Thursday, August 9, 2012

How mental illness has limited me, but not stopped me

Would I be a college professor? Would I live in Virginia? Would I be a published author by now?

Yesterday, I wrote about how my father’s dreams may have changed during the course of his life. Today, I’m writing about something similar.
In July I wrote a post in which I asked for suggestions on topics for this blog. One suggestion was to write about whether or not mental illness caused a limitation in my life.
The easy answer to that question is yes; obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression most definitely have limited my life.
There are many things I haven’t done because of my mental illnesses.
Because I was in a deep depression, I transferred from one college to another. That had a profound effect on my life, changing what I did after graduation and what my opportunities and influences may be been.
Chiefly because of my OCD and the ways it affected my reading and writing, I never finished my doctorate degree in English. I made it through the classes, the written and oral exams and the dissertation presentation. But I never wrote the dissertation.
And how many missed opportunities were there because I was too scared to try? How many people did I never meet because of my anxiety?

What job would I have? What friends would I have? Where would I have traveled?

Sometimes these missed opportunities, these “if only” statements grieve me. I wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t have OCD and depression.

What kind of person would I be? Who would be in my life?

But, of course, without OCD and depression, I may not have had a better life, just a different one.
Do I want to be a college professor now? No. Am I happy in the job I’m in now? Yes. Do I like living in Virginia? Yes. Do I enjoy the writing I do now? Yes.
And most importantly, am I happy with the people in my life? Yes.
The path my life took may not be what I planned when I was a teenager and in my 20s, but it led me to my husband, Larry. It led to our life together.
And the path led me to become the person I am today. Who is to say it’s not the person I’m meant to be?

The questions, the “what ifs,” float around me sometimes, but I have hope that I am where I am for a reason.
That doesn’t mean I don’t work to lift some of the limitations I’ve allowed OCD and depression to place on me. Usually, those are situations where I feel fear, and I’m learning ways to push through the fear.
But focusing on my past will not make my life today better. I’ve grieved enough for what might have been. It’s time to truly focus on life today, on what I have to do today.

Can asking “what if” ever help us? When does it become more harmful than helpful?

25 comments:

  1. I think asking 'what if' does more harm than good. It gets you reliving the past and also kind of gets you stuck in it. I did that to myself so much and I basically wasn't able to move past punishing myself for what I didn't do.

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    1. Yaya, you are so right--getting stuck in the "what ifs" keeps us punishing ourselves. I don't want to do that anymore, either.

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  2. I live in would have, should have, could have land. The land of what ifs is really not for me. Yes, I could have gotten help way back when and would my life be different now, maybe, but I am strong because of what I went through so, I am not sure where I would want to be.

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    1. Jen, yes, what might have been is not necessarily better than what the reality is. Different doesn't mean better.

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  3. Thanks for this post! It is inspiring. I too am so thankful that my life led me to my husband -or the Lord had His continued way though I was a stubborn gal (still am at times.)

    I've greived enough about my past and all the could-of's for today that it is time to push forward. I like what you said about learning to push through the fears.

    There are times however in the present when I have a 'great' idea that I'd like to do, but then am reminded that the limitations I do have ...well, they cause me to rethink to reconsider the 'greaat' idea and that is still bothersome to me. Sometimes it makes me sad or even a tid bit angry.

    Thanks for sharing this topic with us.
    It's so wonderful to read about the contentment you're able to find, to be happy.
    Blessings!!

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    1. Deanna, I am not always successful in pushing through the fears, but I've decided that that is necessary for me now. I am tired of being sorry for what I haven't done/accomplished. Time for me to live in the now. Again, I'm not always successful with that either, but I'm working on it.

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  4. This post made me feel sad because I know there are things I have not done because of OCD. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I weren't limited like this. But are the limits an illusion to be fought or are they the reality that I succumb to. Hmmmm....

    I like that you are happy in your life and you see that everything has worked out for the best.

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    1. Elizabeth, That is a very interesting and thought-provoking way to look at it: are the limits an illusion to be fought or are they really something that we succumb to. I think some of our limits are beyond our control, but others are self-imposed. And there are so many ways to work around limits. I've allowed depression and OCD to limit my life in some ways, and I don't want to allow it any more.

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  5. Thank you for sharing, Tina. While you may deal with "what ifs" because of the limitations your OCD placed on you, I think we all, at times, wonder what our lives would have been like "if only." So while it may be more profound for those who've dealt with mental illness, I think maybe it's just human nature to sometimes think that way. Because really, whose life goes exactly "as planned?"

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    1. Janet, you make a very good point. No one's life turns out exactly as planned, I would bet, and that's probably a good thing when all is said and done. I just don't want to get stuck in looking at the past and asking, what if.

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  6. I thank asking "what if" is helpful if you use that term for the present and the future. As in, "what if" I try this, or set a goal for that . . . I try to not look back anymore. Not that I never do, but I do it a whole lot less than I used to and I feel much better for it. My life definitely doesn't look like I thought it would, but I'm ok with that.

    I'm sorry for the things you've lost to OCD. I am glad, however, for the person you've become!

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    1. Sunny, I hadn't thought of the question "what if" being helpful, but I agree that it is in the present or future. "What if" could get us started on new adventures! I like that.

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  7. Thank you for your insightful thoughts!! So true - the paths we have taken have led to the life and relationships we have today. On my good days I know we need to learn from the past, plan for the future, but live in the today. On my bad days I tend to forget all that, and instead live in a world full of... "what if I had..." -or- "I should..."

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    1. Rebecca, thank you for commenting. Some days it's easier than others to live in the present, isn't it?

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  8. Whenever I'm facing a task that scares me, I ask myself all the "what if" questions that are rolling around in my head. What if I fail? What if people laugh at me? What if...? By the time I'm done, I'm usually laughing at where my mind goes and how unlikely it is for most things to happen. This is a tool I learned in my anxiety program many years ago, and it has served me well.

    As for looking at the past, though, I think "what if" is harmful. It implies that where we are now is not the perfect place for us as individuals. What if you never had OCD and never wrote this blog? What if you weren't available to help the many people you help now? I know you have made a difference in many lives already, people who needed to read your words in the way only you could write them. What if we had never "met" online and become friends? That, for me, is a sad thought!

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    1. Nadine, that's sad thought for me, too! I agree that what ifs at the past have done me no good. I've given enough attention to them. Thank you for your encouraging comment!

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  9. I try not to ask what ifs. I figure what isn't, probably isn't for a good reason.

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    1. Lisa, that is a very healthy way to look at life!

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  10. Great post. I try not to look back on the mistakes other than as learning experiences because there's nothing I can do about them now, except not to repeat them if I can help it. Hindsight is always 20/20.

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  11. Oh, one more thought...when I was in college, a friend of mine tried to take part in a bike-a-thon for a charity he supported. First, his bike "exploded" (his words). A friend lent him another, but then he lost his helmet and was not allowed to take part in the actual ride without it. Instead he joined the morale team and had a blast. Afterwards he told me that, after the second misdirection, he wondered if God was protecting him from a serious accident. That always stuck with me...

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    1. Jean, things like that make me think, too. And you're right--highsight is always 20/20.

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  12. I tried to literally run away from my problems and ended up in Africa. And that proved to be the experience of a life time. Wasn't all good, but I never would have swapped it for a study or career if I look back now! I learned to appreciate the things we have so much over there and I'm truly grateful for that today.
    Lovely post Tina, you made me think again that I'm actually happy with where I ended up today!

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    1. Klaaske, I'm glad that "running away" ended up being a wonderful experience. We just never know. And I'm glad that you're happy with where you ended up! :-)

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  13. What a fabulous post, important one too! My mental illness has limited my life but I am grateful for how it is today because I know my depression and anxiety could have taken me to worst places. Sure, I have moments where I think of all the things I could have been or done but I try not to linger too long in those thoughts and just continue to move forward. We are great examples of how a person can overcome adversities and still have great accomplishments, whether they are what we originally wanted to do or new successes.

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    1. You make such good points. You're right--it's so important to keep moving forward.

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