How Self -Awareness Helped Me Through My Mental Illness
When I was a child, I had a certain idea of what I thought my life would be like. I would lay in bed and think about what kind of person I would be when I grew up. What sorts of things would be important to me? Would I have the same values and beliefs I had at the tender age of 13 or would life throw me in a different direction? More than I could ever have imagined, life has (so far) ended up throwing me in multiple different directions. The young and naïve Blake thought that life was a relatively straight road. We take different turns and make various choices, but other than that, things went along as planned. We decided who we were and what was important to us and those things would remain so for the rest of our lives.
Growing up, I was the type of person who would run on automatic. I didn’t take into deep thought the things I did or wanted for myself, I just did them because that was what I believed was expected of me. I continued along this pattern through high school and into college as an acting major in New York. I would keep going and going, never pausing to look anywhere but straight ahead. I was an Aries Ram in the truest sense of the meaning. Onward I ran, without any thought as to whether or not I should slow down and rest, or take care of myself. I was so deep into this pit of my own making, that one day, in the second semester of my senior year of college, I looked up and realized that I was severely depressed. I had worked myself so hard from so young an age, that I didn’t ever stop to take care of myself and the mental illnesses with which I had long struggled.
I was in three shows at the same time and was considering taking a leading role in another. I was taking 18 credit hours in order to make sure I graduated on time. I had just gone through a breakup which had taken a stronger toll on me that I would admit to myself. I was in a very deep hole and could see no way out but one. At this time, my mother and sister both sensed something was wrong, and I was checked into the behavioral psychology ward at the local hospital.
My time there was the first time I had really thought about mindfulness and self-awareness. These were things I learned in the hospital and they are what helped me make it through that period. During that time, I thought about what I wanted and what I was feeling. I was honest with myself and took time for self introspection and awareness. I put myself and my own needs first rather than the expectations of others. In doing so, I realized that I needed to take a step back from school and give myself some time to heal. I knew I could not let myself get back to that black hole again and from that moment, I made the choice to adopt the practice and value system of self awareness as my life vest.
How would one define the term ‘self-awareness’? Personally, I describe it as being in tune with the truths of yourself (choices, desires, needs, etc) through the practice of consciousness. I came to this definition through a few avenues: my time in the hospital and the things I learned while there, as well as my readings from Deepak Chopra’s “Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes”. My lifelong love of comic books and superheroes aside, this book resonated with me on a variety of levels. One of the most poignant things I learned from this book was the existence of the “shadow self”. In one of my favorite passages, Deepak quotes: “On the contrary, the most dynamic and powerful superheroes (or people) are those who can balance the forces of light and dark in their own being, navigate the shadowy regions of their own fears, rage, and dark emotions, and then channel them into more constructive and compassionate endeavors” (Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes, Deepak Chopra, pg 18).
This struck me deeply: the idea that I could take the darkness within myself and use it to my advantage and growth — not to have to fear that part of myself. As long as I stayed in connection with my feelings and internal truths — both light and dark, good and bad, shadow and not — I could be in control of my mental health and state of mind, and not be blindsided by my illness again. I felt a strong sense of empowerment upon reading this book and even more-so as I practiced its teachings.
Self -awareness is more than just one, single idea. It is an entire way of thinking and existing. It is being in tune with oneself. Conscious of ones truths and aware of how they affect the things around your world. It is, in my opinion, like having a third eye. I think that in today’s fast-paced society, it is very easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle around us. We can move along, waxing and waning with the tide, giving little to no true thought to ourselves or why we are doing what we do. Self-awareness is slowing down and looking within in order to understand the outside and maneuver life in the most honest way for ourselves.
As I mentioned earlier, my life has thrown me many, many curveballs. Last October, I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease and I was struck with a difficult reality. I was in a wheelchair at the time and was so ill so frequently, I was no longer able to work my typical “9–5” job. It was a very trying time and continues to deliver difficulties.
Once more, my life vest of self-awareness came to my aid. Every day, I take the time for quiet reflection. How am I feeling today, at this time mentally and physically? What does my body need? How can I make the best of this day? At times, just getting out of bed counts as a win. As basic as that may sound, that is the way I have to look at it in order to give myself what I need — strength and motivation. I have grown to see my self-awareness as my superpower.
After I was diagnosed, I began to battle once more with my demons. I felt helpless and constantly ill, a shell of my former self. I struggle still with some of these issues, but it is in my quiet moments of self reflexion that I find myself once more. Through my self reflexion, I quiet my inner turmoil and listen to the truths of my soul. The things that make me happy and content, what makes me feel I have a purpose and am worthwhile. What makes me feel useful. Through listening to myself (and a little bit of my wife) I came to realize that it’s time for me to go back to school and finish my degree.
I had tried here and there to finish my degree. I had tried online courses and degree completion programs, always to disappointing results. The online system wouldn’t work, something would fall through, etc. Then, I took a look within and realized, of course those weren’t going to work; I was half-assing it! But why was I doing that? What was keeping me from really putting my head down and diving into furthering my education? The answer found me looking at a reflection from several years ago.
I was staring at the face of fear. Fear that going back to school would lead me back to that dark, awful hole I was in when I left. Fear that I would be the “odd duck” out of place surrounded by actual college-aged students. Fear that I would fail. I had been allowing my fears of yesteryear to stop me from living my life in the here and now. I was letting my fears lead me to failure. I had to reassess. I looked at myself where I was years ago as a college student to where I am now. A “Spoonie Warrior”. A wife. Mother. Suicide Survivor. A strong, grown woman with a world of support and completely different life situations than I had the last time I was in school. I was older, stronger, wiser, and had a network of family and support. I realized that I can do this. I sat down at my desk and filled out the University of Oklahoma Transfer student application and submitted it moments later.
I realized that there is no way of getting around my fears unless I became willing to confront them face on. To bring those dark emotions — my “shadow self” — out into the light. So that is what I did. I will not lie and try to say that I do not have fears. I have fears every day. But I don’t let my fears live in the shadows. I keep them in the light, by my side, and find ways to use them to my advantage.
We all have fears, anxieties, dark emotions, and a “shadow self”. The goal is to be able to communicate with them, and in doing so, taking away their power over us. If I allowed my fears to dictate my actions, as I had been doing, I would not be here. I would not be finally finishing my degree. I might not even be alive. I certainly would not have the rich and loving life that I now lead.
I don’t write this to be preachy or cheesy. I don’t even write it to convince anyone that they should adopt this way of living and way of consciousness. I write this to tell my story and explain why this means so much to me — why I am the way I am. I write it to empower myself. To bring my story full-circle. I write this for anyone who has ever struggled with themselves. Self-awareness/consciousness is my safety net. It is my reason for being here. It is a part of me and I of it.