in the words of the great rolling stones, you can’t always get what you want. but you can’t fast forward to accepting what you need either. i don’t think it’s that easy. at least for me it hasn’t been. getting sick with depression and anxiety has meant not getting what i want. and i’m not talking about minor disappointments – i mean life taking a totally uncharted direction resulting in a series of abrupt changes and harsh consequences.
since my episode of major mental illness in 2014 i have been confronted over and over again with not getting what i want. wanting nothing more than recovery, than peace of mind, yet slogging through one and a half years of mental anguish. trying so hard to hold on to it but still losing my job, my career. and then being unable to work for a year. watching my body change and gaining weight due to the side effects of medications that i have to take to remain healthy and stable. being unable to function at home or socially how i had before and how i wanted to again. not being able to have children on the timetable or possibly in the way that i had always envisioned. feeling so limited and boxed in and diminished by my experience of being sick. of being mentally ill. i felt at times like door after door kept slamming shut in my face. no, amy no. you can’t always get what you want.
so i am no stranger to disappointment. time after time i was forced to sit with the reality of not getting what i wanted in a fundamental, deep-down way. and because i went through an extended period of profound disappointment, i began to observe my relationship with not getting what i wanted. with unsatisfied cravings and unmet desires. and as i reflect back on what that process has been like for me, i am realizing that i went through the stages of grief for each dream that died.
stage one was denial. i didn’t think that i had a mental illness. nothing was wrong with me. i didn’t think i belonged in a psychiatric hospital – i wasn’t “that type” of person. i thought if i just went back to work then i would recover. presto! like a drowning rat on a sinking ship i sank my claws into the coping mechanisms and lifestyle that had worked before but didn’t work anymore. running. hiding, pretending. distracting. but i couldn’t deny my way out of what was happening to me.
stage two was anger. my favorite word was WHY. why me, why now, why why why? why couldn’t i work – it wasn’t fair! everyone else was having kids and i wasn’t – it wasn’t fair! i had to take meds but they made me feel fat – it wasn’t fair! didn’t i deserve the kind of life that everyone else seemed to have? what did i do to deserve this instead? and why wasn’t anything working? why was recovery so agonizingly slow? i felt like nobody had real answers to these fiery-hot burning questions.
and so i went into stage three, which was bargaining. complete desperation. i would plead with my psychiatrist, with my therapist, with my family that i would do anything to feel better. if i could only feel better i would lead a better life. if i could only feel better i would make the world a better place. i would literally have given my left arm to extract myself from the living hell that my life had become. fortunately for me, i still have both arms, but unfortunately there wasn’t a quick or easy way to recover from an episode of mental illness.
in stage four i became depressed. i realized that i couldn’t deny the disappointment. i couldn’t fight my way out of it. and my attempts at bargaining had utterly failed. i felt powerless in the face of depression and at this point resigned myself to it. and it was only at this stage that i really began to grieve my losses. i allowed myself to recognize that some major dreams of mine had died. i think i started removing some of the judgement that i placed on myself when i was angry and denying and bargaining and just cried for the pain i was living. i cried for my body that had changed. i cried for the children i wasn’t having. i cried for my forsaken career. and i finally cried for the me who had endured sadness for too many years of my life.
stage five was and is acceptance. and it’s important to note that acceptance doesn’t mean a total absence of suffering. or an absence of mental illness. rather acceptance means looking my disappointments in the face and embracing them. acknowledging them. and believing deep inside that i can live with them. i still struggle with changes i have been through. i still feel sad that i don’t have kids yet and jealous when i see pregnant women. i still criticize my body way too harshly. and i still feel a little bit inadequate when i think about where my career is today. but i can live with it. i can handle the disappointment. and i’m always making progress – today i am aware that these different issues deeply impact me so i take better care of myself and reach out for more support. and working through my losses allows me to make room for new opportunities and second chances.
when you don’t get what you want you will be ok. i believe that. what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. but you have to get there. you have to grow and struggle to become stronger. after you make the journey, with all its highs and lows, then, and only then, you might find you get what you need.