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8 Steps That Helped Me Build Confidence While Living With Mental Illness

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I’m feeling incredible. I’m having a great time with everyone. I feel part of something; the inclusion satisfies all my desires. Then I accidentally see my reflection, and it hits me like an electric shock. Do I really look like that? God. I need to leave. People can be cruel, but we can be crueler to ourselves. Missed opportunities from fear and anxiety can fill us with regret.

How can someone have the confidence to achieve their dreams when they become silenced by their reflection?

What about those of us who can’t leave the house, or bed, out of fear?

The following are a few steps that helped me on my journey to building confidence while living with mental illness.

1. Support comes first.

If you’re at your lowest: suicidal, hospitalized, or worse — you need support. It’s difficult to do this on your own. I recommend you accept that and find yourself a good therapist, a good friend, anyone who can help you take the right step to rehabilitation.

2. Try a mask on for size.

I didn’t want people to know how I felt, but living in a social vacuum was only feeding my illness. So every day I put on a mask. I had created everything from intricate backstories to personality traits. If I wasn’t myself, nobody could judge me. For me, it was just about getting out there and seeing the world in whatever context I was able.

3. Find your passion.

Join different clubs, meet new people, do things out of your comfort zone. I needed to do these things away from anyone who knew me; I didn’t want to be recognized while I was trying to find my footing in life. If you can do it with a friend or a partner, even better. The goal was to find something I enjoyed. It might take days or years, but it’s worth the investigation.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of employment.

I believe we are meant to be busy. And you don’t have to be a doctor (yet), but if you can find a job with maximum exposure to people, you could be ahead of the rest.

5. Don’t forget your super pill.

Surely you’ve heard of the super pill? A drug that can benefit pretty much everybody: exercise. The word takes a different meaning for all of us. I don’t want you to define it as something that leads to fear and embarrassment. Ignore the Instagram celebrities and the shake religions. But I believe exercise can boost your success rate of beating any kind of adversity. Unsure of what to do or when to do it? See an exercise physiologist, a professional who can prescribe you exercise in a safe, holistic approach to improve your mental and physical well-being. Or just get out there and get moving.

6. Face your fears.

My illness involved a fear of mirrors. I could not pass one without checking to see what I looked like, only to see a monster staring back at me. This could not continue for the rest of my life. I had to face it, again and again. It started with my bathroom mirror, then it progressed to claustrophobic changing room stalls that had two or three mirrors. Eventually it became wall mirrors at gyms.

Whatever your fear, I suggest taking small steps in facing it. This is hard training — nothing on this list is easy. It may even seem fantastical. But we deserve to try.

7. Become the person you deserve to be.

Go back to that mask you may choose to wear. How does it fit? Was it ever really a mask? Or was it the person you’ve always wanted to be? Perhaps your alter ego was more confident, made friends more easily, did things you wouldn’t consider. But it was always you.

Only you will know when you’re up to this stage, but it’s time to be honest with yourself and others. This is when you can identify with your illness and have the strength to form real relationships and follow your passions.

8. Help others.

You’re not the first to go through this, and you won’t be the last. There has been an uprising on social media about mental illness. Stories are being shared, people are coming together, and it feels as though support is higher than ever.

I believe those living with mental illness are made of something else. Their strength and resilience in life can inspire all. I feel we need to come together, help each other, and form a tribe of mental health and wellness.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: September 21, 2016
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