Letting go of my past was a step I needed to take for my well-being. It allowed me to see my mental health in an entirely new way.
Recovered. Past tense. From mental illness. It’s not something that we talk about very often. We address recovery, illness, and wellness. As a direction and a process. And yes, people can and do recover from mental illness. Also important to note, recovery looks different for everyone.
But once you’ve reached that point of recovery, of well-being, how do you let go of the past?
That was where I found myself. Mental wellness is and will always be a part of my life. I wasn’t always here. It was a long and difficult journey, but I’m here and I made it.
Now that I’m here I found myself a bit lost. What do I do, now that I’m well? In all years talking about recovery, and what wellness looks like, that part was never addressed. How to be well, and how to let go of the past.
The answer might seem obvious ‘just go back to living your life’. But it’s not that simple. When you have a lived experience of mental illness, it’s at the forefront of your mind, in everything you do. It’s like a bucket of paint that’s been tossed over your life. The rest of the stuff’s still there, but it’s been covered, coated, with something else. And often, it’s that something else that’s all you can see.
So when it’s gone, life takes on a kind of crisp clarity. Which can be… confusing. Happy to be well? Of course! A bit confused about what to do? Yes to that as well.
After Mental Illness
For me, it took a few years to work it out. I’d been well for a long time. So long it was starting to feel like a distant memory, and some days I’d feel disconnected from it. Even on days my mood wasn’t quite right, because it always felt within the reasonable range of being human.
And life started to change. I find myself now mostly surrounded by people who didn’t know me when I struggled with my mental health. And while I always had a job, family, friends, hobbies – I was a different person back then. I like the person I am now. There’re times when I don’t want the people in my life now to know that person I was, and how I was. I was ashamed.
Once I had been well for awhile, my focus finally shifted away from my past and to my now. I learned a lot about mindfulness and being present. Keeping my body healthy as well as my mood . Eating well and exercise became non negotiable.
The clarity of where I was
I started noticing a few things I’d not before. I was behind. Compared to my peers, I was less successful by the typical metrics. I had fewer material ‘things’ of value. If life was a race, I had clearly missed the starting gun and was never going to catch up.
These feelings filled me with a fresh wave of fear, anxiety, and stress. I started feeling inadequate. Like a failure. What sort of parent could I be? When would my kids start asking why we lived our lives differently then those around us? Had my experience with mental illness caused me to fall too far behind to catch up?
It was there. That was my moment of clarity. When I started to doubt my journey. When I started to question the person I had become, because of fear of the person I had been.
It was time to let go of my past of mental illness, for good.
Letting go of the past of mental illness can be emotionally taxing. It’s hard, and it hurts. But to move on, to recover, it has to happen. These are my top 7 tips for letting go of past illness.
9 Tips for Letting Go of a Past of Mental Illness
- Stop comparing yourself to others. You don’t know their story, and they don’t know yours. It’s impossible to objectively measure other people’s lives. What we see is usually not the best metric – houses, clothes, travel, career. Your self worth is not defined by how you rank in material items against a randomly selected peer group.
- Don’t let your age be your metric for where you are supposed to be in life. We are not actually ‘supposed’ to be anywhere. We can’t take the years back, and we can’t make up for lost time. Live your life now, that’s what matters. The past is over.
- Let go of regret. Yes, if given the change no one would choose to be unwell. But it happened. We can’t change the past. But – we always have the opportunity to change how we respond to our past. We can always change our reaction. That’s what dictates our present. Not past actions but how we continue to respond to them.
- The best in others does not reflect the worst in us. What we see in others is not a true representation of their lives. Yet, somehow seeing the best in others can make us focus on our own worst moments. Comparison is rarely helpful, and in this case it’s downright damaging. As I tell my five-year-old son ‘you do you’.
- Excuses are best left in the past. Sometimes, finding wellness after mental illness can involve blaming the illness. There’s a lot to unpack there, but the advice I am giving is this. Well-being is reaching a point where we take accountability for our actions and move on with our lives. Let the excuses go, well-being is not about well assigned blame.
- If it’s toxic, let it go. People, places, careers, and even family. If it does not support the life you are living now. If it does not support the person you have become. Let. It. Go.
- Grieve the losses and then let them go. The loss of time, relationships, career advancement, youth, happiness. Of what you think you could have had but didn’t. Of what your life might have looked like. Grieve it. Then let it go.
- Reframe your past to focus on what you learned and the strength you now have. Allow your past to be of value to others on their journey to wellness. This might be the most empowering aspect of letting go.
- Let go of shame. Full stop.
The Habit of Forgiveness
Letting go of the past also involves a habit that must be broken. The habit that might be holding you back is a lack of forgiveness.
- Forgive the people who love you, for not understanding what you went through. They probably never will and that’s OK. Let it go.
- Forgive the people who were part of keeping the dark place dark. It was likely more about them then it was you. They hurt you, and they might have made your journey longer and harder. But you can’t change what happened. Holding onto what they did to you keeps the door open to that part of your life. Let it go.
- Forgive the people who had to leave you behind. The ones that needed to prioritize their own wellness and had to let you go. You understand now. Let it go.
- Forgive the people who judge you for your past. They don’t know the battles you fought, the scars you carry, and the warrior that you are. If they’re judging you based on an impossible metric of money, position, or appearance their opinion isn’t worth having anyway. Let it go.
- Forgive yourself. You’ve struggled enough. There is no need to keep punishing yourself. It’s time to love yourself and your journey. Let it go.
You’ve got this.
There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.Leonard Cohen