The Merits of Mental Illness

Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t wish mental illness on my worst enemy – but experiencing it has given me a few advantages. Hitting rock bottom has made me less afraid of challenging the norm. It has left me more determined to follow my dreams. It forced me to face up to my issues (with the help of a year of drama therapy) and accept that I am a good person with a lot to offer.

Before, I used to believe the bullies who told me I wasn’t good enough. People who picked on me just to make themselves feel better. So-called friends who undermined my confidence and made me feel stupid, disgusting and ashamed. Looking back, do you know what I notice? All of these people lived mediocre lives. They followed the ‘rules’ about fitting in and never stepping out of line. They belittled anyone who tried to do better, anyone who had bigger goals, because it was easier than challenging their own view of the world.

I now realise that most of the people who were horrible to me must have been miserable. I don’t know why they took it out on me – I turned inward and blamed myself for my misery. Maybe they were jealous of dreamers with ambition. Perhaps they were just nasty and spiteful. My experience of mental illness has taught me to ignore these people and to pity them. It has also demonstrated that I can hurt myself worse than anybody else can: at the worst points of my depression, I hated myself and punished myself for being someone I hated. Getting past that has made me feel all but invincible!

The other merits of mental illness are less dramatic, but almost as influential. Being unable to concentrate enough to read when I was depressed meant I watched a lot of DVDs, which reminded me of how much I love film and led to a BA in Film Studies. Being too anxious to leave the house for months at a time taught me who my friends were (i.e. those who made the effort to keep in touch) and made me value them more than ever before. Living at home when I went to university, because I needed the support of my family, enabled me to buy my own car and learn to drive. I loved that car, even though it was a bit of an old banger and, after a few years, had a leak that covered the floor with an inch of water every time it rained…

The point is, you can find silver linings in your darkest moments, as long as you look hard enough. You might be sceptical – I know I would have been if I’d read a post like this eight or nine years ago – but I promise it’s true. However, it’s not easy. It’s not so much using the lemons life gives you to make lemonade, but about using the shit life throws at you to fertilise the seeds you sow in order to grow a better future.

Have you identified any advantages in your experience of mental illness or other suffering? Please comment and let us know.


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