In a lot of cases, recovery from mental illness is possible. With the help of anti-depressants, counselling, therapy and self-care, things can turn around.
However, I don’t think that anyone who experiences mental illness comes out of it the same. Sometimes, this is hard to take. Individuals feel unsure of themselves because everything they know has shifted. It’s like staring in the rear-view mirror, longing for a place you’ve left behind, but you’re only moving farther away.
The good news is that it can also result in positive changes. I’ve had discussions with others who believe their mental illness has made them a better person. They wouldn’t want to erase it from their lives because the lessons they learnt are invaluable.
So, what changes?
1. It Reduces Your Sense of Security.
While tackling mental illness certain makes you stronger, there’s something about having your world flipped upside down that makes you feel unsettled. Even when you are on the road to recovery, there’s a part of you that fears it could all crumble again.
When you have one or two bad days in a row, you wonder if it’s happening again. If all of your hard work has been for nothing.
To flip this on its head, though, it’s crucial to keep in mind the fact you have the strength within you to overcome it. You’ve done it once. If another tough time has rolled around, remind yourself that it cannot beat you.
I’ve also found that tracking my mood helps. That way, I have an accurate record of how I’ve been feeling. It may feel like I’ve crawled back into a dark hole, but it turns out to actually have only been a couple of down days.
For depression, the guideline from the NHS is two weeks of persistent negative emotions. If my mood tracker shows I’ve been feeling low for that timespan, I consider if it’s time to visit the GP. It is important to consider other factors, though, such as life events and possibly hormones, so you may want to include notes when tracking your mood.
2. It May Push People Away.
Not everyone is equipped to deal with someone who has a mental illness, particularly if they’ve never experienced it themselves. This means that your circle of friends may look different after a while.
Honestly, I think what matters most here is the people who stick around. The ones who keep inviting you to things, even though they know you may cancel at the last minute. Those who understand that you may not always feel up to reaching out, so they’ll check in. These people count. If they’re there through it all, then it’s best to hold onto them as best you can.
We know we’d like to be treated the same (with perhaps a little extra patience), but lots of people overthink it. They don’t know what to say and so they don’t say anything. Then they feel like they’ve left it too long and, before you know it, a year has passed, and you’ve become acquaintances at best.
It’s hard losing people, but I’d like to highlight that it’s tricky to navigate a relationship that involves mental illness. While every part of you may be saying it’s your fault, it’s not. It’s simply a test that not all relationships can survive. Again, it’s best to focus on the ones that do.
3. It Increases Empathy.
This always seems to be the standout change in many people, including myself. I’ve always been a naturally empathetic person but even I have noticed it’s heightened following my experiences.
Mental illness opens up a whole new world of feeling. I believe this allows us to make much deeper connections with people. We are more patient, more forgiving and more considerate because we understand. There could be so much more going on beneath the surface than the eye can see.
We look a little deeper because we’ve hidden our symptoms. We’ve pretended everything is okay when it really wasn’t. This awareness often encourages us to be kinder and that can only be a good thing!
4. You Are More Appreciative.
Deep in the midst of mental illness, it feels like you will never have a good day again. You are consumed by hopelessness. It’s so hard to see the light in the dark.
So, when there are good days, you make the most of them. At one point, it felt like you’d never smile again, so it feels incredible to throw your head back and laugh, right from the pit of your stomach. For a while, maybe you didn’t want to leave the comfort of your home, yet here you are, with the wind brushing past your cheeks. You realise the people who were there through it all must really care about you. You feel alive and that’s wonderful.
Everything matters a little bit more than it used to, so you relish every moment. You try and hold onto it a little tighter – just in case.
Though you may recover from your mental illness, the way it touches your life will be a part of you forever. It can be easy to fixate on why this is a bad thing but, if you ask me, mental illness has probably taken enough away from you as it is. Try to see it for what it is: an experience that will, ultimately, shape you into the person you are meant to be.
You can follow Ruth on Twitter here