My Greatest Fear Surrounding My Mental Illness

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” – William Faulkner

I have many fears. For a while now my list of fears has been growing. With obsessive compulsive disorder and schizoaffective disorder, a lot of these fears are irrational. Maybe 99% of my fears are. It’s something all of us with mental illness face. These fears take on a life of their own. Becoming so intense that they become a daily obsession. It’s hard to explain how discovering a new mark on the wall can cause you to never go into that room ever again. Or how seeing something on the ground, anything really, makes you think it was left there specifically for you and could possibly cause you pain and suffering. It’s a battle day in and day out.

That’s what having obsessive compulsive disorder and schizoaffective disorder does. It is exhausting when you think trouble or pain is always lurking around you. You have to be continually on guard.

These fears are a real burden. I’ve been thinking a lot about my fears and how irrational a lot of them are. I’ve tried writing a lot of them down, and most of them are quite silly. I’ve really begun to understand these fears. Which ones trigger me the most and which ones I carry with me most often. I have to say, there is one fear that causes me the greatest worry. The most discomfort. And it is something I think about everyday when I get up and most intensely at night.

I’ve learned that my biggest fear of all is my fear of not reaching my potential in life. That my mental illness will strip me totally of everything I want to accomplish. It has already taken its toll. I’ve lost a lot of relationships in my life. I’m not able to put my law degree to use since I am unable to work currently. I’ve lost probably 95% of my hobbies that I once was able to do and enjoy. I am overweight and have trouble going to the gym because of irrational fears. The list goes on.

I truly feel that one of the biggest tragedies in life is to waste one’s potential. We all have skills and abilities that can help us flourish. To accomplish great things in our lives. To help others. To make us feel whole and happy. I have many goals in life. One is to be a great lawyer. Another is to help as many people as I can, physically, financially, emotionally, etc. Yet another is to be a successful entrepreneur. I’ve had success in all of these areas in the past. It brought me some of my greatest happiness in life. They seem like a bit of an after thought right now.

This fear of never reaching my full potential, to coast in life, to leave it all on the table, is what drives me now to accept this Mission. I’ve been able to beat this before. I’ve quickly mentioned in a previous blog post how I failed all of my first year classes in university. Literally all of them. I could not read due to rituals and compulsions. I could not write or type for the same reasons. I was fearful of going to class and being around people. It caused me to never go to class and just give up on the readings. I didn’t even write some of my exams because it was so useless trying to actually read and write back then. I had the ability to excel, I know I did. It caused me a lot of embarrassment and I refused to tell anyone about what I was going through. I failed every class. Quite the accomplishment!

I remember already knowing I was going to have to leave university. I had a couple of meetings with the Dean at the university and it was quite evident I wouldn’t be able to stay (this was a couple of years after I was put on academic probation, but still failed classes and got very poor grades in the others). It was odd, even though I knew I was probably getting kicked out, I wanted so badly to go to my last few classes, and I did. I remember going to one class at the end of the year. It was early spring and it was a beautiful day out. The perfect day really. It was the last class of the year and all of the other students were very excited for the year to end. I distinctly remember different groups in my class talking, laughing and hugging in front of me.

They were excited they made it through the year and could enjoy the summer months ahead. Some were graduating. Others were congratulating each other for making it into teachers college. They achieved their goals and were proud of it. Amongst this all, there I was, having failed every first year class, failed more while on academic probation and was getting kicked out of school. My future looked so bleak next to all of my classmates. I had no idea what I was going to do next. Would I start working? I didn’t think I could get back into university with so many failed classes. That idea seemed comical and ridiculous at the same time.

I sat through the entire class. It was a happy time for everyone, but I was horribly miserable. I didn’t take notes, I couldn’t. And why would I? I didn’t even write the exam! I just sat there pretty much with my head down, staring at my blank class book with no notes in it for the entire year. I was so mad at myself. I asked myself why I let this happen. Why didn’t I just put the work in? Why didn’t I think about my future up until now? Really, what I wanted was to feel happy and proud like the rest of my classmates and know that I gave it my all and see what my potential could have brought me.

I did not want to be better than them. I wasn’t jealous of them. I was actually kind of proud for them because I knew it took hard work, even though I didn’t know any of them on a personal level. I always admired hard work and accomplishing your goals. What I truly wanted was to be better than I was. To be my best self. To aim higher and reach the potential I had hidden inside me.

I distinctly remember making a promise to myself that day. I promised that if I ever had an opportunity to get back into university, I would never waste it. I would test my potential and give it my all. I never wanted to feel like I did in that classroom asking myself what could have been. I knew I could do it, I just had to break free of the mental illness that was holding me back (although I was totally unaware at this point I had any mental illness despite the obvious signs).

It was hard to go through this painful experience of knowing I did not cultivate my potential, but honestly it was such a blessing for me. The following year I took online courses at an open university to bump up my grades. My marks in these online classes were quite good. The next year after that I transferred back into a great university with a tremendous academic reputation. I had gone to the university and met with the academic co-ordinator and the head of admissions, and convinced them to take a chance on me. They were willing to take the chance, an opportunity I am grateful for to this day. I continued to thrive in my undergraduate years.

I worked hard, always remembering that promise I made to myself. I would write “hard work pays off, reach your potential!” on a piece of paper over my desk while I studied. And the hard work did pay off. I eventually graduated on the Dean’s Honours List and with the highest graduating average in my program.

Here I was, a student who had failed every class and was kicked out of university 3 times (I can write a whole blog post just on this alone. I was kicked out of university 3 years in a row but because of a two year academic “contract” or agreement and a Dean change after my 2nd year, I was able to continue even without meeting the standards of my academic probation. It is an interesting story as well), was now at an award ceremony celebrating my academic accomplishments less than 4 years later! I built on this momentum by completing my Masters degree and then eventually getting into and graduating from Law School. Quite a fascinating turn of events to say the least.

I think this is an interesting story. It makes a lot of sense then why I feel fear of not living up to my potential. I’ve gone through it before. Yes, mental illness played a part in my academic troubles. It continued to cause trouble all the way through, and now does with work. But what this story truly highlights is how my fear of not living up to my potential caused me to achieve more than I ever thought was possible.

I didn’t ever want to achieve more than my classmates. I didn’t care about that honestly. I never compared myself to them. I only focused on myself and reaching my own potential. The fear of not reaching my true potential was my driving force, and it was a scary thought to think I would be stuck in a similar situation as I was before.

Our fears can be huge hindrances in our lives. Especially for those of us who deal with fears associated with mental illness that spiral our of control. My fears associated with obsessive compulsive disorder and schizoaffective disorder suck. I can’t think of a better word then that. But sometimes our fears can propel us to great things. My mental illness will always be there. Now that I have accepted this new Mission to live the life I want despite mental illness, much like the mission I undertook to reach my potential academically, I am hoping my potential will once again be met. The pain it has caused me is similar to the pain I felt that day in the classroom.

Who knows, maybe I will achieve more than I ever thought was possible once again and surprise myself. All I hope is to beat myself, and reach my true potential in life. That is all I really want. And that is what will make me truly happy. My fear will once again be my driving force

– Nate