Okay so this is going to be super personal and I’m feeling very vulnerable right now, but I feel to share my story so that you understand where I’m coming from with this blog. And also I feel it is time we start accepting mental illness. So here goes…
If you’ve read the ‘About‘ page, you’ll know a bit about my story and my history with mental wellbeing. To sum up: I’ve suffered from depression, anxiety, PTSD and eating disorders throughout my life, and found various coping strategies such as Buddhist philosophies and practices, and personal development techniques useful. I wrote a book about overcoming an emotional breakdown using such methods, due to be published soon. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of accepting mental illness in terms of how these conditions affect my life.
What I haven’t shared anywhere yet is that I suffer from bipolar disorder. The reason why I haven’t shared that information before is that I have only just been diagnosed a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a difficult time coming to terms with my diagnosis, even though so much of my past makes sense now. That’s why I decided to write this post on accepting mental illness because I feel there is great strength in accepting who you are.
For me, it’s been turbulent. I’ve had times when I’ve felt relief that I now have a diagnosis and an explanation for so many of my experiences. I’ve also had times when I’ve felt distraught, anxious, and plain scared at what it means to have such a serious and long-term mental health condition.
Now that the initial distress has tempered with time and education, I feel relieved that I have an answer that I can use as a starting point from which to progress. I am exploring all of my treatment and management options, including natural supplements, therapy, educational courses, creativity, lifestyle management, and mood and symptom tracking.
I wish to become as educated and self-sufficient as possible, and I am going to try all these options first before I try the medication. I am not opposed to medication overall, I just realise it is a long-term commitment with many potential debilitating and serious side-effects and I want to be sure I’ve given everything else a proper shot before I commit to the medication path.
Accepting Mental Illness
I think accepting mental illness is the foundation of living well with a condition like this. Buddhist wisdom teaches us to accept our emotions and present situation because pushing them away creates even more negativity. This idea is reflected in the Buddha’s teaching of the double arrow. Resisting suffering (anything that we don’t want) is like firing a second arrow into the wound that the first arrow of suffering has made.
“In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.”
– The Buddha
I definitely relate to this philosophy. When I first got my diagnosis, even though I was expecting it, the reality of being told by a psychiatrist that I have a serious and long-term mental illness that cannot be cured was extremely stressful. I cried and felt anxious and despairing because I didn’t want to have the condition. I was pushing my reality away. I fired the second arrow into the wound that the diagnosis had made.
Like the Buddha said; there’s nothing I can do to change the situation of my diagnosis, it is my truth. The only thing I can control is how I choose to react to it. Instead of firing the second arrow over and over i.e. continuing to resist and despair, accepting mental illness is a part of me is a choice I can make.
I have decided that I can use this situation to grow and improve as a person. Indeed, it has already facilitated a huge improvement in my self-care and the way that I talk to myself. Negative self-talk is part of this illness, particularly in the low episodes, which I’ve been riding for two months now. But simply being aware of the condition and its symptoms has enabled me to separate myself from these negative thoughts, and turn them around into something more positive. And even if it’s only a small improvemet, it’s a step in the right direction.
I definitely feel that accepting mental illness as part of my life and not trying to fight it or shut out this reality has made me a kinder and more compassionate person. There’s another quote that I feel is so crucial to share:
“Be kind; you never know what battle the person beside you is fighting.”
This is so true. We are too quick to judge others. Being diagnosed with this condition and joining some excellent forums and communities has shown me just how prevalent mental illness is, and how most people keep it hidden. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, and so it is vital that we stop judging and condemning people for stupidly small and irrelevant things. Be kind to people, it will make so much difference to them, whether they are struggling with a mental health condition or not.
Mental Illness Stigma
“Around 450 million people currently suffer from mental disorders, placing them among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.”
– World Health Organisation
I get why most people choose to keep their mental health conditions hidden. Despite the slick television and social media ads that are put out to raise awareness and acceptance for mental wellbeing (but don’t really do much to change deep-rooted beliefs), mental illness is still stigmatised.
The fact is, mental disorders affect one in four people worldwide, at some point in their lives, according to the World Health Organisation. That’s a lot of people, and it is bound to include someone you know, if not yourself at some point.
If accepting mental illness happened on a communal level and we were able to talk openly about our conditions, how many lives would be saved? How many people would live a better quality of life, knowing that they weren’t being judged, marginalised or discriminated against because of their condition? How much less suffering would there be in the world?
We don’t do that to people with asthma or diabetes or cancer or heart disease or any other type of physical health condition. Why is it still happening to people with mental health conditions? There is no difference. This attitude needs to change and that’s why I am writing this post and have created this blog.
This is just a short musing on my diagnosis and the general perception of mental health. I hope I have conveyed that accepting mental illness on a personal level (if you happen to suffer from a condition yourself), and on a communal scale is imperative for everyone to live a happier and healthier life. If anything I’ve shared has affected you (positively or negatively) and you’d like to share that with me, you can place a comment in the box below, or get in touch via my contact page.