Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
I recently rewatched one of my favorite TED talks, Susan David’s “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage.” As I listened to her, I felt like she was speaking directly to me. I have for so long hidden my Lyme illness because I didn’t want to be viewed as broken or damaged. I wanted everything to be good and happy. As David puts it, I valued “positivity over emotional truth,” much to my own detriment.
I don’t like talking about my problems because it means I have to acknowledge they are real. I don’t want to have to say that I’ve been having trouble walking and don’t know why. I don’t want to admit I miss classes because I feel like I’m drowning in exhaustion. I don’t want to tell people I feel unsafe in my body. I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t want it to exist. I have been in denial.
But, as I have been told many times and was reminded by David’s talk, pretending isn’t going to make me a healthier person. Although I don’t want my illness to become my identity, the more I hide it, the more of my persona my illness claims. I am very scared about my future but I am ready to talk about it. In David’s words, “courage is not an absence of fear; courage is fear walking.” (I would say that courage is more like fear hyperventilating on a treadmill on fire but it’s not quite as succinct, is it?)
I plan my day around when I can lie down and simply exist. My life revolves around medication, figuring out how to make the most of my useful hours, and fighting to appear normal to others. Everything I do has to be carefully planned out and even then it doesn’t always work.
I feel like the world is happening around me instead of to me. I feel I have no agency. I feel unsafe in my own body. It’s hard to walk sometimes. I want to exercise and run like I used to. I want to do a lot of things I used to do, but this is my circumscribed life for the moment.
I have no idea what my future holds. Who among us truly does in the long run? Nor do I know how long my recovery process will be. I have a wonderful doctor who believes me and who is by far the best physician I have ever had in my life. But healing is a process which takes time and I don’t quite know what comes next.
But I am still me. I may be swimming in unfamiliar waters, but I can see the lighthouse. It’s a bright and beautiful lighthouse against a cloudy night sky. Its beam is strong and warm. It is all the parts of me that I love and can hang onto. It is my friends reminding me that I am not in the black waters in which I tread, not really. The lighthouse represents books, molecular biology, pond swimming, (fair trade) coffee, fuzzy blankets, libraries, wool socks, walking trails, and friends. I can see all of these things in that wonderful beam of light that’s directing me back to terra firma.
In other words, I am still myself and I refuse to give in. I need to stop pretending that treading water is easy; the pretense only makes it harder. I’m done with that nonsense about pushing my emotions away (seriously, watch David’s TED talk, it’s wonderful). And I’m done worrying about things I can’t control. I’m ready to keep moving toward my lighthouse.
Originally Published at Global Lyme Alliance.
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus: