and “Be thankful you’re as good as you are.” You’re healthy. You’re smart. You’re pretty. Even if you don’t always believe that, you are. Trust me. I’ve kept Nanny Bobby and Great-Grandma in mind and kept myself looking presentable throughout my life, but I don’t look the way I did when I was 25. Why do you worry so much about it? As long as you’re getting enough sleep, eating correctly, and exercising, you’re good!

Focus on what matters. I know you have a lot of dreams. You want your own classroom. You want to publish a novel. You want your blog to be well-known. Don’t worry, that happens (I won’t tell you when!), but that’s because I made steps to make it happen. I practiced my writing every day and took PD courses for teachers. I stopped wasting time online and on Netflix and I only did things if they contributed to my quality of life. Remember Kim Kardashian? Shockingly, knowledge of her family doesn’t benefit you in any way. The same goes for most pop culture.

Instead of worrying about the latest celebrity misstep, spend time with people you love. You’ll be happy to know that you get a lot better at staying in touch with people! You kept in touch with your friends from school, and made new friends at work. You even have some friends at the seniors home. You still go to the AOII alumni events when you can. Now that you’re 99, they treat you a bit like a novelty…you know, like how they treated Betty White. The food’s good, though.

Obviously, many people you loved have passed on, but that’s why I want to tell you that fighting is a waste of time. I know that sometimes you hold grudges when you should really just let things go. You only get a limited amount of time with people. Don’t waste that time on petty disagreements. Did someone say something that offended you? So what. Remember something else that Grandma said: Will it matter in a day? Will it matter in a week? Will it matter in a month? Will it matter in a year? Trust me, most of what annoys you doesn’t even matter for a minute.

If I could sum up what I want to say to you in two words, it would be something that Grandpa said: Stop worrying! You worry about school. You worry about getting a job. You worry about money. You worry about what people think of you. You worry about what people say about you. You worry about how you look. You worry about things you can’t control. You worry about people you don’t know. Stop worrying and start living!

You have about 75 years left, give or take. Focus on what matters. Write. Teach. Love. Laugh. Live. Realise that life is short and you need to make the most of it.

Sincerely,

99 year old me

Demi Lovato and the Single Mental Illness Narrative

After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Demi Lovato has started a new mental health campaign. I’m glad that Demi is receiving help and is sharing her story. The stigma surrounding mental illness must be removed so that more people are willing to seek help, and the stigma will only be removed when people speak up. In this way, Demi’s campaign is a step in the right direction.

But.

I’m concerned that we’re pushing a single narrative onto people with mental illness, and that people who support Demi Lovato’s campaign without question are further cementing this narrative.

The front page of Be Vocal, Speak Up says:

“I realised that bipolar disorder may be a part of my life, but it isn’t who I am.” – Demi Lovato

This is Demi’s narrative. Everyone with mental illness needs to write their own narrative. After all, there are many different paths on the road to mental illness recovery. And yet, Be Vocal, Speak Up only promotes one.

I’m using cognitive behavioural therapy to recover from anxiety, and I know that eventually I’ll completely recover. I’m not on medication because after one attempt, I know the side effects make me feel worse. I know someone else with anxiety, and medication helps them. Someone else I know used to have depression, but they no longer do. They went to therapy and took antidepressants for a period of time.

Only one of the above narratives is valid on Be Vocal, Speak Up: The narrative that mental illness is permanent, and medication is necessary.

The websites treatment questionnaire only mentions medication. Other treatment options are barely touched upon. “Additional Resources” lists crucial items such as “stay positive” and “create joy and satisfaction”, but with no detail on how to incorporate this into treatment. Anyone whose narrative doesn’t include medication will have to look elsewhere.

The same page says:

“Living well with mental illness conditions is an ongoing process.”

Be Vocal, Speak Up pushes the narrative that mental illness is permanent, even though complete recovery is possible depending on the situation.Mental illness is very similar to many other illnesses in this way.

We must not further stigmatize people suffering from mental illness by disregarding their narrative. Suppose someone, let’s call him Logan, has depression. Logan gets up the courage to see a psychiatrist and says, “I’m suffering from depression, but I know that with treatment I’ll eventually recover.” Why negate Logan’s narrative by saying, “Sorry. the best you can hope for is living well. Living well with mental illness is an ongoing process. You’ll never completely recover.”

Everyone’s narrative is valid, but instead of empowering mental illness sufferers to take charge of their story, Be Vocal, Speak Up only accepts a single narrative.

The idea that complete recovery is possible isn’t even touched upon. Why?

Medication is only one of many treatment options, but other options aren’t discussed. Why?

I’m grateful to Demi Lovato for starting this discussion. After all, everyone deserves the freedom to choose their own narrative. It’s time for those of us with differing narratives to speak up.