Mental illness comes with a whole lot of symptoms. But my depression and anxiety have also come with some life lessons. Here are eight of the key things I've learned over the past six years.
8 things my mental illness has taught me:
1) Sleep is not over-rated
· There were nights when I couldn’t sleep a wink and there were others where no matter how much sleep I got, I couldn’t overcome my tiredness. As a result, I will always try to get my scientifically recommended 8 hours sleep a night. My social life must arrange itself around this. Sentences like this one are not uncommon: ‘No, I will not stay out late tonight because I have to be up at 7am, which means I need to be sleeping by 11pm.’ I value my sleep highly these days.
2) Who my friends are
· Yes, there were people who thought I was ‘attention-seeking’ with my mental illness. Some stopped talking to me, or stopped making an effort with me on my worse days.
· But then there are the people who accepted me unconditionally. There are the people who stuck with me through the highs and the lows. These are the people who I could be myself around.
· And I have made new and like-minded friends. These are people who I never would have known if I hadn’t had my mental illness.
3) You have to take time for yourself
· Not all of the time that you spend on your own needs to be spent in self pity and loathing. Now that's an important life lesson I wish I had learned as a teenager. I love chilling out by myself after a long, stressful day. It allows me to practice acts of self care such as going to a bath or working through my adult colouring books. And you know what? It's entirely guilt-free!
4) I appreciate the little things
· My nail varnish didn’t come out lumpy.
· That person I held the door open for said ‘Thank You’.
· The sales assistant was friendly.
· My dog is happy to see me home.
· When you are feeling down, sometimes every little thing gets to you. If I forgot about my tea and let it go cold, I’d probably shed a few tears. You might think it sounds stupid and childish, but some days it just feels like nothing is going right. And these little things can be the trigger that sets you off. So when the little things do go my way, even when I’m having a crappy day, I now smile to myself and appreciate that even one small, obsolete thing has happened in my favour today.
5) Everyone’s mental health experience is different
· Everyone’s journey towards wellness varies – some choose talking therapy, medication, CBT, meditation, mindfulness, or just diet and exercise changes.
· It’s often a trial and error experience to find what works for you. And just because something works for you, doesn’t mean that it is right for everyone else.
6) Suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously.
· When I first had suicidal thoughts I dismissed them. As time went on and I began to struggle, I reached out to a friend who also dismissed them.
· People seem to forget that suicide is 100% preventable. Don’t dismiss mental health problems. Don’t tell somebody that their pain is insignificant. And know how and where to refer someone on for help. When someone finally did take my suicidal thoughts seriously, I finally got the help I needed.
7) What my passion is
· My experiences with mental illness lead me to start campaigning around mental health issues, and in turn it has lead to advocacy work. I’ve become more confident; I was brought out of my shell. It’s where I found happiness. And I never would have discovered it if I hadn’t had my own personal experiences with mental illness.
8) There is help out there. You are never on your own.
· I felt so alone when I was living with a dark depression. I didn’t think anyone would care if I wasn’t here anymore. Only now looking back can I see just how wrong I was.
· Sometimes the hardest thing to do is reach out for help, but when you do, and to the right people, you’d be amazed by the help you receive.
Out of the darkness, out of all the bad, there can come some good. These are just a few of the very important lessons I've learned over the years. Do you have any you would add to the list?