What happens when you don’t have instructions of your mental disorder anymore?
Perhaps the least talked about part of starting medication treatment and talk therapy, is the way initially one could feel as if it is making things worse than they were before.
It’s no secret that mental illnesses are a result of unresolved trauma. While traumatic experiences affect and shape us to a certain degree, they are not integral to our core personality. The behaviour patterns, reaction and thoughts that are labelled as “disorders” are in fact just survival mechanisms that our psyche adopted during the trauma.
When I first got on medication and started therapy, for a while it felt like I was losing a very important part of myself. Unconsciously, I built my entire life, all my relationships and interactions with people around my anxiety and depression. Once I was no longer anxious to the degree that I usually was (because of meds) and therapy explained my triggers and trauma, I became aware of how attached I was to my mental disorders.
The problem was, I didn’t really know who I was behind being mentally ill. I thought the integral part of my personality was having anxiety and being depressed, and once those “traits” started to dissolve, I was faced with the necessity to build new reactions, relationships and patterns around who I was as a person, and not my issues. And honestly? It’s really scary. In a very messed up way, your trauma is a manual that is easy to follow. Once that manual is gone, you have no reference point.
I was lucky to have a person in my life, who went through a similar experience of almost losing yourself after starting therapy, but it was just the two of us. We both felt ashamed for almost wishing to go back to the familiarity of living in a state of traumatized mind. The shame came from the idea that there is no reason for someone resent being mentally healthy.
I think, mental health is awareness, first and foremost. While it takes a long time to get rid of triggers and survival patterns, once you become aware of them, you have an agency to react in a different way. Agency means responsibility, and responsibility is scary.
So if you are someone who just started therapy, or you are a self-healer or any other kind of person trying to cope with your mental illness, and you are feeling like there is a part of you missing – don’t worry, it is not actually you. It is someone who you had no choice but to be because bad things happened. In the space left when that part is gone, you can build new and better things. If you don’t know who you are behind your trauma, the same way I didn’t know – that just means you have a whole new person to become best friends with. It is scary, but better than living life according to a stupid manual, isn’t it?