Having a Mental Illness Doesn't Erase Your Good


Mental illness in general presents a host of challenges and difficulties. All mental illnesses have this in common: they negatively affect thoughts, feelings and behaviors/actions, and they can interfere in things like relationships and life goals.

Mental illnesses also have in common the fact that they don’t take away the good in people and in life.

To be sure, mental illness changes things, sometimes negatively. To deny that would be to minimize someone’s very real experiences and challenges. Also, we need to acknowledge the negative so we can address it fully.

When I sustained my traumatic brain injury and subsequently received diagnoses of bipolar 1 disorder and anxiety disorders, of course many things in both my inner and outer worlds changed. Acknowledging this played a big part in my ability to transcend it all, to deal with it, rise above it and learn to thrive in spite of it all.

Another realization was just as important in overcoming the difficulties: none of it — neither the brain injury, the bipolar disorder, nor the anxiety disorders — took away the good in my yesterdays, todays and tomorrows. Mental illness does add difficulties, but it does not take away the good.

In the novel “Leave of Absence,” Penelope Baker is wrestling with her diagnosis of schizophrenia and the effects it has on her life. Her lament here captures the sentiment of so many people who are living with the challenges presented by mental illness:

“‘I used to be proud of myself. I graduated from the University of Chicago and worked as an advertising executive at Anderson Fletcher.’ She paused and hugged the beach ball against her chest. When she resumed, she spoke quietly. ‘But then I changed, and I’m not the same anymore.’”

Penelope’s diagnosis of schizophrenia did change some things, including the way her brain functions. In some ways, she isn’t the same. But in most ways, the ways that really count, she is the same.

Mental illness truly can’t take away the good. Mental illness can’t:

  • Erase what you’ve accomplished
  • Remove your values and beliefs that shape your actions
  • Take away your character strengths
  • Make you less of a person
  • Change who you are at your core.

Living with mental illness does present challenges. But you can draw on what you’ve done in the past, who you are and what you value to address the challenges and discover new ways of living despite them. You aren’t your illness, which means mental illness doesn’t erase the core of who you are. You can use your accomplishments, vales and strengths in order to live a life driven by these elements rather than one dominated by difficulties.

The below video is a short reading from the novel “Twenty-Four Shadows.” The book is the story of Isaac Bittman and his family and friend. Isaac has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. DID is a completely different mental illness than schizophrenia, but you’ll notice a similar theme to Penelope’s and Issac’s thoughts and feelings. Mental illness can feel like an eraser. It’s not an eraser.

Follow this journey on Tanya’s site.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Mental Health

woman looking angry

When a Social Worker Suggested My Daughter Switch Careers Because of Her Mental Illness

I read a great article last week about the power of your mind and how you talk to yourself. The article chronicles a study done by researchers at the University of Houston and Boston College on the power of telling yourself “I don’t” versus telling yourself “I can’t.” From the study: Don’t and can’t may seem somewhat [...]
Woman in cafe looking sideways

To the People Who Say ‘I’m Tired’ When Someone Asks How You Are

“I’m just tired.” When people ask you what’s wrong, that’s what you say. You say I’m tired. Like you just didn’t get enough sleep last night. Like maybe if you get a couple extra hours tonight, or rest up this weekend, you’ll be better on Monday. But deep down, deep beneath all the fake smiles [...]
Woman and dog touch faces

How My Dog Saves Me Every Day in My Life With Mental Illness

There are so many days I wake up and spend at least an hour talking myself into getting out of bed. There are also days, which could easily stretch into weeks, of not leaving my home at all. I’m not even sure I would get dressed most days. Showering? Ha, maybe but probably not. To [...]
Someone playing Pokemon Go, who found Pikachu

What You Should Know Before You Roll Your Eyes at Pokemon Go

It’s easy to look at new technology, especially extremely popular technology, and be judgmental. Video games in particular have taken a lot of flak for being a waste of time, for keeping people buried in their computer or phone and for getting in the way of socializing. What many people don’t realize is that as someone [...]