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20 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self About Mental Illness

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I’m almost 20 years old, and life has been a struggle to say the least, especially in regards to my mental health. I’ve had ups and downs and have been to the edge and back again, but I’m still here and I’m proud of myself for fighting all these years and ultimately surviving.

I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was just 12 years old and have had a war raging in my head ever since. A war that controlled every aspect of my life even though I tried my best to fight it. I was put on medication (which didn’t work) and tried to continue with everyday life the best I could, even though it felt like I had a raincloud hanging over my head following me everywhere I went.

Rain turned to thunder and thunder turned to lighting, and I gradually got worse and worse over the following years. That was until an unfortunate series of events landed me in yet another psychiatrist’s office, this time with a different diagnosis.

“Bipolar disorder. I have bipolar disorder,” I repeated to myself over and over again in disbelief. I couldn’t believe it even though it was written on the medical insurance form right in front of me. Let’s just say it was a hard pill to swallow, but that’s another story.

I have come a long way since then and am still on the road to recovery. That’s not to say I haven’t learned a few lessons along the way, though. There are a lot of things I wish I could tell my younger self, especially relating to my experience with mental illness. So in light of my 20th birthday coming up soon, here are 20 things I wish I could have told myself that I think would have helped me along the way and made the storm a little more bearable.

1. There is no shame in asking for help. Plain and simple. There is no weakness in vulnerability, and if you need help, ask for it. Your family understands for the most part and will get you the help you need. You don’t have to be afraid of being judged.

2. Use art as a form of self-expression when you feel too much. Paint, draw, write and for crying out loud please never stop singing. Music makes you so happy and gives you a feeling like nothing else in the world; follow that feeling.

3. Be patient. You are an impatient person, and you need to learn how to change this as soon as possible. It will decrease your anxiety and will make life a lot more enjoyable. You hate the saying “patience is a virtue,” but that’s only because you know how true it is.

4. You will have bad days. You will have days where you can’t get out of bed, and you will have days where you feel so high you won’t know what to do with yourself. But I promise you will survive and these days will pass. These moments don’t last forever, and just remember that you’ve survived everything you thought you wouldn’t this far. And you will continue to survive and thrive.

5. You will have good days. Along with your bad days, you will have good days too, and the good days will be really good. You will feel like you’re finally OK and like everything is right in the world. One day you will have more good days than bad days. I know that might be hard to believe right now, but it’s true. Take it from me.

6. It’s not your fault. I know you think it’s your fault that this is happening and you blame yourself for a lot of what happens around you, but I promise it is not your fault. I promise. You carry a lot of weight on your shoulders, and you need to learn to let the past go and live in the moment. I know it’s hard, but try your best. The past haunts you, but you will learn how to live with it and you will learn how to forgive.

7. Take your meds. I know you hate being dependent on something to get you through the day, but you have to take your meds. I know you hate the side-effects, but you need them. Everything will be OK, but trust me when I say that you need to take them.

8. You are beautiful in your own way. You don’t look like other boys. You don’t. And that’s OK. You are unique and soft and pretty, and people will tell you that all the time. And even though you don’t really want to hear it now, it will become your favorite compliment.

9. You may feel alone, but you are not alone. You will cry yourself to sleep more times than you can count because you feel so alone, but I promise you are not. Your family is always there, and you have friends that love and support you too.

10. Be kind to yourself and your body. You will do bad things to your body to try and survive and get through hard times, but please try not to. Your body is special and sacred and should be treated with respect. Take a day off if you need to. Take a week off if you need to. Mental and physical health come first.

11. Life is not a race; take your time. You will feel like you have to get everything done all at once and that everyone is ahead of you in life, but what does that even mean? Life is not a race and is not something to be “won.” Read “There is Still Some Time” by Jamie Tworkowski when you feel overwhelmed.

12. Don’t forget to appreciate the little things. Eat waffles and go to the beach and feel sunlight on your face and play guitar and do things you love. Take Polaroid pictures of your friends and make memories and don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers on your way.

13. Friends and family are more important than you think. You need people. I know this is hard for you to believe, but you’re not better off alone as much as you like to think that. Friends will become family and they will save you over and over again. Cherish them and never let them go. Your family will always be there for you. Never forget that.

14. Storms don’t last forever. You feel like you’re caught in a hurricane and it will never go away, but storms pass. Your very first therapist told you that, but somewhere along your way, you stopped believing it because you had been caught in the storm for so long. I know you find it hard to trust people sometimes, but trust me when I say this will pass.

15. A lot of your anxiety is irrational. You’re an over-thinker and I know it’s incredibly hard to stop thinking, but please try stop thinking so much. A lot of your anxiety comes from irrational thoughts, so try and be logical to combat them. Also don’t be afraid to talk about your anxiety because it’s very real to you and it’s important to express yourself.

16. People don’t care as much as you think they do (in a good way). People are not staring at you and aren’t judging you. So stop worrying what other people think and live your own life the way you want to live it. The people who care will stay.

17. You are worth more than you think. Lets face it. You don’t think you’re worth much, but you are. You have a bad habit of letting criticisms overpower any compliments you are given no matter how wonderful the compliments may be. As you get better, you will learn to focus more on the positives and less on the negatives. Your friends will help you a lot with this one.

18. Your mental illness does not define you. You may think these emotions and the label of “mentally ill” will define who you are for the rest of your life, but they won’t. You’ll grow and learn to control your illness better. It will just become another part of you, not the main part of you.

19. Showing your emotions does not make you weak. Crying does not make you less of a man. Having a panic attack does not make you weak. There will be a specific incident where you have the biggest panic attack you’ve ever had in front of your friends and you will feel ashamed and embarrassed. But listen to me when I say there is nothing to be ashamed of. Your friends will help you through it, and you will be OK. Being emotional and sensitive is attractive to many and a great quality to have. You have a lot of empathy, kid, and you will learn to use it to your advantage. It just takes some practice.

20. You will be OK. You will be OK. I swear, you will be OK.

And that’s it, 20 things I wish I could tell my younger self about my experience with mental illness. I still continue to grow and learn new things every day on my journey to recovery. And to be honest, I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned for anything. Mental illness has taken a lot from me, but it has also taught me some of the most important lessons I think I will ever learn.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock image by Grandfailure

Originally published: June 8, 2017
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