How mental illness saved my life

Mental illness is an incredibly personal journey and this article is intended to share my experience, strength and hope. I respect that everyone isn’t as fortunate as me and I’m humbled by that fact.  That being said it’s important for some to hear my journey and understand that there is hope.

The Journey Begins

It all started with an idea.  A thought that my mind took hold of and began to obsess about. Sleep became meaningless, food was secondary, all the external elements of life were fading.  Then the auditory hallucinations began.  Sounds coming from the walls, heavy machinery, spy cameras and hidden microphones. Next came the paranoia, the person in the apartment below me was a CIA operative, that blue van was following me and they were going to search my apartment when I left.  It wasn’t all bad though.

Besides the terrifying experiences I just mentioned, my first mental health crisis had some moments of pure bliss.   I felt a sense of union with the universe, a powerful purpose and like I was charged with super human abilities.  These were, at the time, the best I had ever felt.  However, the higher the highs took me, the deeper the lows would dive.  Considering the cyclical nature of this state of mind something had to break the cycle.

Learning about my mental illness

Long story short, I ended up in a psych ward.  At the time, it was one of the most horrible things I encountered because of how detached I was from reality.  My mother had to travel close to 3000 miles to sign me out and help me process the diagnosis.  I was told I was Bi-Polar  1 suffering from mania and drug induced psychosis. It was nearly impossible to believe that everything I had just encountered was caused by a faulty brain saturated in chemicals. After my second encounter with psychosis and mania a little over a year later, I accepted it, and took on all the baggage that comes with those labels in our culture.   

Stigma around mental illness

In a capitalistic culture your worth as a person is directly related to your ability to work and earn.  Several trips to the psych ward and the complete destruction of reality as you know it tends to impact ones ability to do either easily.  When you add on the brain fog of mental health meds, the shame associated with mental illness and then demoralization of having to move back into your Mom’s house at 28, that’s a deep fucking hole to dig yourself out of. That’s not the end of it though.

Mental illness is mocked in pop culture.  The stigma is spread in cartoons, in movies, on the news and in every way possible.  So imagine, dealing with the most devastating thing in your entire life and then having it be a joke to the world at large. Or worse yet, having people you don’t know be afraid of you for something that you have no control over.  The saddest part about all of this is that the stigma around mental illness isn’t true.  

3 quick facts about mental illness

My recovery from mental illness

I’d love to tell you this was an easy process, it wasn’t.  There were some really dark and stagnant times.  My first mental health crisis happened in July of 2012 and my last hospitalization was in the winter of 2014.  By that time I had completely lost all hope of ever having a “normal life”.  However, in hindsight even during the “stagnant” times I was making small shifts that would later have big rewards.  Here are a few things that really worked well for me.

10 Mental health tips

  • Eat a balanced diet – minimize caffeine, sugar and processed foods
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Exercise
  • Find a support group
  • Find hobbies
  • Get fresh air
  • Work with a therapist and / or psychiatrist
  • Challenge yourself
  • Avoid recreational drugs and alcohol

The big shift

On September 1st of 2016 I hit a point where I knew things had to change. The next day I got involved in a 12 step program and faced 20 years of self medicating with substance abuse.  For the past two years my psychiatrist had told me many of the issues I was facing would go away if I stopped using recreational drugs.  They did.  This isn’t to say that all my issues were drug related, rather drugs made the symptoms worse.  As a result of finding support in the 12 step program and putting in the work I was able to come off my meds in May of 2016 with the doctors blessings.

Looking back

A mental health crisis can be an endpoint or it can clear the path to a fresh start.  For me it was both.  After the last few trips to psych ward it was evident my old way of life no longer worked.  The standstill in my development between 2014 and 2016 was really just a form of buffering one story to the next. Mental illness saved my life because it made me conscious of  how my actions and attitudes impact not only myself but everyone else around me.  This process has been the most challenging and humbling experience I’ve ever had the luxury of dealing with but it has also been the most rewarding.  

Closing thoughts

If you’re suffering from mental illness please know that it can get better and you can recover.  It won’t happen over night but if you are patient and willing to do the work it is entirely possible.  Don’t give up.

If a loved one is suffering from mental illness please know that what they need more than anything is your support.  While it may appear be helpful to offer suggestions as to what they “should” do, this can be more problematic.  Recovery from mental is a personal choice and only they can make that choice and do the work.  All they need is your love. 

Clarifying my position

I’d like to clarify one thing.  I’m not saying mental illness is a choice, it’s not. I’m saying recovery is. I accept that my story is unique and I’m fortunate. However, if more people made changes to their lifestyle their symptoms would be reduced. Medication can be a great starting point but the bulk of the work for recovering from mental illness lies in what the individual does.

I accept my position won’t be popular but as someone who felt doomed to a life limited to the labels I was given It’s important I offer my experience. Is it easy, no.  However, some of us are willing enough to go to any lengths to get some relief from our conditions, even growing past what we once believed was impossible. 

Further thoughts in video

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