1. “Normal” is not definable. You will never find two people who have the same exact definition of normal. Normalcy is a joke. An extraordinary person attempting to fit into a box they’ve set up for themselves is only going to lead to disappointment. Define your life by the things that work best for you, the things that make you the happiest and the healthiest.
2. Conversely, crazy is not something you can define either. There are many forms of crazy, and crazy is not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone has moments where they feel crazy. Moments when they are crazy can be a loss of control and sometimes we lose control in the best way possible. Crazy may wreck you, but it also may free you.
3. You are not a diagnosis. Just because you’re diagnosed with something does not mean it has to consume your identity. Having depression does not mean you are Depression. You are so much more than the labels the psychiatrists use to treat you.
4. All emotions are valid. Depression can make you feel sad for no reason at all. That sadness is valid. Anxiety can rear its ugly head at the most random of times. The worry and panic it produces are both valid. No matter how petty or how small your emotions may feel to you (or to others), they are valid. You are entitled to your emotions, it’s an innate right us humans sometimes forget that we have. Don’t ever let someone tell you the way you’re feeling is incorrect or wrong.
5. You are responsible for the actions you take in response to your emotions. Don’t fool yourself into thinking your entitlement to emotions is an entitlement to any and all emotional outbursts. If you hurt someone, you are responsible. If you break something, you are responsible. While you should never beat yourself up or let yourself be devoured by guilt, you should always take responsibility for the choices you make.
6. Emotions do not own you. Anyone with a mental illness can tell you they’ve let their emotions run their life. It’s an inevitable part of having this type of ailment. It’s so easy to cave to your emotions, one misplaced foot and you fall off the ledge. It is possible though to have days where rational thought can be put above emotions. It can happen. It doesn’t happen all the time, and it won’t happen all the time, but the fight for control is a battle you can win. You do not have to hand mental illness the reins.
7. You owe no one an explanation. “Where have you been?!” “What’s going on with you?” “Why don’t you ever act normal?!” People are naturally curious, and they’re more than likely to ask you about it if they notice something is off. You do not owe them an answer. Sooner or later, people’s curiosity turns to boredom and they’ll move onto the next interesting thing.
8. You don’t have to be ashamed of your illness. If you’re asked questions and you want to answer them, do it. Mental illness is so stigmatized and one small step, like telling someone why you missed work or letting a friend know what’s going on with you, removes a bit of the stigma. If you wouldn’t be embarrassed to tell someone you had cancer, you shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed or ashamed of your mental illness. An illness, regardless of what it is, is not your fault or something you can control having.
9. Don’t keep it to yourself. If your mental illness is eating at you, don’t keep it to yourself. Bottling it up is one of the worst things you can do. The eventual explosion may lead to hurting yourself or others, doing things you’ll regret, and in severe situations, can lead to hospitalization.
10. Therapy works. It may take time to work, but therapy does what it’s supposed to do. Once you begin to unravel, to take off your mask, to put down the weapons and take off your shield, you begin to see a light. It’s a light that is small and sometimes wavering, but a light nonetheless. The more you work and the more effort you put in with your therapist, the brighter it gets. It’s beautiful and warm and you feel like you’re glowing once it hits you. Take the plunge, because therapy can be scary but it can also be beautiful, and you will laugh and cry and above all, heal.
11. Finding the right therapist is key. None of the above matters if you do not have the right therapist. If you can’t take off your masks for them then what’s the point of even being there? You’re wasting your time if you’re with someone you don’t connect with. You may not find the right therapist on the first try. In fact, it’s most likely that you won’t find the right therapist on the first try. That doesn’t mean that person isn’t out there. It’s like dating, but for your mental health. There’s a bit of a trial and error until you find what it is you’re really looking for. Don’t sit with a therapist you don’t click with because you feel obligated or because you think you’ll hurt their feelings if you switch therapists. They understand, it’s a part of their job. Make the right decision for yourself, not for anyone else.
12. Therapy friends are best friends. If you ever end up in a group therapy setting, know that there are people there you may in fact be friends with for life. It’s nice to have people who relate to what you’re going through and truly get what it’s like to feel the same way you do.
13. Save yourself before you save others. Remember that the friends you make in therapy (and people in your life in general) are struggling, but that does not make them your responsibility. You’re going to have people who tell you about their troubles, that’s part of having relationships with others. Having that knowledge does not mean you are responsible for coming up with the solution. If you’re having a hard time with your own life, how can you expect to be of any help to others? Focusing on you is the most important thing you can do, for yourself and for others. There may come a time when you’re well enough to actually help someone else in a manner that is safe and healthy for you. But that can’t happen unless your own well being is your number one priority.
14. You are not perfect. No one is perfect. That is a piece of common sense that so many people disregard. Trying to be perfect in an imperfect world means one thing: everything you are trying to balance is going to fall square on your head and crush you. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Forgive yourself. You’ll never be perfect, so let yourself to be human.
15. You are good. Living with an illness that can make you do some pretty messed up things can make you doubtful of your own morality. If you have enough sense to doubt whether you are a good person or not, you are a good person. A good person is not a person who does not do bad things, a good person is a person who does bad things and feels remorse afterwards. A good person is one who learns from their mistakes and then changes their behavior. Know that you are good, hold onto that and never doubt it for a second.
16. You are worthy of love. Let the people around you love you. They want to for a reason. If there is no one currently left to love you, then there is someone else out there who will. The mistakes you have made and the past that you hold do not make you any less worthy of being loved and loving in return.
17. You are stronger for it. Mental illness in its own right, is a tool. A tool used to carve the strength out of a raw human. It will chip away at you, but it leaves you stronger and more resilient. It will pull out the strength that you had inside of you from the start. It will make you push yourself past the threshold you may have created for yourself.
18. One day you may feel healed, the next day you may want to kill yourself. This road is a bumpy one, full of twists and turns. Every day will not be a good day. Every day will not be a bad one, either. Healing is not linear.
19. Keep going. Above all, the most important thing is to keep going. If today’s problems won’t matter in five years, do not kill yourself over them. If they will, there is always a solution. There are resources and tools for mental illness, and there are people who are willing to help. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and there is always a tomorrow.