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5 Reasons I'm Grateful for My Mental Illness

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I am about to discuss something that might seem foolish at face value. I want to talk about the positive side of living with a mental illness.

Oftentimes, I have found articles about mental illness are written by people who have never experienced it firsthand. They may say things like “just be positive” or “look on the bright side.” *Insert deep sigh and eye roll here.*

I know these comments come from a place of genuine concern, but they are just not helpful. In fact, they sometimes make people feel worse. Why? Because mental illness is not a state of mind, but it is an illness of the mind. When people are smothered in their darkness, no amount of positive thinking will get them out of that place.

How do I know all of this? Well, at 26 years old, I can finally admit I struggle intensely with various mental illnesses. They have hung on throughout my life, and I’ve never been able to identify with them. However, I am going public with the information that mental illness is a part of my everyday life. To put it simply, it’s really freaking hard.

For those of you who think this is just another person writing from a place of well-intentioned ignorance, please realize I get it. I, Ashley Williams, am a person who fights every damn day just to get out of bed in the morning. You are not alone.

Mental illness is debilitating. It makes you question your every move, and it says you are worthless. Not only does it tell you this, but it makes you believe it. It makes you unable to see the beauty that exists in the world, and it keeps you stuck in a place of despair.

The best way to describe how I feel most days is this: I feel like someone has taken me to the middle of the ocean and thrown me out into the water without a life vest. All I can do is kick my legs and flail my arms in hopes that my head stays above water.

Here is where it gets even more difficult. As I am fighting to keep my head above water, my mind is telling me to stop fighting, to give up and just go under. This is where I must force myself to remember that my purpose on this earth is bigger and giving up wouldn’t allow me to see the beautiful light that will follow this darkness.

This brings me to the point of this post. Mental illness is so incredibly difficult to live with, and it definitely makes my life more painful and challenging than I believe it should be. However, it also brings a lot of positivity to my life. Below is a list of the reasons why I am incredibly grateful to have the privilege to live with mental illness:

1. My mental illness makes me realize I am stronger than I ever thought possible.

Yes, living with mental illness is difficult, but I have survived 100 percent of my worst days and that’s a great track record. I have had many days where I thought I wouldn’t survive, but I did. That is so damn beautiful. I have kept my head above water for 26 years, and I refuse to let anything pull me under.

2. I am able to appreciate the good moments even more.

Although mental illness takes up a lot of space in my head, I do have good moments. It is because of the darkness that I am able to appreciate the light. When you know what it feels like to be at rock bottom, you truly feel elated for the “OK” and “calm” moments. Some days, those moments are fleeting, but when they do happen, I hold onto them with all of my might. I feel so grateful for the moment to breathe.

3. I am able to empathize with people more.

It is clear that being a human is hard. Everything about the human experience is messy, but one of the most beautiful and sacred things in this life is genuine connection. I believe that because I live with mental illness I am able to treat others in a more gentle way. Why? I understand what it means to be intensely lonely, and I understand what it means to be stuck within the confines of your own head. Knowing this pain makes me want to treat everyone around me with love and compassion, simply because I know everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.

4. I have the opportunity to help others just by telling my story.

Stories are powerful, and all seven billion people in the world have one. It is my hope that by telling my story about living with mental illness that I can help other people be brave enough to face this head on. Stories are beautifully painful, and I thank mental illness for helping me write my story.

5. It’s part of who I am.

If it weren’t for mental illness, then I wouldn’t be who I am. I believe God has made this a part of my life for a reason. I may not know that reason, but it helps make me uniquely me. For this, I am eternally grateful. I believe I was stitched together in God’s perfect image, and I know nothing is done by accident. I will work to embrace this illness for what it is.

Don’t get me wrong. Mental illness is so hard to live with. Some days, I can’t get out of my own way, and I often feel like I will never get better. Yet, when I really look at it, I realize I am blessed to have a brain that is wired this way.

Today, I challenge anybody who is struggling to remember you were uniquely made and you have gifts to offer this world that nobody else has. I know you can’t see past the darkness, and I know you feel as though you will be in this black hole forever, but please, keep fighting. Remember no matter how dark the night may be, the sun always comes up the next day.

Use that as a metaphor for your life. When you find yourself in the darkness, be grateful for it. Embrace it for what it is because without darkness there would be no such thing as light. Your light will come, my friends as long, as you hold on long enough to see it. When you see it, it will be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever experienced.

Keep on keepin’ on my friends. This world needs you.

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: January 19, 2017
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