Let’s face it. At first, being diagnosed with a mental illness in today’s society can be devastating – having to take medication, dealing with side effects, feeling isolated and alone in a community that has discriminated against you and doesn’t want to understand. Many of us can relate to what that feels like. It can literally bring your life to a complete stop. But it’s not all bad. Once you have accepted your diagnosis, learned to live with it and manage your symptoms, given some time and patience it can actually have a positive effect on the direction of your life. Yes, something positive can come out of mental illness.
Once diagnosed, you may be referred to organizations and programs in the community where you can meet other people who have mental illnesses. Although the stigma associated with mental illness still exists, services and organizations that support consumer survivors have grown. Through these programs and self-help groups, you meet and connect with other people who have a mental illness, opening up a network of support and opportunities you didn’t have before from people that understand and who share the same experiences as you. Remember, 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.  That is not a small number.
While some of us are getting to know others, we are also getting to know ourselves better. Having a mental illness can be a journey of self-discovery. For some it will last a lifetime, learning more about yourself through introspection and treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. You learn about how the brain works and how your brain is wired by analyzing distorted thought patterns and trying to replace them with more rational thoughts. You learn how to manage symptoms. You learn about what you can do to put yourself at ease. In a sense, you become an expert of your own experience and in doing so, you can also become a support to others. Programs are evolving to include paid Peer Support Workers who use their own experience to relate to and support others with mental health issues. Without understanding ourselves better, we could not guide or speak up for others. I think Henry Thoreau says it best when he says, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”.
Once we have a grasp on understanding the complexity of our minds, we can focus on how recovery can shape our lives for the better. Although it can be a difficult time, recovery is an opportunity to grow as a person. It is remembering who you are and using your strengths to become all that you were meant to be.
Some of us learn we are effective speakers and decide to become advocates of mental health and talk about it to the public. During this period, many people may develop a creative outlet for self-expression through artwork and writing, a talent that they didn’t know they had. Some first begin writing for themselves simply by journaling each day about their thoughts and experiences without any intention of ever having them published, horrified of what others might think. But they need not be ashamed. That’s how I first started writing. It’s a perfectly natural and healthy form of self-expression. What they don’t understand is that a lot of people with mental health issues tend to have creative talent that puts an interesting spin on exploring everyday life. Look at the work of artist Van Gogh or novelist Virginia Woolf. Like many others, both had mental health issues and were creatively gifted. Recovery means something different for each of us and, whether through art, writing or public speaking, each of us has a unique perspective to offer.
Remember, no one wants or chooses to have a mental illness. Each of us has a story to tell. Some of us have hidden and buried our sad stories not wanting to relive the trauma. Others could not recall their pain even if they wanted to. But it’s not what you’ve been through in the past that matters. It’s time to let go of the past, and put your life back in motion. Let’s come together with our recovery experiences to make a positive difference in shaping the future of mental health.
About Rosa Dawson
I'm a 40 year old female from Ontario, Canada. I have first-hand experience with mental health. Officially diagnosed with being in the early stages of schizoaffective disorder in 2004, I struggle with depression and schizophrenia. I've had suicidal thoughts for many years and on a few occasions I have tried to kill myself. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Sociology, I have studied mental illness with the goal of making a positive difference in the lives of others. Looking back, although I would not know it at the time, I probably had issues at a young age. I believe society has yet to take a proactive approach to mental health. With my writing, I wish to reach as many people as possible with this message: You should not suffer in silence. You are not alone.