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How Mental Illness Changed My Definition of Independence


It took me a long time to get to the place where I felt strong and independent. Once I felt like I had finally found my independence and I had matured, I learned what other people say, think or feel about me didn’t matter. I felt strong and successful.

I accomplished so much during those times. Epic (and I mean epic) book drives, volunteering, public speaking… the list went on. I took my next leap of independence and then suddenly, everything came crashing down.

When my bipolar disorder (undiagnosed at the time) got out of hand and my life came crashing down around me, so did my independence. Suddenly I was back at home living with my parents, sleeping in my childhood bedroom. It took months before I could do anything on my own. My mom described it as having an adult toddler in her home.

I couldn’t put my socks on by myself because I couldn’t decide which foot went first. I needed to be told exactly what to do or I would lay there and do nothing. For the first few weeks I even needed my mom to sit on the bed beside me so I could fall asleep. It was an all-time low for me.

Once I started getting better, I began struggling with my lack of independence. I was ashamed of what had happened to me. I was ashamed of how sick I had become and how much help I needed to recover. Even more so, all my successful moments in my life that helped define who I was were clouded with the concept I was simply having a manic episode.

I felt like a failure.

There’s a country song I hear on the radio all the time. The one line says, “Feelin’ pretty good and that’s the truth, It’s neither drink nor drug induced.” Of course I understand what the songwriter meant by this, but every time I hear it my heart sinks. It would just be so great if I could feel great without having to take medication every day. But I can’t. That’s my life.

The past few years I have struggled to figure out where my independence is with my bipolar disorder. But I’ve learned something pretty amazing during this journey.

Independence doesn’t mean doing it on your own. It means knowing when to ask for help. 

Independence doesn’t mean not caring what people are saying about you. It’s calling them to the mat and telling them to stop.

Independence doesn’t mean taking on tons of work. It means learning to say no.

Independence doesn’t mean having lots of friends. It means figuring out what type of people you should be surrounded by and then doing just that.

Independence doesn’t mean not being on medication. It means understanding the importance behind them and taking them responsibly.

Independence doesn’t mean doing whatever you want. It means prioritizing and making important decisions that will affect the rest of your life.

And lastly, independence means being proud of yourself and what you’ve been through, instead of being ashamed of your past mistakes and the struggles of life.

What does independence mean to you? Tell us in the comments below.