16 Mental Health Lessons I Learned in 2016

2016, you’ve been a learning curve to say the least. Here are 16 lessons I’ve learned over the past year:

1. A diagnosis doesn’t define me. I define me. The way I take my coffee with a shot of hazelnut, study passionately, and go on spontaneous road trips: those are the beautiful things that define me.

2. I’m feeling well because I’m taking my medication, not because I don’t need it anymore. Going off my medicine because I feel well will only wreak havoc; I always need to listen to the advice of my doctor.

3. Sometimes people don’t have the words to make me feel better. Sometimes being there and holding my hand is exactly what I need, and the only way they know how to help. Embrace people’s willingness to love and care for me.

4. Resources like a psychologist and doctor can catapult my recovery, but I’m the one who needs to focus on getting well. It’s hard to help an unwilling heart. Embrace help from professionals.

5. Wellness means creating balance for myself. A balance between work, school, social life, and alone time. With bipolar disorder, having any of these areas out of whack can be damaging for me. Aim to create a good, consistent balance.

6. I believe life was not meant to be lived alone, and that we were created for community.

7. When there’s a resource lacking in my community, I can be the one to instigate change and fight for the resource to be implemented.

8. After dealing with unending grief from many deaths, I was always on guard for the next bad thing to happen. Instead, I learned to expect good things.

9. Recovery doesn’t fall into my lap. I have to work hard, run toward recovery. It will take a lot of tears and setbacks, but it is possible. I refuse to give up.

10. Recovery is not black and white. It’s not “I’m unwell” and then jumping over the chasm into the “I am well.” It’s a spectrum of varying shades, and it’s not a jump over a chasm: it’s a million baby steps in the right direction.

11. Academics and school are less important than being well. Maybe I won’t finish my degree in four years, or at the top of my class, or with honors. Maybe I will need a year off to heal or to only study part-time. That is OK. Academics don’t define me. I’d rather pace myself and cross the finish line eventually than suffocate and never finish.

12. Friends will leave when they find out about my illness. Have mercy on them. Harboring anger only hurts me, not them.

13. In the same vein, fight for mental health education in workplaces and schools. Often times the reason people leave is because they don’t know how to handle it. Equip them.

14. It’s OK to pursue passions that are different from what people thought I’d do. It’s OK for me to write books and perform poetry when the rest of the world thought I’d be busy doing something else.

15. I am loved. I am cared for.

16. It took five years to get into this hole, and I can’t expect to get out of it overnight. Recovery isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Surround yourself with people who will make that precious recovery possible.

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