Eight years have passed since I was officially handed a diagnosis with the letters MDD and GAD scrawled carelessly on a notecard. To say I feel as lost as I did when I was fifteen would just not be true. I’ve learned. I’ve grown. I’ve failed. I’ve started over. I’ve relapsed. I’ve started over again. I swore up and down that I wouldn’t make it past another birthday. I’ve blown out many candles since. To recover by trial and error is the only path I’ve known. It’s gotten me to a place where I often look back at my fifteen-year-old self and long to give her some advice. Unfortunately, time travel does not yet exist outside of Hollywood cinema, and I cannot go back in time to give my younger self some sage advice. However, I decided to share some thoughts with those who may be grappling with their life after a mental illness diagnosis. Here are some of the things I wish someone had told me when I was diagnosed with a mental illness:
1. You didn’t ask for this. You didn’t bring this upon yourself. There will be people in this world who will make you believe that this is all in your head, and that you’re “doing this for attention”. Ignore them. Don’t waste your precious energy on ignorance. That energy should be channeled elsewhere in your recovery. And one day, if you feel the desire to fight back, I would love to have you on my team standing up to stigma.
2. You may not find the correct treatment on the first try. Do not give up. You may try countless medications, partake in various therapies, end up in different hospitals, try every bullet point that WebMD says will help treat your illness, and still not find the relief you’re looking for. Don’t let this discourage you. It is undoubtedly a frustrating process, but the mental health field is budding with new therapies, treatments, and technologies. Trust me, I spend hours poring over new ways to heal. There is a treatment out there for you.
3. You will still find love. There will be friends, family, partners, etc., who will not shy away from your illness. Sure, there will be people who will tell you they care and then betray you. There will be people who tire of hearing how much pain you are in, even after their initial interest in caring for you. There will be people who will break your heart and hang you out to dry. However, they are not the only people out there. There are people who will sit there with you when you ugly cry, and hold you until you fall asleep on their shoulders. There are people who will crack jokes just because they know you’re having an off day, and make it a point to get you out of bed to participate in life. There are people who will rush to your side if you’re in need of help, and even rush you to help if they know you need more than someone by your side. Those people are out there. They will love all parts of you and your story. I promise you’ll find them. You’re currently reading the words of someone who wishes to be that person for you.
4. Some days are going to flat out suck. Recovery isn’t linear. I wish I didn’t have to type either of those sentences, but it’s important to be realistic. The days that suck aren’t going to be forever, but they are the days you’ll need to dig in a little deeper to hold your ground. Find something to hold onto, big or small. There is no such thing as a stupid reason to keep living. The thought of watching The Office for the 100th time has gotten me through some of my bleakest days.
5. This is not your end. Being diagnosed with a mental illness isn’t easy, but it isn’t a death sentence. You can absolutely still live a meaningful, fulfilling, and joyful life. That statement sounds overly optimistic, especially when all you can feel is pain. But the human writing these notes to you today, is the same human who has said that there is no reason to live on countless occasions. I know it hurts, but I have to believe we are meant for something great. We shall not be confined to our diagnosis.
6. One day your illness is going to punch you in the face. Perhaps you won’t duck the punch, but you’ll connect a few of your own punches, suddenly realizing how strong you’ve become. What I’m really trying to say is that you absolutely stand a chance in this fight. And if you ever need someone to tell you they believe in and love you, I’ll be more than happy to be your hype girl.