Victory. Success. Value. Paint this picture. What does it mean to you? What does it look like to you?
Would it include running a marathon, graduating college, or making more than 100k a year?
What about brushing your hair, asking your boss or instructor a question, or just getting out of bed in the morning?
For me, it is a star. A spark. Any type of light in the darkness.
For most of us with mental illness, victory is a rare occurrence. It isn’t something that we allow ourselves to experience all that often. The reason is because we compare ourselves to “everybody else.” We compare ourselves to the people the media portrays. We compare ourselves to our loved ones. It’s only when I look around at those with similar illnesses that I feel victorious. It’s only then that I feel any strength at all.
The reason I am bringing this up is because of a conversation I had with someone very close to me a few weeks ago. This person was complaining about everything they had to do that day (although they really, really didn’t want to do any of it…) including going to work, to the gym, and then shopping, etc, etc. I tried my best to empathize by saying, “I know, I’m sorry. I had to do a bunch of things I didn’t want to do today as well.” I honestly didn’t expect this person’s reply…
“But you didn’t do anything today.”
My. Heart. Dropped. To the floor.
Of course I did. I did everything that day that actually mattered. I got out of bed. I didn’t wash my hair, but I took a bath. I made myself eat a small breakfast. I gardened. I cuddled with my dog. I called my mom.
No, I didn’t go to work. I didn’t go to school. I didn’t do the dishes, or the laundry, or mow the lawn, or organize my office, or even brush my hair. I didn’t do any of the “normal” wifely-duties or student-duties or daughter-duties or Christian-duties. But I was alive. And that’s what matters to me.
The most monumental and exhaustive victory for me is just being alive every day. No, I’m not suicidal. No, I am not unhappy with my life. But my brain is broken for whatever reason and it thinks that dying is better than living. Which in my case, most certainly is not! So, every morning when I choose to wake up and be alive, I am already so exhausted from that battle in my mind. Everything else after that is just icing on the cake!
Victory is a relative term. It’s different for each individual and that’s why I want you to start noticing your own victories- instead of comparing yourself to others.
If you cannot find any light within the darkness, then you will remain in the dark. Let me give you a hint. The light comes from you. So look for the light and accept it. Even if it’s just a little bit. It’s okay to be proud of yourself. It’s okay to set small goals. It’s even okay if you don’t accomplish them all in one day.
Over this past week I spoke with a handful of people in my life that struggle with mental illness. Here are a few of their thoughts…
Q: On your most difficult days, what types of things do you consider to be victories for you?
“Anything is a victory on my tough days. Putting makeup on, putting normal clothes on, actually spending time with [my daughter] instead of just watching her do her own thing… doing the dishes or laundry, or exercising…”
“A moment- no matter how small- where I am truly present. Often I feel like a zombie, dead inside, and just going through the motions. So any time I can break free, I consider to be a huge victory…”
“…Anything besides laying in bed or watching TV. Even though those aren’t amazing feats, on my worst days it feels like it. It is hard to remind myself that those are victories for my circumstances, because I wish I could do so much more- but even minimal function with a debilitating disease is a victory.”
“For sure getting ready, remembering to brush teeth. Showering is huge. If I can get dishes done and cabinet wiped off that’s good. My favorite is this meme which says, ‘If the kids are alive at the end of the day, I say, job well done.’”
I am so, so proud of those in my life who struggle with a chronic, debilitating, or mental illness and choose to keep going. To anyone going through something like this, remember… There is no victory without the battle.
Keep fighting. Keep setting the pace for those of us who just honestly want to lay down and die. And if you ever get back to that dark place, we will be there for you too.
Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Allow others to love you and to help you. Be proud of your accomplishments and your victories, no matter how small they seem. Light up the darkness.