Having a mental illness doesn't make me weak.
By Ari Eastman
I wouldn’t ever, ever, ever wish mental illness upon anyone. Anyone who struggles with it knows it’s an isolating, painful thing to deal with.
Many diseases, conditions, etc. are visible—and even if they’re not, they’re usually somewhat understood. But, when it’s your brain that’s sick? There’s a heartbreaking stigma attached. The word crazy is tossed around. You watch people on television shows murder in cold blood and the only explanation given is they are “mentally ill.” A pretty vague, generic thing, to be quite honest.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in college and while again, I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, I recognize all the ways it’s made me stronger.
1. It’s taught me the importance of accepting that things in life are temporary.
Change has always been something I struggle with. Even as a little kid, I wasn’t going to be diving into the pool with all my friends. I had to get there—slowly. Any change in my pattern was very jarring and I took a bit longer to adjust than my peers.
Everything in life is always changing. Life itself is a temporary thing. And by the very nature of bipolar disorder—and even if you don’t suffer from it—you're in temporary spaces. The highs will eventually give way to lows. And, though it’s hard to remember in the dark spots, the lows will also transition into something else.
2. It’s taught me how to ask for help.
Needing help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, asking for it is one of the bravest and strongest things someone can do. We’re not meant to handle everything alone. We aren’t solitary creatures just chilling in caves. We thrive within a society. We need a community of people around us. Nobody gets by entirely on their own.
3. It’s instilled me with a strong sense of empathy for other people struggling with mental illnesses—or other ailments.
From first glance, you have no way of knowing what another person is going through. We can all be so quick to toss labels around—crazy, asshole, hot mess. Sometimes, yeah, someone really is just an asshole. But there’s also the chance that they're battling something you can’t even begin to comprehend.
Going through my own shit has taught me to never jump to conclusions about anyone else. We should treat everyone with compassion and kindness. Don’t assume someone with a bad attitude is just a bad person—maybe, right now, they are trying their best to simply stay afloat.
4. It’s put me in touch with my body.
You’ll come across people who say you just need to eat the right foods and exercise and BLAMO—your depression, anxiety, whatever, is magically gone. For smaller cases, sure, perhaps. But when you chronically struggle with something that has been diagnosed, it’s damaging to spread the idea that if you just run on a treadmill enough, your brain chemistry will be fixed.
That being said—IT DOES HELP. I’ve had to learn the things I can do that put me in a better place. Figuring out the proper routines—combined with medication and taking care of my body—have put me in such better mental spaces. Learning to listen to my body—and act accordingly—has been a huge asset.
5. It’s given me perspective.
Yes, someone out there is chilling on greener grass and you’re left wondering, “How the hell do they have it so good?” But someone else always has it worse. Life is not about competing with our pain—or our achievements. Life is about thriving and surviving—however we can. When I’m struggling, I remember others out there are too. I am not alone, nor am I a special snowflake just because I’m hurting. *Cue R.E.M.* Everybody huuuuuurts.
This article was originally published at Thought Catalog. Reprinted with permission from the author.