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8 Things I've Learned From Having Schizoaffective Disorder

1. Survival. Having a severe and persistent mental illness and simply staying alive can be a challenge at times. Although I’m happily married and have a job I love as a social worker, I feel my greatest accomplishment has been staying alive when I first got sick. Anyone who has a mental illness is a survivor, and it’s important for all of us with mental illness to remember that about ourselves.

2. Dealing with pain. When we feel pain, we have a choice. We can either get bitter and pass that pain on to others by being unkind, or we can say, “The pain stops with me.” We can add to the pain in the world or we can refuse to add to it. We do have to have an outlet for our pain, and instead of taking it out on others, doing something constructive like writing or exercise can provide a great release for what we feel inside.

3. The importance of compassion and kindness. Learning that struggle is part of the human condition, having mental illness has made me have much more compassion and show more kindness to people. It may be easy to have compassion towards those who are obviously in pain but harder to have compassion towards those who outwardly don’t appear like anything is wrong. The more we get to know people, the more we find out that they are struggling with something even when it isn’t visible. Many people would look at me and think by my appearance that I haven’t been through anything. Without me telling my story, there’s no way someone could tell I have schizoaffective disorder. Our stories aren’t written on our faces. Therefore, it is important to remember to always be kind to others because we have no idea of what they are going through. Accepting that we don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes can make it easier to show kindness to others.

4. Every encounter counts. I’ve learned that every conversation and encounter we have with people is very important. Every encounter is an opportunity to show kindness. I don’t begin to know what a person is going through, and if someone is really struggling, a kind word or smile can go a long way. If a room is completely pitch black, the light of a candle can light it up even though the light is very small. In the same way, a kind word or gesture can make a huge difference to some who is depressed.

5. Don’t worry. I’ve learned the things in life I never thought would be possible have happened and some of the things I thought for sure would happen haven’t happened. Given this, I’ve learned I can’t predict the future and that it is detrimental for me to even try. When I try to predict the future, I worry. When I worry, I begin to feel depressed. It’s best for me to not worry and stay in the moment. Today is often enough to have to deal with. I need all my focus and energy to be on this moment and not tomorrow. I’ll think about tomorrow when and if it comes. Today I’ll point myself in the direction I want my life to go, and that is something I can control. Worrying will not be able to control what my tomorrow looks like.

6. Humility. I’ve realized how vulnerable I am with every mood swing and cycle. When you’re knocked to your knees time and again, you begin to realize you’re not in control. You look around and have more compassion when you see someone like you knocked down. And because you have humility and can relate, you don’t judge or look down on that person. I’m much less likely to judge others due to being humbled by mental illness.

7. How to get through hard times. Managing a chronic illness can be difficult, and thinking you may have to live with it your whole life may seem too overwhelming. Breaking it down into smaller increments of time can help. For example, take it one day at a time or one moment at a time. Mental illness has taught me to take it a moment at a time and not to get ahead of myself..

8. Patience and perspective. Going through mental illness has made me more patient. I know what it’s like to have to sit with pain, and that has stretched my amount of patience. Waiting for a medication to work when I feel bad means I must practice patience. I’ve been tried on over 30 medications, and through it I’ve developed a lot of patience and determination to find the right combination. That patience carries over into other parts of my life, and I don’t get irritated by small things like I used to. Living with mental illness puts things in perspective and makes me grateful for what I have instead of what I don’t have.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

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Thinkstock photo by May_Anderson