10 unexpected lessons I learnt from my mental illness

1 in 5 young adults suffer from mental illness. We hear that statistic a lot nowadays as people try to break the stigma against mental health. But here are 10 lessons I have learnt from my mental illness.

ONE: You could feel so much of what you’re feeling, even without your mental illness.

I cry, and sometimes I think it’s because my illness makes me more sensitive. This is inevitably true, but I have learnt over time that some of the things I have experienced could make even the most stable person cry. It is so important to remember that the way you’re feeling isn’t always solely due to your illness. If you are treated horribly, it is natural to feel horrible, regardless of mental health.

TWO: Your friends and family will forget that you’re ill at times.

Human nature dictates that we look out for ourselves first and foremost. So, for example in times of high stress, your friends will focus on themselves more and be less conscious of your mental health. And you’ll do the same in return subconsciously. This doesn’t mean they, or you, care any less than before. Sometimes they just may need a nudge to remember.

THREE: It’s okay to admit you’re happy…and then that you’re unhappy.

Mental health, like any emotional state, is not set in stone. Depression does not mean you have to always be in a dark state. Anxiety does not mean you are always on the brink of panic. So, when it’s a lovely day and you’re frankly just happy to be alive for once, ADMIT IT. That is perfectly okay. It’s the best thing you can do because it will make those around you happier just to see you smile. And then, when the inevitable darkness returns at some point, admit that too. You have to be candid with your emotions, else other’s won’t notice and react accordingly.

FOUR: Despite what your illness tells you, you want to get better.

I call my illness my “bad brain” and sometimes it tells me to give up. But I’ve learnt that I want to get better, it’s just that sometimes my “bad brain” is stronger than me. You have to acknowledge that. It’s hard to always fight, but that’s what recovery is; it’s fighting every day against the bully inside telling you to give up, telling you that you don’t want to get better.

FIVE: It is completely normal to be tired.

As I just said, you’re in a constant battle with “yourself”. I put it like that because you’re not truly against yourself, you’re against a chemical imbalance. So, imagine you’re a boxer, fighting your fiercest opponent. Only this fight goes on endlessly, every single day. You are exerting yourself so much that it is inevitable you’ll tire yourself out. Sometimes I have been able to spend days on end in a cycle of naps, unable to escape the need for sleep. I thought I was just lazy (which in some ways I was), but I learnt that I have to take time to ‘recover’ when I exhaust myself. You have to look after yourself.

SIX: Medication doesn’t make you “mad”.

When I first got put on medication I thought maybe I was insane. Maybe this was the beginning of my journey to admission into hospital. However, soon I realise these were small tablets that stabilised my “bad brain”. The medication allowed me to live day-to-day normally, only knocked when things go wrong. You are not crazy, not mad, not insane. You are receiving treatment for an illness, just like any other illness.

SEVEN: You have to learn how to live parts of your life differently.

You won’t be able to do all the same things, sometimes going out with friends will be impossible and you’ll have to accept that you will be missing out. I found that impossible at first, I couldn’t bear not to join everyone whenever possible so I would go, despite knowing that there would be people there who enjoyed making me unhappy. I would have rather suffered than missed out. But eventually I learnt that, if I wanted to look after myself, I couldn’t live my ‘social’ life in the same way anymore. It takes time to adjust, but in the end you live more happily with the changes.

EIGHT: In order to survive, you have to be open to loving yourself.

Let’s face it, poor mental health does not always go hand in hand with loving yourself. So, no, you won’t necessarily be able to love yourself on day one. You can try, though. And you must be open to that, to the thought of loving yourself. Once you love yourself, you learn to love to be happy.

NINE: Sometimes others know what is best for you.

It is far easier to deny that others may know better when your mental illness has control. That is what it does to us; it blinds us so that we believe ourselves to be omniscient and disregard others’ advice. I would fight against my parents’, and even professionals’, advice because I was led astray by my illness. You have to learn to accept help from professionals and those who care about you, for they mostly know better than you.

TEN: You are one of the strongest people in the world.

You are one in five. One in five young adults prove themselves to be the strongest in the world. This mental strength you demonstrate is worth far more than any physical strength because, for every day you survive your battle, you become better. Better in every sense of the word. That is why you must never stop fighting; we keep going to prove that we will not let mental illnesses win. I will forever be proud of myself for coming this far, I believe I am one of the strongest in five. And you, if you are one in five, are one of the strongest in five too.

Just keep swimming x


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