Self-Portrait, 11:43PM

Self-Portrait, 11:43PM

I’m in a good place with my mental health and my recovery right now. Even so, sometimes I feel overwhelmed with stress, or sadness, or anxiety. Early in my recovery, I felt embarrassed for having these feelings, because I thought that someone who was truly balanced and emotionally well wouldn’t have room for anything other than contentment in their life. I’m not embarrassed anymore. Feeling stressed or sad or anxious or anything else means that I am human, and it means that I am finally giving myself permission to accept and sit with feelings I used to try (and fail) to avoid. I spent years trying not to outwardly express these “bad” feelings – anger, depression, guilt, sadness, anxiety, disappointment, stress – but in truth, my internal world was completely consumed by them. I dealt with this friction between the external suppression of my uncomfortable feelings and the kind of constant internal crisis mode in which I lived with self-destruction, with negative coping skills. Today, when these feelings come up for me, I don’t have to respond like that. I have tools to handle all of my feelings in a constructive way now, so while I give myself permission to feel whatever it is that I feel today, I don’t give myself permission to be self-destructive, to isolate, to hurt myself, to respond in a way that doesn’t serve my overall wellness. I #LiveToTell that all of my feelings – and your feelings – are valid, regardless of where you are in your mental health journey.
Elizabeth O'Neil

About the Artist

“I have a purpose, and it is not to be the smallest version of myself.” Today, that is one of Elizabeth’s favorite mantras. But this quote, from eating disorder survivor and self-acceptance advocate Simi Botic, didn’t always resonate with her.

Elizabeth always knew that she had a purpose. But from a very early age, she thought that purpose was to be perfect. In a house filled with chaos and chronic illness, Elizabeth felt she needed to appear happy, healthy, and high-achieving. But underneath, she was in pain. She felt uncomfortable in her own skin, terrified of disappointing the people around her, and ashamed of her inability to reach perfection and, thus, fulfill her purpose. This conviction that perfection was her purpose drove Elizabeth to seek control amidst the chaos of her surroundings through list-making, perseverating, self-harm, excessive exercise, and disordered eating. Eventually, it was too much and she attempted suicide to get away from her pain.

With the support of her loving parents, several hospitalizations, medication, and regular therapy, Elizabeth began to embrace mental health recovery, working toward balancing control with chaos and incorporating grounding techniques, yoga, and other skills she brought into her daily life.

When she got to college, Elizabeth experienced a traumatic assault that put her recovery on hold. This time, instead of trying to control the chaos she found herself experiencing once again, Elizabeth gave in to it. She began drinking heavily, and soon found her life governed by alcohol and substances, risky behaviors, and overwhelming depression. When Elizabeth woke up one early morning in handcuffs after an arrest she didn’t remember, she realized that if there was ever a time to give herself fully to recovery, this was it.

She started by abandoning the idea that her purpose was perfection. She started to live more in the “gray” of life instead of racing to occupy either the perfection or the chaos. She began to truly synthesize things she’d learned, and to put them into meaningful practice into her life. Most importantly, she committed to choosing recovery every day, because she knows now that she has a purpose, and that the things she was engaging in before – self-harm, disordered eating and excessive exercise, suicidal thoughts, substance use – were making her a smaller version of herself.

Today, Elizabeth thinks her purpose is to share her experience with others to help them recognize that they are not alone, that hope and healing are worth more than perfection, and that they, too, have an important purpose in this world.

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