Serious Mental Illness Baggage
Serious mental illness-depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD-come with a great deal of baggage. It does not mean that people can’t recover and go on to lead healthy, happy and productive lives. What I mean is that if we aren’t careful those of us living with a SMI will start to have a collection of negative past experiences that when compounded make it difficult to deal with.
This collection of baggage is something that usually begins with the onset of illness. It can include a negative experience from a hospitalization or with providers, it can be with a pile up of personal and financial losses, it simply can be an interruption of everyday life as we once knew it. One of the problems with all these things is how we cope and deal with it affects our mental health and we are already dealing with illnesses that impact our mental wellness.
My Experience with Bipolar Depression
I have a major bipolar depression problem that I have been fighting since I was in high school. It has taken me years to finally understand how the symptoms of depression manifest in my brain. Only within the past year have I been able to identify the negative thought process that often comes from the Lies Depression Tells You. But the reason I bring this up is to say that having depression makes it even more difficult to deal with the baggage. Sometimes it is just flat out more difficult to cope.
How I Cope
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand how losses have affected me. It wasn’t until today that I read an article that stated how difficult job losses are that I realized the impact my job loss had on me. I took some time to let the article digest and then I did a little exercise where I wrote down on paper all the things that happened as a result of that job loss.
For some reason writing things down seem to help validate the importance of them. It also has a way of releasing some of the negative emotions that come from holding it all in. It’s a coping strategy I am using more and more everyday.
In a time when politicians are trying to figure out what kind of changes they should make to the mental health system, I just get stuck on one fact–serious mental illnesses are difficult to live with but the point is many of us are living with these illnesses. We might not all be working in high paying jobs but many of us are dealing with the everyday baggage that has been left on our doorstep while maintaining our responsibilities as parents, caregivers, employees and as independent adults.
My hope is that we collectively will continue to share our thoughts and feelings about mental illness and in that sharing we can continue to find a peace of mind. At the end of the day it’s not going to be any one thing that helps us manage, but a collective number of things we do to help us live our lives. After all we deserve to have a life too!
I was sitting at dinner with my mother and I was talking about how I needed to change the channel from the feeling sorry for me and poor me streaming stations to a more productive Ways to Rebuild My Life. The thing is I think I switch back and forth between all these channels. I’m simply trying not to listen to the poor me series that continues to play on and on if I let it.
I know I am not the only person out there who has suffered substantial loss at the hands of a mental illness. All you have to do is say the words mental illness and one can assume some type of hardship has occurred or continues to occur. It’s a sickening, cruel illness and there’s nothing anyone can say that will change my mind about it. It steals silently and loudly.
But there comes a point in time where you have to learn how to live with it. I like it that NAMI and other organizations point to the fact that those of us with a mental illness can live healthy and productive lives. It gives me hope that I can live a healthy and productive life. What they don’t say is how hard the journey can be getting from before a mental illness to after and all the potential destructiveness in between. I have seen recovery workbooks that demonstrate somewhat of a blueprint for recovery. They are helpful except where do we turn when the journey gets lonely and painful? What examples do we have to look at when we start down the recovery path and need other people to shine a light for us? Where are the stories of people living with mental illness?
I have been a student of bipolar illness for more than thirty years. I have seen the illness wreck havoc with family members lives and I have lived through the illness taking its’ toll on my own life. I have turned to books and blogs, support groups and any movie I could watch to give me some insight into how to better cope and deal with my own personal journey. All of the information has helped me but at the end of the day I wanted more. I wanted to be able to talk to someone who could set me on the right track. Someone who could give me hope that my future was going to be bright and productive. That somehow and someway I was going to make a difference in someone else’s life in a positive way.
So tonight my dinner conversation occurred. I said, “I need to stop feeling sorry for myself.” My mother replied, “Yes you do. You have so much to be thankful for. Just think about tomorrow being a better day. Look for the good and you’ll find it. Just look for the good Amy.”
As simple as it may seem when someone tells you to look for the good it’s not a bad idea to listen. You can always turn your channel to the feel sorry for me station, except you don’t get very far thinking about the past and what could have been. Where it’s happening is today and the future you can have by learning to cope with “what is.” Learning to be alright living with a mental illness. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.