8 Good Things That Came Out of My Experience With Mental Illness
I was a high-achieving child and youth. I never knowingly struggled with mental illness, but when my fourth baby was 11 months old, after months of undiagnosed postpartum anxiety and depression, I had my first psychotic episode. In a high state of anxiety, I stayed up all night, thought I saw a demon and became convinced my children were in danger. I couldn’t trust anyone around me. I called 9-1-1. I couldn’t even tell anyone about the hallucination for weeks.
Rightfully, health officials recommended medical and mental health help, and I went to urgent care. Over the next few months, despite trying counseling and medication, I continued to have panic attacks and went into psychosis a number of times. Finally, I had an extreme break with reality: I needed to be hospitalized.
I felt relief as I walked through the doors to the psych ward. My journey was not over, but I felt it had finally reached its summit. Things would continually get better over the coming weeks and months. Although my experience with mental illness is not one I would wish upon anyone, I cannot deny that some good came out of it.
1. My illness helped me strengthen my resolve to avoid making judgments about people with little or no information.
As long as I can remember, I have tried to give people the benefit of doubt. My family often would present possible backgrounds for people.
“Maybe they are on their way to the hospital,” we supposed, when someone cut us off in traffic.
But going through my own intense physical, emotional and mental ordeal and knowing how it affected my day-to-day and behind-the-scenes functioning, I have become even more careful in the assumptions I make about others’ situations.
Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where we all assumed anyone we interacted with was experiencing challenges more difficult than our own? Wouldn’t we be kinder? Gentler? Quicker to extend compassion? Slower to complain? That’s the kind of world I want to help create.
2. Struggling with anxiety, depression, panic attacks and psychosis taught me empathy the way only experience can.
I have long felt sympathy for those living with mental illness, especially while watching several close friends and family members struggle with it. However, after living through my own mental illness, I now have true empathy for those with an invisible illness.
I know how it feels to open up about your whole life and feelings to perfect strangers. Not once, but over and over again. I know first-hand how it feels to have waves of anxiety bring you to your knees, vomiting and dry-heaving in helplessness. I know what it’s like to feel sick with fear without cause and not be able to trust your own brain and intuition.
3. Mental illness taught me to rely on my loved ones to support me in times of need.
As the (mostly) levelheaded eldest of five, I was used to giving advice and assistance to my siblings. I was independent and usually able to solve my own problems. At first it was difficult and uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of others’ care and attention. I didn’t want to ask for help or bother anyone. I hated being a burden to my loved ones.
Throughout the months of my illness, my husband often experienced the brunt of my panicked states. He helped set up therapy and doctor’s appointments, listened to deluded lines of thought and stayed with me when I was scared. Friends at church were extremely kind and lent aid and support several times. Some shared their own experiences with mental health challenges that helped us feel less alone.
When I had my first episode over Thanksgiving weekend 2014, my younger sister delayed her travel plans to stay and help me. My in-laws helped care for my children while I was in the hospital. After my release from the hospital, another of my younger sisters and her husband moved out to help us for a few months while I recovered. It was hard to let people help me, but it taught me how much my loved ones care about me and my family.
4. Going through a mental health crisis taught me about the mental health system.
After going through a mental health crisis, I feel a lot more prepared should I or anyone close to me face a similar problem. I am now more aware of what resources are available and how to work with my family and health officials to work through an issue. I’ve learned the importance of trial-and-error, persistence and self-advocacy in mental health treatment.
I’ve also become aware of the inequities of mental health help that exist between social strata. Those who are advantaged have a lot more available to them in the way of counseling, medication and treatment options, while the poor are often left to their own devices until crisis hits. They cannot access the counseling they need and the better medicines with less severe side-effects and are more at-risk to turn to street addictions to self-medicate.
5. My journey through mental illness cemented crisis bonds in my family.
When I was going through depression, anxiety, panic attacks and psychosis, my husband and I learned to talk even more openly about emotional issues. We problem-solved together. We learned to love unconditionally and through adversity. This made us stronger as a couple and brought us closer to extended family who stepped in to help.
As I said before, having a mental illness forced me (and my husband) to lean on loved ones in a way we never had before. When I was saying something to my dad about not knowing why this was happening, I remember him saying, “Maybe, it’s just your turn.” In life, sometimes we get to support. Sometimes, we must let others support us.
6. Having a mental health challenge taught me to re-prioritize and take nothing for granted.
During my illness, a lot of things I used to stress about suddenly seemed less important. Keeping baby books up-to-date and keeping the house organized had to fall to the wayside. I had to count the small successes. Most days, I was able to feed and dress my children and take a shower. I had good moments when I could push myself to make dinner or clean the bathrooms. I was lucky not to feel estranged from my baby, as some experience with postpartum depression.
7. Having experienced a trial-like mental illness makes me more approachable and gives me credibility.
Something about sharing that you’ve recently had to be admitted to a hospital for psychiatric problems tends to help others feel less self-conscious of their own issues and struggles. After going through this experience and sharing parts of what I went through with others, I have had many open up to me about mental health situations they are dealing with in themselves or their families. I’ve had several tell me I’ve inspired them to seek help for depression or anxiety.
8. It ended well.
Obviously, I am one of the lucky ones. I got the help and treatment I needed. I recovered fairly well (so far) compared to many and was able to resume my responsibilities quickly. No one had to deal with physical scars as a result of my psychosis. It was stressful for my family, but we pulled together. However, I know things could have been tragic. I feel that, as a survivor, it is my responsibility to share my journey with mental illness, whether it is over or whether it has just begun.
Image via contributor.
This post originally appeared on Lemony Landing.