4 Reasons I'm Grateful for My Struggles With Mental Illness

Mental illness sucks. There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to justify how awful mental illness can be. However, I thought I would write a post from another perspective. In my counseling course, I’ve had to do a lot of self-reflection. One conclusion I came to was that my struggle with various mental illnesses has helped me develop and grow as an individual. I have accepted that it is a huge part of my story and I should embrace the few positive things it has given me.

Here are 4 reasons I am grateful for my struggles with mental illness:

1. I have a greater sense of empathy and compassion.

As humans, we can be naturally curious and judgmental. It’s sometimes easy to be self-righteous about another person’s thoughts or actions, or have a lack of comprehension about what lies behind their eyes. However, I believe my experience with mental illness has developed my sense of empathy and I’m more aware of the feelings and emotions of others.

It’s gifted me with an invaluable and unique perspective of the world from both ends of the “quality spectrum.”

In particular, I have the utmost empathy for those with mental health issues. Let’s take obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for example. I think only those who have experienced OCD can truly understand and relate to others with it. Even though OCD may manifest itself differently for each person, the underlying thoughts and feelings are usually quite similar. The beauty of empathy is, even if an individual has not personally experienced the disorder, they are able to understand it from the other’s perspective.

Every single person on this planet has a story, and pain is a part of life. Mental illness has taught me not to assume anything and to have a much greater self-awareness of my own mind, as well as others. I have learned patience, how to listen and the value of gratitude, compassion and empathy.

2. I’ve learned who my real friends are.

Who knew you could be the best of friends with someone for years and then suddenly become strangers? That all those “friends forever” pacts in primary school and that naïve sense of comfort in a strong friendship can one day unravel and become meaningless. Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” was my tune for each of these moments in the recent years.

There is a couple of people who distanced themselves from me until I was nonexistent in their world — people who I never thought would — and that hurt. I don’t blame them entirely though. After all, they didn’t sign up for the depressive, lying and neurotic hell storm I became. Making plans to hang out the next weekend would have seemed like a good idea at the time. Then, when the day came, it was two against one:

OCD: “Oh, you were planning on having fun with your friends today? Don’t be ridiculous. You need to stay inside because if you meet them, harm will come to them. They’ll be safe if you be a totally crap friend and cancel. Oh, and make sure you lie with an excuse.”

Depression: “You’re a worthless, awful human being who doesn’t deserve friends. They’d be so much better off without you. To make sure you don’t go out, I’m going to drain all of your energy and steal your enjoyment of literally everything.”

I can understand why my “best friends” gave up on me when I gave up on myself. However, there are a couple of people who stuck by me and for that I’ll be forever grateful. I didn’t appreciate everything they did for me at the time; how could I? I didn’t care about anything. But in reality, these amazing few people kept me going and recognized that my illness had taken over and I wasn’t myself. I have also met some truly wonderful people because of my mental health, in person and online through my blog. I’m truly grateful for my family, my boyfriend, my two best friends and the blogging community who continue to support me through the ups and the downs of my journey.

3. It has enabled me to help others.

I have been able to tell my story of living with mental illness and use the bad times in my life to help improve other people’s. I feel humbled when someone reads my blog and calls me “brave” or “inspirational.” I don’t see myself as either of those things. I’ve just developed a huge sense of self-awareness that has enabled me to not feel ashamed or embarrassed about my mental health and have an acceptance of the hand life has dealt me, and it is up to me how I play it.

I’m proud to be an advocate of mental health and to share my story with others to raise awareness and hulk smash stigma and discrimination. I’m grateful for the media opportunities I have been given to speak to a wider audience, and for all the people who have listened.

I remember a girl who sent me an email once and said, because of me, she had gone to the doctor and is now receiving help to live a better life. Now, even though it was her strength that got her there, to hear I somehow played a role in helping her, made it all worth it.

The reaction to my blog inspired me to decide on my desired career path. After a years of being the slave of my mental health and believing I was bad at everything, I went back to college and began to train to be a counsellor. This was a huge step for me, considering how badly my head affected my time at college a couple of years prior. However, for the first time in, well, I can’t ever remember, I felt a fire in my belly. I was passionate about mental health and I wanted to make a difference. I had found the drive I had lost so long ago. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tough and some days, I feel hopeless about it all. But I’m learning how to put my mental health first and look after myself. I’m proud of how far I have come.

4. It has enhanced my creativity.

I cringe a bit as I type this because it sounds so cliché. There has been an ongoing debate about the link between creativity and mental illness for centuries. Theories have been floating around for so long, the notion of a prominent link has become embedded within societies consciousness.

It’s easy to romanticize the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Robin Williams or Chester Bennington who were all exceptionally creative and struggled with mental illness. But was their talent really a result of the pain they endured?

Case studies have often proved inconclusive due to the difficulty in clearly defining and measuring creativity. For example, we cannot assume that a person who claims they are creative, actually is. Or, we cannot classify people by their occupation and assume that anyone with a creative job like an artist or a photographer is more creative than a banker or a bin man. There is a famous quote from Salvador Dali that said: “There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.”

I don’t believe there is a solid link between the two; it depends on the person. Some may feel inspired to express themselves through channels such as art, writing or music. Others may experience their creativity demolished by their mental health. Each person is different.

For me, it was a bit of both. A couple of years ago when I was really bad, I didn’t want to do anything. I couldn’t even remember how to shower, let alone understand how I was feeling and creatively express it. I’ve always been a creative person, but the depression turned all the colors black and blocked any ideas or skills I once had.

However, when I started to get better, I picked up a pen and reintroduced myself to my first love – writing. It was the one thing I was always “good” at. I made a real go of my blog and began to connect with others through my written words and expression of how I felt. My mental health has offered itself as a muse to give me a therapeutic outlet and to get me back into writing, as well as drawing and photography. I am grateful for that.

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