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Why We Need to Celebrate Being Warriors of Mental Illness

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Imagine out of nowhere, one by one, every single natural disaster you could possibly think of comes at you. You try to grab onto something to cling on for dear life. You try to run for shelter, but the power and force of this disaster is too strong and out of your control. They do eventually disappear, and you are left to pick up the pieces. Yet, you know they can come back in a few days, minutes or even seconds.

The disasters are a metaphor for my emotions, which I have little control over and struggle to connect with. I can have this overwhelming rush with positive energy too. I guess this feels a little like an adrenaline rush, but times 100. In these moments, I feel like I’m capable of anything. I will speak and think at 100 miles per hour, frantically trying to gain a sense of “achievement.” (To be honest, I usually just write a load of lists, and it eventually makes me feel overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time.)

It’s not great being like this, and if you can relate to this, even to some extent, then please, keep reading because I want to share some hope with you.

As soon as you are put under the category of “mental illness,” you automatically feel like you are broken and need fixing. You’re “mad” and others are normal. You don’t work like other people and that’s a bad thing. You also assume because you are “ill,” then you can be cured and a doctor can help you.

I can tell you now, that’s not always how it works. Others can support you along the way, but ultimately, you are the warrior.

Everyone is different in how they react and cope with situations. Yes, some functions in your brain may not work as well as or in the same way as other peoples, which can mean you go through tough situations, react or do things that can harm you or others. Yet, you are not “mad.” What is madness anyway?

You are not broken. You are not wrong. You are different, but that’s OK because there is hope. You can work on developing the tools that will help you battle the difficult times.

One of the biggest challenges we face is the stigma behind “mental illness” and the terminology used that puts us under a category. The diagnosis I have has some of the worst stigma behind it, but I won’t let it define me. I have borderline personality disorder  (BPD). Essentially, the more you let the diagnosis take over, the harder it is to battle it.

What’s it like inside your head?

Having a mind with a thousand overpowering thoughts and emotions can be difficult to face, but it also means I love harder than most people. I am creative. I am self-aware. I am spontaneous. I have achieved things that some may only dream of. I set goals for myself, and I smash them. I like that I am able to do these things, and I will make sure to keep hold of the positive side of my situation.

I do not really have barriers, similar to when you drink alcohol and you find yourself saying things you usually wouldn’t. I am like that in most aspects of life, which can be dangerous, but it has also meant that I have pushed myself, someone who hates being alone and couldn’t think of anything worse than being left with my own thoughts, to go on two solo traveling trips this year. They were life changing.

Having a diagnosis can sometimes blind you to the good qualities you have. Once you are told that your mind is not healthy, you can often struggle to remember these. What do you like about yourself?  What do others say they like about you?

It is quite natural to think about the things we do not have, the goals we have not achieved and to wish and want for more. It’s good in a way to stay mindful of your goals, but what a lot of people struggle with is giving themselves time for reflection.

What have you achieved up to this date?

Try to stop thinking about what you need or want to do either that day, that weekend, that month or in your entire life. Stop, breathe and reflect. I split mine into three little booklets: Career/Education, Personal Achievements and Bucket List achievements.

They don’t have to be life changing, courageous or drastic. Think small and think you. If the voice in your head starts telling you, “Well, Karen or Steve got an A in math, and I only got a D. So really I did not achieve anything,” then either:

  • Tie that thought onto an imaginary balloon and watch it go. You may have to let go of a thousand balloons, but let go of that thought.
  • Imagine that thought on a cloud and watch it go by.
  • Imagine that you are on the platform at a train station and the thought is on the train that has just left.

There are a few different ways you can do that. Try and let go of comparisons and any self-doubt that pops up like, “Well, I didn’t really perform well so that doesn’t count.” It’s not easy. I struggle a lot. I can go weeks without being able to do this., but just try.

So even if you don’t think your grades are good or you didn’t last long at a job, you still got out of bed that day, faced your battles and tried your best. In fact, every day is a personal achievement because you are still here. It could be that you baked a cake, and it was really tasty. (I can’t say I have done that myself, but you get the gist!)

Allow yourself some time to reflect on what you have achieved, and congratulate yourself. Maybe even treat yourself. Warriors of invisible illnesses need to be celebrated, especially when they lose sight of their weapons. Gather your Mighty troops, and give yourself a pat on the back because you’re doing incredibly well.

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Image via Thinkstock
Originally published: December 6, 2016
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