Sounds of a rushing stream trickle out of my phone, trying to trick my brain into thinking I’m not actually in my bedroom on the third floor of an apartment complex in downtown Chicago. My roommate isn’t vacuuming and my downstairs neighbors aren’t blasting shitty pop music. It’s the illusion of calm- the roaring fan blowing cold air, the phone singing of rushing water, the candles flickering offering up vanilla and toasted coconut. I trick my mind into believing I’m somewhere in the forest burning incense and sleeping under the stars while my mind tricks me into believing I am fat, unwanted, and all alone. It’s a trade-off, an unwritten contract, an agreement made some time ago that neither of us can seem to let go of. It’s a habit at this point, one that I am slowly trying to break.
It’s like trying to stop biting your nails. At first, you don’t even realize you’re doing it until your thumb is between your teeth and the top part of the nail is ripped off. Awareness is the first step. I tell this to the girls I work with all the time. We don’t want to hear that because it suggests that the process standing in front of us is far more intense than we expected. But, awareness is the first step. It was and always will be my fall back point. I find myself day-dreaming about losing weight, I light the candles. I start heading towards the scale at the gym, I listen to the stream in my headphones. I lie in bed reminiscing on depressed thoughts, I turn on the fan and allow myself to fall asleep and reset.
I trick my mind to keep my mind from tricking me. I used to believe it was a trade-off, a balanced relationship, one that would always leave me on the same level as my mental illnesses. I thought recovery was just about managing symptoms and thoughts and behaviors. Take my meds, eat my food, go to therapy, wash, rinse, and repeat.
I started to lose track of the days, but somewhere through the last couple of months I have risen above the tricks of my mind. I have found ways around them. Awareness became planning and planning became actions towards fighting back. The sounds of the stream, the candles, the fan, my art, my books, my snacks, the pool, the medication in my cabinet- these aren’t tricks anymore. These things are my safety net. They make me feel safe when my mind is a battleground. I have found weapons to quiet the cannons and gunshots. I know the secret now. Sometimes I just forget I have the tools.