One of the most difficult lessons my journey with mental illness has taught me has been the courage to account for my condition. I often used to resent the weight of living with an intense and inconsistent psycho-emotional disposition and this in itself altered my behaviour in ways that were not only harmful to myself, but to my loved ones as well.
I struggled with toxic behavioural patterns such as shifting guilt, victimisation, manipulation, tantrums – basically, outsourcing my happiness and peace to those around me. This has been harmful, personally and professionally. It not only compromised and broke the trust of those who cared about me but also perpetuated my own deep-seated feelings of unworthiness and shame.
It has taken many ‘I am sorry’ moments to come to the realisation that you have to be accountable for your actions, especially those that are influenced by your mental condition. And trust me, nothing will take you to the abyss of shame and guilt faster than the toxic cycle of explaining yourself. You need to deliberately start the journey to being ‘accountably’ ill. The first step of accountability is learning about your mental condition – learning the roots of its causes and even the triggers that exacerbate it.
Like any other illness, mental illness needs a diagnosis, treatment and a devoted routine of self-care and self-motivation. You can still lead a functional and wholesome life, but you have to push through the shame and vulnerability that often reduces one to being a bystander to the human experience.
You can have a fulfilling career, have healthy friendships and relationships with your family, cordial relations with your colleagues and even build a solid companionship with a partner, but you have to be accountable. These people love and embrace you as you are – they are patient with you, they are forgiving and see you for more than your emotional outbursts, episodes of isolation and depressive slumps. If they can love you at your worst, they certainly deserve you at your best and this is an effort they have earned and that you, too, deserve to experience for yourself.
This part of accountability places you in a position of being responsible for the spaces you occupy and calling out your own toxicity. We often absolve ourselves when we speak of the workplace, in particular, attributing toxicities and unworkable environments solely to colleagues and the employer. We seldom reflect on our contributions to this. This is critical if we are going to re-imagine and achieve a world of work with heart and soul, a world of work that is a safe space to become and be. We are going to have to be as accountable as we demand accountability from our employers and colleagues. We are going to have to abandon the gossip culture, the passive aggression, alienating clique cultures, dismissive, hostile postures we employ in e-mail correspondence and destructive behaviours that compromise productivity, time and resources. We’re going to have to show up for ourselves in ways that demonstrate respect, discipline and kindness.
We’re only going to see the prospect of a life that isn’t marred with the despondency of mental illness, but one where there is hope, love, happiness and fulfilment when we decide to write a new narrative – when we begin to see ourselves for far more than just bodies carrying the weight of anxiety, sadness and emptiness. When we cease to see ourselves as victims, but as worthy custodians of our precious lives.
We need to teach ourselves through these conditions and tell ourselves good stories about ourselves because when we see ourselves for our beauty, brilliance and potential, we treat ourselves with kindness and in turn, share our light with those who love and care for us.
Your mental illness isn’t a scapegoat to be badly behaved. Show up for yourself and honour the love and support you are given by being the best version your ecosystem deserves. Accountability is a form of self-love, a self-love you desperately need to fight the war trauma, loss and insecurity have waged on your mind.
Sibongile Gangxa is a Rhodes University Law & Politics Graduate and a Development & Policy scholar at the Wits School of Governance. She is a storyteller with a penchant for research that seeks to establish the causal link between contemporary socio-economic inequalities and mental illnesses.