Moving from Episodic to Chronic
Adapting to changes in the course of mental illness
Change is inevitable in life. Sometimes it’s temporary and other times it’s permanent, but the common thread is that you just have to adapt as best you can.
My life changed forever in 2007 with my first major depressive episode, suicide attempt, and psychiatric hospitalization. While that episode and the next one in 2011 were long and brutal, I recovered fully afterwards. I knew the illness was likely to make a reappearance at same point, but I knew I would have at least a temporary reprieve. I was able to wrap my head around that; it was something that fit, at least sort of, into my framework for understanding the world. Sometimes I was sick, but the real me was still there in the background somewhere waiting to make a reappearance.
Then I got sick again in 2016. And I didn’t get better. The months turned into years, and now three years later it’s become clear that this treatment-resistant illness has moved from one that was episodic to one that is chronic and continuous. It’s been a challenging transition that has required me to change how I view myself and my identity, as well as how I situate myself in the world.
There was no new diagnosis to account for what overall has felt like a profound shift, but rather a more gradual realization of the vastly expanded role that my illness was playing in my identity. Acceptance has been difficult, and it sort of felt like there was something wrong with giving up the hope of being fully well again.
The thing with acceptance, though, is that it can make it easier to find new ways to make the most of this reality, however unappealing that reality may seem. For me, acceptance has helped to fuel my writing. Sure, I wrote sometimes when I was well, but now writing has become an integral part of me — a part of me I was only able to find through illness.
Acceptance is still a work in progress. There are still times when I want to stomp my feet like a petulant child and shout to the universe, “Why did this have to happen?” This happens less often now, though. Acceptance and I are getting to know each other, and I think that eventually we’ll be able to get along fairly well.