I am not my illness.

I am not my illness. This illness is not me.

Last Saturday, I’d gone back for #rainbowsforbatam with my alumni, which meant this beautiful people knew me before this. (My last trip was before the trauma happened.) I was not okay, and the constant concerned “Are you okay?”-s and “It’s okay, you rest, we’ll take over.”-s from different people were necessary but difficult to come to terms with. Perhaps more so than the blinding migraine that left half of my face numb much of the day, the relentless thumping of the chest and the sensations of drowning, the cold sweat, and the scattered episodes of immense despair that led to random bouts of crying. I was hiding in the van much of the time, I couldn’t make eye-contact when conducting mass briefings, I kept forgetting things, I kept apologising, and all I wanted was to disappear under the safety of my blanket.

For a very long time, I thought it was the physical aspect or the impact on relationships due to avoidance and pushing people away that was the worst. I didn’t think it was losing my own self. I grew up taking a lot of pride in being goal-oriented, productive, grounded, and in control. I was most efficient when under pressure, and was confident leading teams and in front of crowds. I soaked up the limelight and ensured my voice was heard. I refused to hide. I liked to think I was funny, or at least a good person to be around. I have also been through panic disorders, anxiety and depression – I’ve gotten treatments, I’ve rose above them, I’ve refused to let them define me – so naturally I thought I was better prepared.

The immense frustration, anger and guilt of losing my sense of self – this was a consequence of PTSD I had not anticipate.

Yet as I was trying to deal with all these, I knew I was in safe hands, the trip was in safe hands and that I had with me a reliable and beautiful group of people. Allah had not left me alone. I had to learn to seek and accept help, while riding on the guilt of not being the person I was used to being. The call to keep the trip easy and for alumni was a good call. Albeit a difficult trip, it is by far my most important one. I needed to be around people, I needed to be with the kids I love, I needed to be reminded that I was living for things far bigger than myself. I went to sleep crying in anger and guilt that night, but I am learning to be kinder to myself.

I know there may be some of you who are struggling with these madness too – I’ve read some of your messages – and I cannot give you a cure, or tell you that it’s going to be easy. I WILL share with you what my counsellor kept reminding me though: “It is okay to feel overwhelmed. It is a perfectly valid feeling. What you need to remember is to keep moving forward. It can even be a case of taking two steps forward and one step back. The tragedy is when you take one step back and then refuse to move. Realise that the best way to handle your current situation is to work with what you have right now and to be kind to yourself. You are your strongest supporter, deal with yourself in the kindest and best manner possible.”

Our lives may be painted by the brushes of living through these illnesses, but like things such as successes, failures and disappointments, the important thing is not to be consumed by it. Our tragedy is not our identification card. At some point, we have to stop being so angry, we have to stop beating ourselves up and start being gentle with ourselves. We are not our illnesses. We are more than the things that bring us down.

Painful experiences can make us bitter or better. I strive for the latter. I will wear my scars beautifully. I will be gentle as I continue to meet the different parts of myself. I will practice love and gratitude for the people who keep showing up and loving me, not despite of my vulnerabilities, but because of them. I will own my life as I walk through it, seeking progress not perfection, and living in grace and by grace and through grace. I will be the reason that someone believes in the goodness of others. I have survived, I have thrived, and I will continue to choose to do so. I hope the same for you too.

At the end of the day, we are all just broken souls, striving and longing for wholeness, needing grace every moment of the day. When we live our lives openly and without apologies, when we try to do the best we can and when we know better, to do better, we create a space for someone else to step in that gap with us to offer the compassion of ‘me too’. This is me extending that space to you, for you to know that you are not alone, and that we WILL be alright. We will.

We will. Until then, I hope you remember this: You are not your illness. 

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