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5 Surprising Reasons I'm Thankful for My Mental Illnesses

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If we did a word association with mental illnesses, the last word that probably comes to mind is “thankfulness.” You might instead think of words like “burden,” “suffer,” “battle,” “plagued,” or “tormented.” However, after many years of reflection on my own mental illnesses, I have shifted my perspective from being a victim to being thankful for my diagnoses.

Here are five surprising reasons why I am thankful for my mental illnesses.

1. Mental illnesses have made my life more difficult.

Who in their right mind would want life to be more difficult? Rather than making the case that I’m not in my right mind, hear me out. I grew up in a loving, middle-class home with both parents and no traumatic events. I am college educated, have a supportive family, and am privileged in more ways than one.

I could have sailed through life with few problems and never been aware of how mental illnesses affect so many. Instead, I was blessed with anxiety and depression, and they have wreaked havoc on my life.

However, I believe I have gained strength, resilience, and a fierce determination that I probably never would have developed if everything in life had gone my way.

2. I have had to ask for help.

My natural inclination is to be independent and self-sufficient. I don’t want to feel pitied, seem weak, or to depend on others.

But because of the chaos that my mental illnesses can create in my life, there have been times I have had to ditch my pride and ask for help.

My family and friends have shined with their outpouring of support. Whether it is through words of encouragement, financial help in times of unemployment, or watching my children so I can have a day for self-care, I know there are actions behind every “I’m here if you need me.”

Giving people a chance to help me has strengthened my relationships. Humans are made for connectedness, and the ones who truly love you will welcome a chance to put their feelings into deeds.

3. I have seen the dark underbelly of the mental healthcare system.

During the last six years of my life, I have been to countless therapy sessions, three inpatient hospitalizations at a psychiatric hospital, several Emergency Room visits, and seen many different doctors.

One thing I can say with certainty is that the mental healthcare system in America is lacking.

People who need psychiatric help often end up in Emergency Rooms, sometimes because they have no access to a primary care doctor. This creates a more crowded ER with doctors who are not the best equipped to handle such patients.

ER doctors are not always experts on mental illnesses and can either misdiagnosis a patient, miss a diagnosis, or simply send the patient on their way and hope for the best.

Psychiatric hospitals are often full, so people needing intense treatment are put on a waiting list or put into a situation that is not the right fit (see below).

And health insurance… if you are lucky enough to have health insurance, you have to hope that mental health coverage is part of your plan. Your insurance may dictate how much you can see your therapist or even which therapist you can see – regardless of what is best for your treatment.

So why am I grateful for being exposed to all of this? Because now I can see the gaps. Now I can fight and I can advocate for mental healthcare. Most people are blissfully unaware of the trials and tribulations that patients with mental illnesses have to endure to get help. Who better to speak up than one who has been in the trenches?

4. I have met some “scary” people.

Being an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital gave me many opportunities to connect with other people who also were given mental illness diagnoses. Some were the same as mine or similar, while others had much more severe illnesses.

But more than seeing these people as mere walking illnesses, I talked to them and learned about their lives, who they are when they are “on the outside.”

In most cases, they were people just like me. They had families, jobs, pets, passions, hobbies, and of course, life stressors. Listening to these patients tell their life stories, I was able to see past our differences and relate to them on a personal level – I was one of them.

During my last inpatient stay, there were no beds available in the “regular” unit and I was initially placed on the hospital floor for severe mental illnesses. There was a woman who introduced herself to me as Jesus. She was erratic and unpredictable (food flew off her plate at an alarming rate), and was sometimes violent.

At first, I was terrified. My anxiety got worse the first few days I was there. But one afternoon, I heard crying coming from the lounge and walked in to see this woman slumped over and weeping. She had just learned her family wasn’t coming to visit her that day.

I sat and listened to her tell me her story, and my heart was forever changed. She knew she had mental illnesses and that it affected her relationships. She looked at me and said, “But I still want to be loved.” Isn’t that what we all want?

If I hadn’t taken the time to get to know this woman, I would have been forever scared of her. It’s amazing how our hearts can be opened to people who are different than us when we simply learn about them… Compassion is a beautiful thing.

5. My mental illnesses have created some of the worst days of my life.

Anxiety has given me days where I couldn’t eat a bite of food, I couldn’t sleep even though my body was physically exhausted, and panic attacks made me believe I was dying.

Depression has given me days where I couldn’t leave my bed, my head ached from crying so much, and my mind wouldn’t stop thinking of death.

But thanks to the terrible days I have endured, I am more grateful for the good days. The days where I see glimpses of who I really am, the days where I can function, and the days I feel loved.

My hope is you all find reasons to be thankful for your mental illnesses. They are out there – if you just look hard enough, even the most difficult of circumstances can have a silver lining.

Follow this journey on Panic Attacks Central.

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Thinkstock image by Rose_Carson

Originally published: December 6, 2016
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