To Everyone Struggling With A Mental Illness, It Doesn't Define You

A mental health diagnosis can mean a variety of things. It can mean you'll need to be medicated, need to see a therapist monthly (maybe even weekly), or be temporarily hospitalized. Regardless of what happens after your diagnosis — your life changes.

It may be easiest to compare mental illness to diabetes. Diabetes is an illness that impacts how your body breaks down sugar. People need to take medication and work closely with their doctor to manage their diabetes. Treatment may go beyond medication. It may be important to change certain lifestyle habits and social activities.

Treatment for mental illness is the same. It is likely that your doctor will put you on one (or multiple) medications to help manage your mental illness. But there is also the external factors aspect. As someone who struggles with mental illness, you need to make sure you have certain support systems, coping skills, and hobbies set up (these are all lifestyle changes).

As someone with a mental illness, you have to learn how to manage your illness without letting it manage you. But one thing nobody ever really tells you is how hard it is, and how powerful your mental illness can be.

Some mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, are more severe and may require more management than anxiety or depression. This is not to undermine the struggles of people with depression or anxiety, but the clinical symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are more severe.

Let's say someone has bipolar disorder. They need to take their medication consistently and work closely with a therapist and psychiatrist to manage their disorder. But that doesn't stop the mood fluctuations — it may reduce the intensity and severity, but the mood fluctuations will never stop. The mood fluctuations are a permanent part of your life. And that's a hard pill to swallow. You're forced to face the fact that a large portion of your life will be spent trying to manage your mental illness, and that's an exhausting and terrifying thought.

If you struggle with mental illness, your life is inherently going to be harder. It's going to be harder to get out of bed in the morning. It's going to be harder to reach out and ask for help if you're struggling. It's going to be harder to keep a job (but by no means, impossible).

Most mental illnesses create cognitive distortions. Simply put, a cognitive distortion is when your brain convinces you of something that isn't true. The cognitive distortion will make these beliefs seem rational and accurate, but it keeps the individual feeling bad about themselves.

Medication can't fix cognitive distortions. Positive self-talk can't fix cognitive distortions, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can. CBT is most effective when it is moderated by a licensed therapist. If someone decides to combat their cognitive distortions, they are forced to dedicate time and resources. While this process can be emotionally draining, it is necessary.

It may seem like a mental health diagnosis is the end of the world, but it isn't. Having a mental illness does make life a little harder, but it also makes it a little more beautiful. You can truly come to appreciate the little things in life such as taking a shower, brushing your hair, keeping a job, cooking yourself a meal, etc. And most importantly, your mental illness does not define you – just like someone's diabetes or high blood pressure doesn't define them. Life is beautiful and exciting even with mental illness, don't let anyone (even your mental illness) tell you otherwise.

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW ARE STRUGGLING WITH SUICIDAL THOUGHTS AND/OR TENDENCIES, REACH OUT IMMEDIATELY. NO ONE SHOULD GO THROUGH THIS ALONE. SUICIDE IS SERIOUS.

National Suicide Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255 - available 24/7

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