18 Ways You Can Function Well With Severe Mental Illness


I know my list of mental illness diagnoses and my everyday symptoms are severe. I have bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder (DID) or something similar, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and social anxiety disorder. In the past, I have experienced a lot of psychosis, intense mania and bizarre dissociative problems.

I’ve often experienced people looking at my medical history and thinking I am too mentally ill to function in society, let alone become a counselor.

But these are people looking at my chart and history of mental illness. These aren’t people who see how I can find ways to manage my mental illnesses every day.

Two days ago, I had an episode of psychosis. Yesterday, I cleared my mind and calmly counseled a client at our school counseling center. It was a difficult two days. It’s challenging to deal with my mental illness while pursuing a career in counseling, but I want to encourage people that it is possible to function with severe mental illness.

I pray that my illnesses become more manageable over time, but for now, I find ways to cope.

Here are 18 reasons why I can be high-functioning and have severe mental illness.

1. Self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the main reason I function so well. I recently wrote an article on here about that. Through self-awareness, I am able to notice my symptoms and act appropriately with others. Through self-awareness, I can perceive my needs and triggers and manage my illness.

2. Self-care.

I am constantly doing things to take care of myself so I stay healthy.

3. Coping skills.

I joke that my whole life is composed of applying coping skills. I have lists of coping skills I used for different mental problems and am constantly drawing from them.

4. Hope.

I am naturally a hopeful person and find hope in many things. A hopeful attitude puts me in a positive state of mind and helps me overcome my mental trials.

5. Keeping a routine.

I keep learning how a routine helps me stay stable through the ups and downs of my mental illness. I try to keep my energy and excitement levels stable too. I try to keep my life simple.

6. Regular counseling visits.

Routine therapist visits are essential for me to stay grounded, deal with my issues and have someone to check in with each week.

7. Visits to a psychiatrist, and willingness to take medication.

I need to take medications to regulate my bipolar disorder. Regular visits ensure the medication is working right. A willingness to take the prescribed medications means I get the effect I need. Communicating concerns to my psychiatrist helps me too.

8. Creating a support network of positive people.

I’ve discovered I need to try to eliminate negative people in my life. I have gradually found a group of safe people who will encourage me and help me stay positive. I find people who are mature enough they can handle discussing my mental problems without being overwhelmed.

9. Finding outlets for my emotions.

I have strong emotions and have to make sure to regularly find healthy ways to express them. For me that is poetry, writing and art.

10. Taking “mental health days” and learning to say no.

Yesterday, I was recovering from the episode of psychosis so I called off work and told my professor I was sick and had to miss class. I counseled one client, checked in with my supervisor and went home to sleep. I have to know myself and know when to say no and step back.

11. Taking one day at a time.

My mental illness changes every day. I take each day at a time to stay grounded.

12. Lowering expectations.

I may not be able to get 100 percent in my classes and be the perfect friend. I try to just do the best I can and accept that I am imperfect.

13. Accepting my condition.

I accept that I have five mental illnesses. They are part of who I am. I accept that I may have to work harder than others to keep up.

14. Communicating my needs to others.

I have been learning what I need and how to communicate that to my husband, friends and supervisor.

15. “Checking in” with others.

I frequently check in with people to see if I am acting and thinking “normally,” especially if my thoughts are getting bizarre.

16. Determination.

I am a very determined person. If someone says I can’t do something, I’m determined to prove them wrong.

17. Dreams.

I have a lot of dreams and goals for my life. Keeping focused on those goals gets me motivated to stay healthy.

18. Accepting myself as a work in progress.

I am constantly striving towards wholeness. I hope, over time, my mental illness evens out. I accept myself as a work in progress and continually seek to be healthier.

I admit some of these reasons show I have privilege; I am able to afford therapy, live in a supportive environment and have the luxury to work reduced hours.

Still, I want to say there is no real secret to being high-functioning. My list is a group of everyday things we talk about in therapy, but by practicing these things, I am able to manage my life. Despite my mental illnesses, I am able to do well at work and school. I am able to have a stable marriage and friendships.

My life isn’t ideal. I keep striving to be healthier. I recognize the value of mental stability. As a future therapist, I will continually work to be healthy so I can be a good therapist for my clients.

I want to encourage people with severe mental illness that we don’t have to “settle for” the life people might expect us to have. Through some hard work, we may be able to transcend expectations.

Every day is hard for me, but I have many dreams and goals, and I will keep fighting until I achieve them.

A version of this article was originally published on Psych Central.

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