Mental Health is a Privilege, and Here’s Why I’m Glad It’s One I Don’t Have

When I returned home from my 8-day meditation retreat back in early June, I was in a state of peace and total connection to the Universe. I felt so good, so joyful, and so comfortable in my own skin that a part of me felt like I had been body-snatched. It was surreal to experience so much of life without the filter of anxiety (and accompanying self-doubt  -> fear - > self-loathing). I was cooking, exercising, and loving myself without having to work at it or think about it. It just…was.

I felt like I could take on anything during that time, and I did. My precious dog of 11-years passed away two days after I returned home, important relationships in my life were drastically changing, and my business was revved into high gear. In the past, all of this would have felt so overwhelming and incapacitating. But with my newfound mental peace I was able to experience loss and grief fully, but without losing my way. I stepped up in my company and even created a whole comprehensive marketing plan for my new brand.

During that time, I did not have any anxiety. None. At. All. Coming from someone who struggled with generalized anxiety disorder since middle school this was a BIG deal. I realized this nonanxious life was all because I was treating myself better, eating better, working out, spending time with friends, and I was showing up for myself every day.

Essentially, I was living life by design and not by default. I was conscious of all my thoughts and actions, I released false and unhelpful beliefs as they arose, and I leaned into self-care.

Most importantly, because I was doing all of that I was able to feel happiness and positive emotions without fear. I was peaceful and confident. I didn’t feel so miserable and so trapped inside the shame cycles of my mind that I wished I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. Yes, that was my life before, and even though I kicked life’s butt in so many ways, my internal mental climate was miserable, torturous, and determined to self-sabotage.

SO, you can imagine even more clearly what a beautiful trip it was for me not to have ANY of those thoughts anymore. I felt safe in my own mind and like it was okay to enjoy life. I got so much more done every day and I had an easier time building relationships.

I remember thinking at one point, “Wow…this must be what it’s like for people who don’t struggle with anxiety or have characteristics of BPD. This must be what it’s like for people whose minds are well-adjusted! Whoa!” It felt so great and also so interesting…to understand what it’s like for people who aren’t constantly being abused by their own thoughts. And to understand what is possible for them without that.

Sometimes I forget that mental health is a privilege. I have studied and taught about microaggressions and privilege in it’s many forms (straight, wealthy, thin, white, cisgender, male, able-bodied, etc) and the ways in which those forms intersect. As a bisexual white woman raised on food stamps, I experience privilege in some ways and not in others. I have helped people consider and process any shame they may have about the way society treats disadvantaged characteristics (whether that is shame as a victim or as someone who didn’t fully understand the way they were contributing to the problem).

And although I have made it part of my life mission to help normalize mental health conditions and spectrums, I STILL forget what it means not to have the privilege of average, functional mental health.

What it means is this: I do not have the luxury of living life by default. I HAVE to life my life consciously and by design. Because when I don’t eat well, exercise, build healthy relationships and mindfully cultivate positive self-talk, I NO LONGER have a foundation for functional (let alone flourishing) mental health. I am unable to just wait for growth and change to happen because I cannot live my life peacefully and contently if I don’t take an Active and Daily practice of self-care and self-love.

For those of us with chronic mental health conditions, we have to take the time to be self-aware and do the brave, hard work of looking at our self-destructive and painful actions of the past and making the determined decision to do differently in the future. We have to swallow our pride and ask for support in many areas of our lives so can actually change. And THEN we have to show up with self-compassion and self-love when we inevitably relive old, undesired patterns.

It is constant and noble work, and it HAS to be done. I do not have the luxury of ignoring self-care or of not taking steps toward self-actualization. I do not have the privilege of going through my days unaware and I do not get to enjoy the bliss of ignorance. Because in the case of my mental health conditions, ignorance leads to harmful patterns, which leads to shame, which leads to self-loathing, which leads to suicidal ideation and misery… and the cycle starts all over again and again.

So whenever I feel like going back to my old ways of living life by default, of not treating myself well and being my own best advocate, it is important for me to remember this concept of privilege and that living unconsciously is not a luxury I can afford. Because I deserve a life that is full of joy and peace, and a mental climate that is one I enjoy, not one I want to escape from.

Understanding the reality of all the other ways in which I have to work harder to be understood, respected, or find success in our society actually makes me feel emboldened and brave. So I will choose to see my mental wellness journey as a mark of my strength of character and what makes me uniquely qualified to help others. I will see it as a badge of honor, and recognize that, yes, I may have to work harder just so I can go days at a time without one self-hateful thought, but all of that has made me one badass motherfucker.

I am brave, tenacious, and I dream big. I am willing to look at all the hard areas in my life and I am willing to overcome whatever challenges I need to, no matter how upsetting they are or how long it eventually takes to do so. I am willing to stand up for my own happiness and for the happiness of others. I love myself, I love my life, and I know, without a doubt, that everything I have ever dreamed of is on its way.

And this is the kind of person I am, not in spite of my mental health, but precisely BECAUSE of it. For that, I can express gratitude for my anxiety and for all the characteristics of BPD that have forced me to go deeper into my soul than most people are willing to do and to do harder things than people believe they can. Because of my mental health challenges, I am proud of the person I have become and the journey that has brought me to this place.

I hope you take time to appreciate all the ways you have privilege and for all the ways you don’t. You deserve to wake up each day grateful for your life and proud of everything you have done to create it. And even if that may seem like a pipe dream to you in this moment, know that the challenges you face make you strong and inspiring. They make you who you are, and that isn’t something to be ashamed of, it is something to look forward to.

Thank you for witnessing me. Thank you for all the ways you show up in your life every day. Thank you for sharing the love.