For those who do not know or are new to my page, I work as a Peer Advocate at a 7-day residential mental health respite in New York City. Respite is a safe space for those with mental illness who need support and/or a break from a stressful environment. I have the honor of meeting new and inspiring people each week. Sometimes it is just what I need to get me out of a pointless deep depression such as this past week.
There has always been this need inside me to have my pain and struggle understood. The story of my struggle was so peculiar, and the majority of the pain was mental, I felt it was often brushed aside by society. My symptoms were everchanging, I couldn’t keep up with it, let alone the rest of the world. From severe tourette syndrome to OCD, agoraphobia, and conversion disorder (a condition where the brain converts mental stress into physical symptoms; for me, paralysis). I had all of these obscure mental illnesses, but an absolutely incredible family who understood me, loved me, and fought for the best possible treatment. They brought professionals in the field to educate my school and drove me all across the country to see the top doctors. It is because of that, I made it out alive. There were some close calls, and if I had to do it again, I’m not sure what my success rate would be. But I did it. We did it.
My experience is often very different from the guest’s (our term for patients) at the respite. Of course, all of our stories are entirely different, but for the majority of the guests, one of the most common reasons for their struggles all stems down to not having a caring person in their life. Not having a support system to understand them, guide them, and love them has lead them to a life on the streets, turning to do and/or sell drugs, gang affiliations, self-harm, the list goes on. A guest this past week who is the same age as myself stated, “If I had at least one adult who cared for me, my life would have been completely different.” This idea was not news to me. However, when I heard his story as well as another guest’s this past week, it made me take a step back and think about how different my life has been; how different my pain has been. I can not help but acknowledge that I grew up in a white middle-class family who was able to provide the care I needed. Even though it meant they would go into debt and cause an extreme financial burden, their love made my treatment a priority and our position made it a possibility. Yes, my pain was horrible, but the suffering from not having support might just be worse. Medical versus situational. At this moment, and with my extremely sentimental personality, I feel as though I would go through anything just to keep supportive people in my life. I have always said that the support is what got me through my hardships, what kept me alive and fighting. Imagining a life without that – not only for myself but for others – hurts me so deeply.
My story compared to those as mentioned above inflicted a different sort of pain. This past week was the first time I felt thankful for having had my pain rather than envious of the suffering of others. At my worst, I had wished for cancer just so the pain would either kill me once and for all or be “cured” by modern medicine rather than having to face it with brute mental strength. It was and still is a very taboo thought to have, but that was how I felt.* (please see footnote) But this week, hearing two stories in particular, and being where I am in life now, I saw a different perspective – a perspective that was strong enough to pick me up and put me back on my feet.
I continue to be inspired by the people I meet. To see how strong and resilient the human race is. I especially love to see people taking their pain and channeling it into a passion to help others in similar situations. We all have the power to be that one person who cares for others. We have the power to support those alone in the community or those isolated by their families and friends. One pair of listening ears and a single hand to hold has extraordinary power.
~ Stay Chipper Friends ~
* I just want to say in a footnote because I know how sensitive a subject cancer is and having lost family and friends to it, I do not want my statement above to be misunderstood. I do not want my words to be taken as me saying my suffering was worse than a cancer patient or any other person for that matter. Those feelings had to do with wanting the situation to be out of my control. I did not want to dive headfirst into my deepest darkest and strongest fears and emotions. There were multiple times I would have rather died of an incurable illness. I was envious in a way of those who had a medical treatment that could possibly cure the illness or those who had doctors making decisions and performing procedures. I was at a point where I wanted to give up and was exhausted from fighting. If there was something affecting me out of my control, that would have allowed me to fully give up and let someone else take the reigns. This footnote is not a great place to express these feelings, but I felt it was necessary as I understand how excruciating and heartbreaking cancer is both physically and emotionally.
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