It wasn’t that long ago that I was able to put in a full day at work. I was able to work 5 days a week, every week for a number of years. And after work and on weekends, I ran errands, hung out with friends, went shopping, went to the movies, and basically just went on with life. I’m not sure if life was moving forward or not but it was moving.
I struggled a lot outside of work in my personal life, but I chalked it up to anything and everything that wasn’t mental health or well-being. I gave excuses that it was something wrong or broken with me that I needed to somehow fix. I figured there was some flaw in how I was living life and only “righting” myself would I be able to fully function without issues.
For the most part I was silent about what I was struggling with, unless it got very bad, which it did once or twice. I even took a few months of leave of absence from work at one point. But overall I kept what was going on to myself. I didn’t want to burden anyone. I didn’t want anyone to think I was a freak or look at me differently. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was so bad at life I was struggling with even wanting to live. I assumed that no one could really help me and that no one would understand even if they wanted to help. Whatever was wrong with me, I would have to fix, and I would have to do it quickly and quietly.
Overall though, I kept functioning, and for the most part, I was able to cope. At least I told myself I was coping and that things were under control. My coping methods however were not at all healthy, and led to extremely destructive habits. I turned to eating, suppressing, avoiding, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and several suicide attempts. But I told myself I was coping. I believed I was handling everything.
I wasn’t stupid or blind. I knew that how I was coping was not the best way but it got me out of bed and to work and doing things that constituted “living life”, so as far as I was concerned things were handled. At first I just went about my day, doing the best that I could with what I knew. It took years, decades, for me to realize that I wasn’t really handling things at all. I was coping in ways that were slowly killing me, and if I kept it up, one way or another, I would end up dead.
I don’t remember when I realized things were not going well. I just know that over time I found myself in a very dark place more and more and more often. I was avoiding, suppressing, eating, and self-harming all the time. Suicidal thoughts were like a nagging memory that I couldn’t shake and kept playing over and over in my mind as an idea I should really look into. The darkness that enveloped me was keeping me down longer and longer with each passing year. Until finally I was only in darkness.
I no longer remembered what the light looked like or felt like. I wasn’t even sure if I could go back to the light. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. The trajectory of my path was all over the place and most of the time I had no idea what was going to happen next. The only thing I clearly saw happening was that things were not getting better. They only got worse. And worse. And worse. And for every step forward I felt like I took ten steps back.
The last year or so has been challenging to say the least. After reaching out for help, and fortunately getting it, I have had some of the darkness peeled away. Things are looking towards getting better, and being more manageable. It’s been hard. Very, very hard. There are some days where I’m not sure things will really get better. Some days I feel like it will always suck and every day will just be a battle that I may or may not win. Some days I feel more optimistic about things, and am successful at keeping things relatively managed.
As time goes on and I learn how to manage my thoughts and emotions, I am also learning how to manage myself too. It may seem like a no-brainer that with one thing managed the others would follow suit and start to be managed as well, but not really. Not for me anyway.
I thought I could just go about things as I always had. I thought I could continue to function at almost full capacity. I thought I could work on myself and rebuild things on the inside and still go about my day like nothing had changed. I thought I could put all my mental capacity towards rebuilding things and also put all my mental capacity towards going about my day too without interruption. I thought I could put my efforts to myself and to the rest of life, including working, and everything would be fine. I assumed that I could handle it. I had no doubts that I could handle it. I had no reason to believe otherwise. After all, I had worked for years with keeping work and everything else separate.
Turns out, I was wrong.
I was very wrong, in fact. And I was genuinely shocked to discover that I was wrong.
Functioning at full capacity is hard. Functioning at half-capacity is hard. Going to work and trying to rebuild my life, at the same time, was so hard for me, that I failed at it. Actually, failed is the wrong word. I’m going to say that it was so hard for me it wasn’t effective. Going to work and trying to figure things out with my mental health at the same time was so hard that work slowly fell off the radar because I just couldn’t handle both. No matter how much I thought I could, and how much I expected myself to, I just couldn’t do it. Not both, and not at the same time.
With my mental capacity taken up by trying to sort things out, tease things apart, rethink, relearn, rebuild, recuperate, and retry, there really isn’t a lot left for almost anything else. Even living day-to-day stuff like cooking, eating, and showering, can feel like monumental tasks that don’t always make the cut on the to-do list for the day. Keeping up with myself and what needs to be done is a crap shoot every day. Some days I can take care of the basics and then work on other stuff too. Some days I have to trade off what basics I can handle and what can wait especially if I want to take care of other stuff too. And then there are days where there are no basics, it is only about taking care of things mentally, and the basics will just have to wait until tomorrow when they may be able to get taken care of then.
All of my efforts nowadays go towards my mental illness.
It has taken me a while to realize that there are limits to what I can handle. It has taken me a lot longer than I thought it would to realize this. I knew this before, sort of. I knew of having limits, and that others might need to recognize them, and to work within them. I was well aware that other people had limits and I respected that. It made total sense that others might need to recognize their own limits. I, however, was able to handle everything, and believed that I didn’t really have limits. And any limits I did have were high enough that I could work with and push past them if I needed to.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I believed I could handle things, and that I was handling things. No problem.
Every time I reached my limit I would try to push past it, conveniently forgetting or ignoring that it was a limit. I would lie to myself, that it wasn’t really a limit. I would lie to myself, that even if it was a limit it’s not set in stone and I can totally do this. I would tell myself I hadn’t reached my limit, I was just not trying hard enough. I wasn’t giving the effort that I should be giving to the situation. I was being lazy or I was going about it wrong. I was totally ignoring the signals, or I was attributing the signals to something else, instead of realizing that I was hitting my limit.
I was wrong.
There is only so much I can do each day. As much as I hate to admit it to myself, every day, I have limits to what I can accomplish, and no matter how hard I try to ignore them, they are there. They change as to how far I can go and how far I can push myself, but they are there, and they are limits. I need to realize that. I need to realize that do I have limits. I need to realize that whatever my limits are, they are there for a reason, and they serve a purpose. They help me to keep myself balanced and manageable. They help to take rest when I need to. They help me to recuperate when I need to. They help me to address when something is pushing against my best interests and I need to take action. I need to respect my limits. I need to honour myself and what I can and cannot do. I need to accept that I have limits.
There is a point at which I can no longer function. There is a limit. There is a point at which I will hit my limit and trying to push past it is probably not a good idea, if I am even able to push past it at all.
And those limits are typically not flexible. They are limits for a reason.
I may need a break. I may need an hour. I may need a day. Or four days. I may need to stop much earlier than I had originally planned. I may need to not even start what I had planned. I may need to ease up on what I want to accomplish and realize instead what I can accomplish. And what I can do today, may or may not be what I can do tomorrow.
Every day is different. The factors that come into play as to what I can and cannot do change every day too. The factors change, the limits change, the accomplishments vary, but the acknowledgement and adhering to remains the same. It’s a lot to track but it’s important to realize and take whatever action I need to, even if that means no action at all.
My limits before may have been higher, or maybe I always ignored them. Maybe I was able to push past them easier before. Who knows. All I know is that I do have limits and I need to respect that. As hard as it is for me to accept, I may do less because of my limits but that does not make me less. I have to remember that.