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5 Things I'd Tell My Son If He Was Diagnosed With a Mental Illness

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Without a doubt, motherhood is both the most exciting and terrifying experience I’ve ever had. It’s something new every single day. To be honest, reading about it when I was pregnant never really helped me — it only scared me more. When I  first found out I was pregnant with my son, I was flat­out petrified, scared I would somehow inadvertently ruin this little person’s life. I thought everything had to be perfect or else my son would end up scarred for life.

I mean, look at that face.

Jennifer's son is wearing a blue hoodie standing outside by a fence. The photo captures him mid-jump.
Jennifer’s son.

Looking back, that also could have been my obsessive compulsive disorder at play. Take a mental illness, mix it with some pregnancy hormones and not being on any medication? That’s one recipe that was a hell of a treat!

But I digress.

All I could think about, even after he was born, was that I would never be able to give him everything he needed. It broke my heart to think about that. I ended up becoming severely depressed, believing my child would be better off without me. That my husband would find someone else, and my son would have a mom who could truly give him everything he needed and take care of him the way he needed to be.

To be honest, I was afraid of passing on OCD to my son.

But I know that one day he will learn about my mental illness diagnosis, and I’m not so scared of it anymore. In fact, there are things I want to tell him, things I want him to know.

If he were to ever receive a mental diagnosis himself, this is what I’d want him to know:

1. Feel no shame.

Even in this day and age, this can be incredibly hard for a mental illness patient to accept themselves. In many areas, there’s still a large stigma that surrounds mental illnesses because many don’t take the time to understand them. And when people do not understand, they judge.

But having a mental illness doesn’t make you any less of a person, or any less deserving of help, happiness and a good life. You have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just like any physical illness. Do not let the opinions of others drag you down. You know who you are — own that, work that, be that. You’re a beautiful human being with an incredibly loving soul. Don’t let your illnesses outweigh the amount of beauty you hold within your heart.

2. Ask for help.

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not of weakness. It’s an incredibly brave thing to do. By asking for help, you’re taking the first step in your recovery. Your family and friends love you very much and want to help you get better as soon as possible. Ask them for help, talk to them about how you feel. Don’t be ashamed.

3. You’re no different. 

Close your eyes for a moment and entertain this thought; imagine you’re lined up with nine other people who aren’t living with a mental illness. Now, take a look around the room. Do these people look any different from you? Can you know anything about them just by looking at them? Are you able to see their sufferings? Do they look sick to you? No.

You’re no different than any of these people. You are amazing, unique and beautiful in your own way, just like every other person here on this great and grand planet.

4. Even people with mental illness deserve happiness.

Don’t ever give in to the notion that you are less of a person because of your illness. We aren’t the illnesses we live with, they do not define who we are as a whole. There are so many unique parts of our individual personalities that make us who we are, and while yes, you may live with a mental illness, it’s such a small part of who you are in relation to our entire being.

What do you enjoy? Make time for yourself to do it each day. Come to love yourself. Know that you deserve love and happiness. Be proactive in keeping yourself healthy. Smile often and love without limits.

5. Practice self-care. 

Always take care of yourself, first and foremost. In your life, you need to be the most important person. Never put yourself on the “back burner,” so to speak. If you need five minutes to take a breather, you take it. If you need a personal day to get yourself back together and gather your thoughts, you do it.

Every day you wake up and step out of bed, no matter how much you don’t want to, you are making great strides in your recovery. No step is too small when it comes to the path you’re taking on the road to wellness.

Be yourself, and don’t ever try to hide who you are from the world. You deserve love, laughter, happiness and more. Pursue your dreams, chase them with fervor. Never hold onto anger and rage. Practice forgiveness and accept friendships. Treat others how you want to be treated. Give love freely, spread it far and wide.

And finally: Laugh as much as you can. The world is far too solemn a place already.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

A version of this piece was originally published on Positivity in Pain.

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Originally published: January 19, 2016
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