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Words by Rieal-Dragonsbane

Literature by Maethorial

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Submitted on
February 27, 2011
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75 (who?)
To find fear in Campbell's soup cans:
not the cans themselves, perhaps,
but in the press of the aisles,
as if the shelves lean inward to cocoon me,
not warm, but suffocating  –
a shower of tumbling canisters, wild purpling bruises,
the anticipated laughter of onlookers.
Imagined images, but my palms sweat anyway.

Take the soup cans off the shelf:
chicken noodle for lunches at work,
cream of mushroom, broccoli,
chicken stock for casseroles.
The check-out is just three list items away,
and this time I'm going to make it;
I am not my illness.

To find fear in thin sheets of legal paper:
not in the lines and matted bleached fibres,
but in the words I must scribe for
part A, part B, part C –  
pick a question, one of two for each part,
write answers, full sentences, spelling counts.
Swallow bottle of pills if the result is not an A plus?
Worthless, worthless, must do better!
Just an exam, but to me, my whole self-worth.

Choke down terror, press pen down, write:
"Book II of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
discusses the concept of the Doctrine of the Mean,
also referred to as the Golden Mean."
The semester is almost over and I will not collapse this time;
I will not need to go to the hospital and I will get some sleep;
I will not base my self-conception on numbers because:
I am not my illness.

I'm getting better now, you know,
but sometimes, truths are still lies:
fabrications of anxiety.

But I am not my illness.

No, I am not my illness,
and I do not need to be afraid,
I do not need to be perfect.
I am not my illness and someday,
I will love myself.
EDIT 6 JUNE 2011: I just wanted to refresh this to let you all know some exciting news. Not only did this piece take second place in the contest it was written for, it was also recently featured as a DLD by =bowie-loon123. You can read the article here.

More than that though, I just wanted to take a moment to sincerely thank all of you who have shared your stories, your thoughts, your pains, your support with me. I have cried more once during this whole process -- while writing the piece, and again while reading all of your comments. You are all such beautiful people, and though we struggle with our illnesses, we are strong because WE ARE NEVER ALONE. Thank you so much for reminding me of that.


So, I've heard of this concept before -- creating art and literature around the affirmation "I am not my illness" -- and I've long meant to work out a piece around that, but #NeverBeAlone's contest, which I stumbled on just by chance, finally kicked by butt into gear.

Check the contest out here: #NeverBeAlone's "I Am Not My Illness" Contest. (It's closing Tuesday, 1 March 2011, so you might not have time to create your own entry, but please do check out the ones submitted!)



A few words on the content of this piece, and the type of feedback desired:

1) I feel like I've done a shit job of explaining this all but no matter how I try to talk about it, it sounds stupid and trivial to me. These things don't always translate well into words, I guess. But here goes:

I have clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. The latter two of those three, in particular, form the subject matter of this piece. The first two strophes deal with social anxiety, and the second half deals with the anxiety I long focused around schoolwork and marks, and more broadly, "material success," during high school and university. I am a very high achiever. I graduated first in my high school class, and second in my university class. People assume that I'm smart, talented, ambitious and normal. What they don't see -- at least if they are not those close to me -- is the unhealthy and anxiety-driven compulsion, the severe insomnia, the self-hatred, the depression behind that.

They also see someone outgoing, cheerful, friendly -- which is what I am usually like. However, when my main anxiety is triggered, I tend to become very socially anxious, particularly in places where I am not familiar with or comfortable around the people. I chose a grocery store because, while I normally LOVE grocery shopping, when my GAD and PD are out of control, they cause me to have panic attacks when I enter grocery stores -- the people, the smells of food (I am always very naseous during my episodes of acute anxiety, sometimes not eating for 3-4 days), the way the ceilings seem to stretch forever.

This is what I mean by "truths that are lies" -- my anxiety makes me hate thing I normally love, makes me believe that I am stupid, worthless, disgusting, and undeserving of life.

This is difficult for me to explain, it really is, and the most concise way I've ever been able to sum it up was in a comment I left on a blog a while back. I'll quote it here: "I've always been a high achiever, overachiever even, and part of that is very dysfunctional, driven by my anxiety and panic disorder. I used to consider anything less than perfect (i.e. A+) to be a failure. I would harm myself, sleeping less than three hours a night and going without food, with the belief that it was the only way I could perform at such a high-level. I used to tell myself that if I ever "failed" at something I would end my life. On top of all that, I would write A calibre papers and vehemently believe that it was of failing quality. I was terrible to myself. After extensive counselling I've learned to be much kinder to myself but I still have an intense fear of failure, and tend to tie my self-worth up with my school performance."

But I am getting better. Right now, before continuing my education and pursuing my professional/career aspirations, I am taking 18 months off school to just work, relax, live, and actually get to know myself, you know, for me.

In this way, I am less and less my illness everyday, and slowly but surely, I am healing.


2) -- I am NOT looking for detailed critique on this piece, at least not yet. Yes, I know, I know -- this is so wholly unlike me! I usually beg you all to rip my stuff apart.

BUT, this one was VERY difficult for me to write, and it is not at all my best work. But I couldn't tweak it any further, if only for the sole fact that I'm not ready for that yet, not ready to delve into my own psychology yet. I have not yet entangled myself enough from illness to do that, I suppose. And so it needs to stay just the way it came out for a while. The tweaking will come later, and I'll open it up for critiques then.

HOWEVER, feedback is welcome. What you liked or didn't more generally is totally acceptable, as are broad suggestions for improvement, and I would love to hear similar stories, your thoughts, any thing.

Thank you so much for reading through this. If you read all of the above, you are truly amazing, and appreciate such a kind action so very much.

Be well all,

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izfish Featured By Owner Aug 29, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I keep getting nauseous during lunch. I used to be outgoing, but since I moved and started High School, I don't talk much. I understand this, and I so wish I didn't.
littleblueninja Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
"(I am always very naseous during my episodes of acute anxiety, sometimes not eating for 3-4 days)"
im like that, but for some reason people can't grasp that that happens, they say anxiety can't do that but i haven't eaten properly in 2 days cuz my parents are going on a vacation and making me go to church with three mean people without them so i probably wont eat right 'till monday... sorry for the long comment.
OritPetra Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2011   Writer
Sure anxiety can do that. It's actually an effect called somatism - it's when you take emotional feelings and internalise them into something physical. Like aches or pains, a sore back or a headache, or nausea and lack of appetite. But the good news is that anxiety, and its symptoms can be managed with practice. For right now, just try to calm yourself and eat very little bits as frequently as you can. If you really find you can't eat anything at all, try to drink something like juice or milk. Good luck, and take care of yourself, sweetie. :heart:
littleblueninja Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
thank you very much, and when my appetite goes i do try to nibble or drink a little, heh heh actually i just got over the worst depression attack(?) i've ever had
OritPetra Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2011   Writer
I'm sorry to hear that. I've had a few very bad ones myself, and even though it can get so bad, always remember that you aren't alone in your struggles, and that you do have the power to heal. :hug:
littleblueninja Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
*sigh* thanks :hug:
almcdermid Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Congratulations, Love. :dance:
OritPetra Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2011   Writer
Thank you, Al. :tighthug:
almcdermid Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Sure think. :)
broken--girl Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2011
I have epilepsy. It scares the hell out of me. I had my last sezuire on May 17 of this year and I'm still recovering. Mentally. I am better physicaly. They are very painful and they scare everyone around me. But I don't normally tell people I have epilepsy. I feel that if I do I get odd looks and that people whisper behind my back. After the sezuires I can't eat. Looking at and smelling food makes me truely sick after. It doesn't help that I split my tongue open almost every time.

There are times I can't go to sleep so I stay up for hours on end. Because of that I get yelled at by my parents. Then when do go to sleep I don't want to wake up and face another day. There are times I just want to give up and that scares me in itself.

Most of the time people see the show I put on. They never see the person I truly am. When Im not with people I cry my eys out. I can't meet people either. I get nervous and stop talking. But the good thing is I'm getting better. Slowly. This will haunt my life forever. But I am trying to not let it hol me back.

I just want to say thank you for writing a piece like this. I started crying when I realsied how much this relates to me. Thanks again for writing this.
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