10 Things My Mental Illnesses Have Given Me (That I’m Happy About)

DISCLAIMER: I am in NO WAY minimising the very real situation of living with these disorders and illnesses. I wanted to see if I could find ten things that I, personally, get through having these diagnosis’ as a thought experiment to help me through when things get bad. It is not me saying ‘just think positive’ or trying to minimise the very real hell that mental illness can be. Nor am I glamourising mental illness because – gross. It is also important to note that I receive professional help including therapy and medication and I am not using this list instead of getting proper care an treatment.

It’s hard for me to know how to start this. I want to talk about my particular cocktail of mental illnesses and personality disorders and how they affect me, but thanks to how society still views a lot of this shit my brain is conscious of coming across as, ‘attention seeking’ or ‘playing a sympathy card.’

So, first of all, I guess we should start by saying fuck that. Then roll straight into saying this –

1. what is wrong with wanting attention? To be seen? To be heard? To be understood? They are basic human needs and I won’t be ashamed of that.

2. The shit I’ve been through and the hellscape my brain can be I get to play that card, whenever the fuck I’d like. But also, that ‘card’ doesn’t exist. The (insert marginalised/oppressed community here) card is an invention by those who don’t belong to that group to shut that party down.

I’ve recently had reason to think about my brain. When I say recent, I mean the past 13 years or so, give or take a few hours here or there. I write, muse, ponder, speak, sing and stare loudly at walls about it all the time.

I have the following diagnoses*:

  • Social anxiety
  • Depression
  • EID (Emotional Intensity Disorder, more commonly known as BPD)
  • CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Body Dysmorphia
  • An ass that just won’t quit

Here are the ten things I think I have gained from the above:

1. Great Protector

One of the side effects of living with PTSD/CPTSD is something called hyper-vigilance, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is exhausting and completely draining but one thing it does give me (other than a mean catch when people try to catch me out) is the ability to be a protector. I know the exits to any room I’m in before I’ve sat down and I have scanned for potential threats, the objects I could use to protect my son and I and the sight lines. I’m working on being able to be present in the moment and not be so Jason Bourne but until then I know, that at least I can protect.

2. Techni-Colour Joy

EID is, not too put too mild a point on it, an absolute bitch. It is like being an exposed nerve, every emotion is dialed to eleven. When I am sad, or any other emotion one might classically label ‘bad’ (even though there is no good or bad when it comes to emotions, that are simply all healthy and natural reactions to being alive) it is all consuming and near impossible to get through. But my joy, my love, my sex… HELLO. So like all things in this crazy life, I will take both please.

3. Empathy

You know you obviously don’t have to be mentally ill to be empathetic BUT after all the things I’ve been through and seen its so very hard to not feel for people, even the shitty ones because I know that behind each dick move, side eye or snide comment is a whole heap of life. I don’t welcome these people into my life of course, therapy has helped me set boundaries but empathy doesn’t require this. My empathy bone is also heighten because of my EID, so I’m basically a super hero at this point

4. Evidence Based Decisions

Ok, first let me be REAL transparent here. This is a serious work in progress, it is something I have learnt through my many therapeutic sessions and courses. My brain likes to jump to wildly hateful and mean conclusions about my character. One of the tools I have been given to help this is first to be able to recognise when I’m potentially having an episode and not make any big decisions in that space and secondly it is to treat my brain like its on trial. I make it present its case with facts only. So this way I know if I’m just beating myself up.

5. Learning about Filters

Another skill I’ve learnt is understanding negative filters. We all have them but until you go through therapy you don’t really know that. Basically your past experiences lead to ways of thinking and these become filters, positive or negative that we view our life through. These are to do with how we view ourselves and how we think about others. By learning about these I have been able to begin to understand how my past is still affecting my day to day life through my filtered lens. And because I know, I do the work. Ignorance is bliss but education is progress and growth.

6. Being Made to Look Beyond the Physical

I have an intense relationship with food and my body to put it mildly but the thing I have gained from this is to realise, that how I look is the least interesting thing about me and by reflection anybody else. This one is a loooooong way away from being instinct but I’m working on it.

7. Gratitude for the Good Days

Its so easy to take things for granted, we usually only notice when things break or are not doing what we want them to do.We tell our kids off but don’t put as much behind praising them for the every day little things they are doing. Well because I know how quickly my brain can switch I really try to embrace the every day wins, the little things that go so smoothly you can miss them and when I’m having a really good, I overflow with joy and gratitude.

8. Boundaries

I used to build emotional walls (I still have many left to come down) but then I learnt about boundaries and how important they are for me to be healthy and that those people who respect them are the type of people I want around. A healthy boundary breeds healthy relationships. I’m not going to lie, I used to think that ‘healthy’ relationships would be so boring but I’m here to tell you, they are awesome. Just because a relationship isn’t drenched in drama doesn’t mean its boring, it means it’s not knocking years off your life through stress – win.

9. A Good Listener

I grew up not being heard, or rather actively ignored when I wasn’t be targeted, so I know the pain of having no voice and because of this, I want to listen to people. I put in real effort to listen, to understand and to remember. I don’t want people feeling like I did and even if I disagree I try to hold my tongue and keep my ears open – I don’t always succeed but I try.

10. Emotional Intelligence

I have had to work on myself and it sucks to be quite honest. Its fucking hard and painful and something very few people understand. You wouldn’t be expected to perform surgery on yourself but that’s exactly what is expected of patience with mental illness because it can only be healed that way. Quite frankly I wish they could knock that shit off and give me a pill but apparently – no. So because I have and continue to work on myself a lovely byproduct of that is personal growth and a deepening emotional intelligence that I wouldn’t have with out ‘the work’

BONUS – You Don’t Need to be Grateful for your Trauma

I have some good news, you don’t need to have mental illness to take care of your mental health and all of the skills I learnt are not guarded by a wizened old wizard with a bad attitude an a penchant for blasting you up the booty for looking at his crazy cloak to long – you can find resources all over the google. So, the next time someone tries to tell you, ‘its made you who you are’ like they are Yoda, just remember, you made you who you are by doing the work. Work which we all could do with doing quite frankly and that you don’t have to be zen about abusers, k.

Until next time, keep your eyes out for grumpy wizards.

*If you want to find out more about mental illness and health, I highly recommend visiting Mind’s website. They are a mental health charity and are friendly, non judgmental and have tons of educational articles as well as resources and advice on their website.

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