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8 Words of Wisdom With My Younger Self About My Mental Illness

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Dear Alex,

If I had the chance to visit you, my younger self — a self who was just beginning to struggle with mental illness — what advice could I offer? What wisdom could I impart? I don’t know how long I’ve been struggling, to be honest, but I do know how long I’ve been formally diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety and adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and have been seeking help. And if I were to go back to visit Alex before his first doctor’s visit, here are a few pieces of advice I would share.

1. It isn’t your fault.

No matter what I try to tell myself, having a mental illness is not my fault. It is nobody’s fault. It just happened. Especially with anxiety, it is easy to ruminate; it is easy to think of every possible reason why this happened. And during that rumination, you look for someone to blame. But that doesn’t need to be the case. There doesn’t have to be someone to blame. It doesn’t have to be someone’s fault.

2. You are not alone.

It’s easy to feel that you are taking on the world by yourself, but you are truly not alone. The fact that someone is reading this means just that. There are literally hundreds of millions of people who struggle with mental illness around the world, and you are surrounded by people who love you. They love you with or without a mental illness. Never forget that.

3. Mental illness does not make you weak.

This will be one of the hardest truths to understand. You will feel like something is wrong with you. In your dark moments, you will feel weak. But you aren’t. You are strong. You are strong for seeking help. In fact, every day you fight, you grow even stronger. Not everyone will understand, but believe me when I tell you, you are strong.

4. Your mental illness does not define you.

As much as every facet of our lives helps define who we are, you must never let your mental illness define you. Try to use articles instead of possessives. The depression, rather than my depression. It may seem subtle and rather silly, but it helps. If you define yourself by your mental illness, it can only drag you down. Use it to do good things, but don’t let it use you.

5. It is OK to ask for help.

There will be times when you can’t fight it alone. There will be times when your depression is so overwhelming, you are stuck in bed for days. Know this. During those times, you are not alone in your fight (see #2). Everybody needs help. When you are sick or have a broken bone, you go see a doctor. Why should mental illness be any different?

6. Doctors are not magicians.

Along the same line, doctors are not magicians. You will see many therapists and psychiatrists before you find the ones who work for you. Don’t be disheartened. It won’t be an easy journey, but you will find the right ones. And even when you find the right ones, it will take time (years) to find what works. Be patient. Every treatment you try brings you closer to finding a treatment that works. And believe me when I tell you, you will find the right treatment.

7. Be thankful.

As hard as it may seem, practice giving thanks. You have so much fortune in your life that is easy to ignore and take for granted. Not everyone has that good fortune. And I’m not only talking about a job or a home, either. I’m talking about your family and friends. There are so many people who do not have the support system you have. You have a loving spouse who understands you deeper than anyone else in the world; you have a family who unconditionally loves you and would do anything to take care of you. These supports keep you lifted up when you feel like falling to the ground. Always remember to give thanks to those who make you a better you.

8. Take it slow.

Alex, you have a habit of going 100 mph no matter what you are doing. It feels like the only way to do it, I get that. Remember to take breaks. Remember to slow down every once in a while. Not only will it benefit your overall well-being, it allows you to stop and look at the world around you: the beautiful world of which you are a part. Don’t get my wrong, your ambition will serve you well in many respects, but it will also cause you to burn out. So keep it under control, know your limits and remember to take it slow.

Now, we all know I can’t go back in time to give myself these nuggets of wisdom. But what I hope to achieve is for someone out there who is reading this to learn from some of the many mistakes I have made over the years. I have blamed myself, been hard on myself for not being stronger, doubted the love and support which surrounds me, and ignored the need to take care of my own well-being. So while I can’t go back in time, I can take this advice, this wisdom, and start following it today: today, and every day going forward. So Alex, don’t make the same mistakes I did. Learn just a little bit about how to navigate these rough waters, and in the process, learn how to love — and take care of — yourself.


Originally published on Challenge the Storm.

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Thinkstock photo via Filipovic018

Originally published: July 6, 2017
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