Mental illness is one of those things where you cannot ‘unsee’ it, once you recognize it for what it is. Once you start to pick up on the tendencies you have that were always used as a form of protection, the coping mechanisms you developed however long ago to make life feel easier, and the way in which you have chosen to compartmentalize your world…you will be able to see that these have also become the ways you have been able to survive your mental illness; sometimes without even realizing that is what you were doing the whole time.
Unfortunately, we do not have much of a say in what was passed down unto us from generations prior (whether that be genetically, or through learned behavior). Fortunately, we do have a say in how much work we do on ourselves as a way to stop bad patterns from repeating, and healing our own mental illnesses as a result.
Through my recovery from addiction, and now with the use of professional help, I have been able to recognize the areas in my life that still need attention, understanding, and acceptance on my part. What I am learning about myself through this process is not always easy information to sit with, and despite the truth that may be hard to accept, it is still my job to find healthy ways to manage what I do with the information. Each day I am given offers me the opportunity to learn something about myself; the 10 lessons below just happen to be the ones my mental illness is still having to teach me.
1. The ‘Work’ is Never Over.
Just when I think that I have gotten the hang of this whole mental illness thing, I am quickly reminded that I have no say in what will cause a reaction in me, BUT I do have a say in how I choose to react to it. This requires work. A lot of it. Becoming self-aware of what it is that can cause you to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, is a skill that takes time, and patience. To know what we need to work on, we must first be willing to own up to it. The work may never end, but the task of doing it will get much easier over time.
2. Say it with me: “I am so much more than a label!”
It would be so easy for me to lose myself in the labels I didn’t ask for, as well as the labels I acquired from putting on myself through past mistakes, and poor choices. It is important that I remind myself that my mental illness does not define me as a person. It just happens to be a part of me and a piece that makes me who I am as a whole. We are not the labels that society has deemed as ‘broken’, or ‘damaged’ just because some of our parts don’t function as well as others. We are all so much more than any label that can be thrown at us.
3. Help is out there if I am brave enough to ask for it.
Asking for help is an extremely hard thing for me to do since I am always doing what I can to be the least amount of a burden that I possibly can. Recognizing that you need help is not a sign of weakness, and this is a lesson I must remind myself of more times than I care to admit. Swallowing my pride, and facing my fear of rejection/abandonment are the two things I must do when asking for help. It can still be a very challenging thing for me to do, but I am always so amazed at how willing others are to help me if I need it. It has only just been the voice in my head keeping me from asking for some.
4. Recovery never promised me a smooth ride.
I think a large part of me believed that with the choice to walk away from my addictions, I would be healed, and that would be final. How wrong I was. Just because I made the choice to remove what was killing me, did not remove me from the task of figuring out the best ways for me to live. Recovery has given me so much of my life back, but with the choice to recover comes the choice to accept what I was never willing to face before. Recovery is anything but a smooth ride, but it is a ride worth traveling.
5. Mental Illness is just one form of struggle.
My struggle is not to be compared to someone else’s, and vice versa. Mental illness may cause me a lot of obstacles to overcome, but it is also just ONE form of struggle. You do not have to be in a battle with your mental health to know that life can throw you a curve ball or two. This is something I am still having to learn when it comes to understanding others. We all have our own set of storms to survive, and it’s important to realize that we are not the only ones who struggle.
6. I cannot run from what must be felt.
This one is still hard for me to grasp. In fact, this one will always cause me a sense of uneasiness. My old default reaction to anything that caused me to put my defenses up meant that I needed to run from it, avoid it, or deny it. This is what led to my compulsive drug use as a means to escape whatever I was feeling at the time. Now that I no longer use that approach, learning to sit with certain emotions is not an easy feat for me to do, but I am much more willing to hear what they are trying to tell me. We cannot run from what presents a challenge; we must be able to step up and face whatever we need to feel.
7. Mental illness can also be beautiful.
We don’t give mental illness enough credit when it comes to the positives that it can offer us all. For example, my anxiety can work out in my favor when it comes to what can feel like an insurmountable fear such as showing up late for an appointment. My anxiety does not allow me to be late for anything. Within the everyday little moments that some may overlook, my mental illness can make me hyper-aware which allows me to always feel in control of my surroundings. Even though my brain tends to cause me unnecessary worry, I am also always prepared in a way that seems to set me apart in other parts of my life. With the cons, will also come the pros. We must be able to find the beauty within our situation and/or struggle.
8. I must let go of what I cannot change.
I know I am not alone in my fear of letting go of things whether that be people, objects, or memories. I keep certain things close to me as a way to feel safe by what I know best, but when the things I am holding onto our just things that are holding me back, I have to get honest about what I need to let go of for good. By ridding myself of the people who are toxic, objects that no longer hold importance, and memories that tie me to a place of pain, I am able to move forward with more clarity, and a clean slate for what has yet to come. To let go means to set yourself free. I am still learning this.
9. I am more than capable of surviving this.
We can get caught up in the moment of an emotion that will pass by, but in that time, we can convince ourselves that this feeling will last forever; that we may never be able to pull ourselves out of this one. Want to know one of the most important things I have realized through some of my worst times? I always make it out on the other side, no matter what I may have been convinced of while suffering through it. We are all more than capable of surviving our darkest moments, no matter what we may tell ourselves at our lowest.
10. I AM NOT ALONE! I NEVER HAVE BEEN!
Why is it so easy to convince ourselves that we must be the only ones who experience struggle? When in fact, this is just a passage of life. We must all go through the ups and downs of this world, but to think that we are ever alone in the process…well, that is never the case. There is always someone who will listen to your pain, and sit with you in the silence. We only believe that we are alone because we think others will be able to see through to us and pull us out of it. Our cries for help will never be louder than our willingness to just ask for it out loud. We have never been alone; we have just allowed our mental illness to convince us that we are. Speak up. You can overcome this struggle.
I felt compelled to write this for many reasons. For one, I feel that it is important to speak up for anyone who is silently battling with mental illness, and for who has not been able to find the proper help they need when dealing with this. Secondly, I find it necessary to emphasize that we are ALL struggling with something. This one is easy for us to forget because we are so often consumed by the world we have created for ourselves. Last but not least, for me to continue doing the work I have found to be necessary for my healing process, it is critical that I am as authentic as I can be, and willing to share my weaknesses just as much as I am willing to share my strengths. There is not one without the other, and there is no me without my mental illness. I am learning to love these parts of myself, for they will always be a key role in my life. It is better for me to work in harmony with my mental health by accepting what I cannot change and choosing to get better with each day I am given.