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Let's work to end the suffering together.

John Tessitore is the Founder of the JCK Foundation, a non-profit devoted to ending the stigma of mental illness.

5 Things I Learned from Living with Mental Illness

5 Things I Learned from Living with Mental Illness

5 Things I Learned from Living with Mental Illness

Finding out that you have a mental illness is life-altering. It can bring about all kinds of mixed emotions that can leave you feeling devastated and hopeless. But I am here to tell you that you are not defined by your mental illness. You can live a life filled with peace and happiness. I am going to share with you some of the things I learned from living with mental illness in hopes that I can help you navigate through your own mental health journey.

1. You are not alone, but finding the right support is key

You are not alone. I felt very alone when I was diagnosed. The shame, guilt, and disappointment I carried around with me lead me to isolate myself. I did not want to talk about my mental health with anyone as I didn’t think that they would understand. This was partly due to the fact that I didn’t quite understand what was going on with me, and partly because I was embarrassed. But as time went on, I realized that I am not alone; I couldn’t believe how many people felt like I did. There was a whole world out there that made me feel less alone and more hopeful outside of my bubble of negativity and doubt.

For me, it was all about finding the RIGHT support. When I was feeling down, I thought that any support was the right support, and I quickly found out that there is a difference. The wrong support left me in a vicious cycle of feeling wanted and loved, then depressed and doubtful, and ultimately, like I had no worth. It takes time, but remember the right support is key.  And in order to do that, you need to reach deep within and find your self-worth.

 Happiness isn't overrated or something only meant for certain people - it's meant for you

Happiness isn't overrated or something only meant for certain people - it's meant for you

2. The importance of self-love and self-care

Living with mental illness can damage your self-esteem and self-worth. It is difficult, especially on those bad days, to feel good about yourself.  For me, mental illness not only took a toll emotionally and mentally, but also physically. I began to not like myself anymore, and before I knew it, I was spiraling into a deep depression. I didn’t take care of myself on the most basic level. It didn’t seem important to me at the time. But again, after a significant time of trial and error, I realized the importance of self-love and self-care. It won’t happen overnight, but if you work on it day by day, you will see a significant difference in how you feel and how you cope with your mental illness, especially during the dark times. You will begin to feel like a new and revived you, and it will feel amazing!  

3. The new you is different, not bad

Having a mental illness does change you. For me, I thought that this change was bad. At first, I didn’t embrace it at all. I denied it, pushed it away, and avoided it at all cost. But, little by little, I decided that I had to embraced the change. I had to change my perspective, and I came to the realization that my life and myself were different, but not bad. I needed to get to know me. Personally, I never got to know me; what I liked, what I wanted, etc. It was time to embrace what I embodied and the qualities I never realized I had until I went through the bad times, the breaking points.

  The new you is different, not bad

The new you is different, not bad

 

4. Mental illness can be a good thing

We, as people, tend to think that mental illness is bad.  Truthfully, who wants to be mentally ill? I certainly didn’t. To me, it was the mental equivalent of having cancer. It was a death sentence in my mind. But over time, I realized, after getting reacquainted with myself, I had some pretty amazing qualities. And most people suffering from mental illness share these qualities. I know that I am empathetic. I am compassionate. I am strong. I have persevered through many obstacles. Even writing this now, I smile at these important qualities that I embody, and I know in time, you will realize the beautiful qualities you embody. Remember, these realizations come from the fact that you have a mental illness. This is all a part of the mental health journey.  

5. Mental illness is a journey, not a destination

Mental illness is most definitely a journey.  For me, I thought that my mental illness had a destination, a final stop. I tried to rush through the process. I put pressure on myself when I had bad days or went back to my old thoughts and behaviors. Every time I took a step forward, I took two steps back. It became an unhealthy cycle for me, and it needed to stop. I learned that we all have bad days, and that that’s okay. I learned that relapsing is part of the process, and that that’s okay. I had to learn to sit in the discomfort, and be okay with it. I had to learn to not give up, give in, or quit when it got unbearable. It was all part of the process, and if I didn’t let it happen and go through it, I could never really get better. Lastly, I needed to give myself permission to be gentle with myself, and let the process take the lead. It takes a lot of time, energy, patience, and trial and error, but it is definitely worth it.

Mental illness can definitely be challenging.  But remember that you are not alone. You are loved. You deserve to have all the love and happiness in the world. Take your time, explore yourself, and be gentle with yourself during your mental health journey.  

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