A person with multiple severe mental illnesses, like myself, will never lead a “normal” life. We are not neurotypical, and cannot lead neurotypical lives. We live our own special brand of lives. These lives can be worthwhile, rich, and rewarding, even though they do contain immense suffering.
Of course, trying to get as close to normal as possible is the first big goal of treatment. Medicine, therapy, and coping skills are meant to help minimize symptoms and pain. Medication is more than half the battle, so seeing a psychiatrist and making sure you keep up to date on prescriptions is the biggest single step you can take. If you do not yet have medical treatment, you will need to work out a plan to get to a psychiatry appointment. You can involve loved ones in this. Do not be shy about asking for help. Your quality of life is on the line, and I guarantee you that you have at least one person in your life who does not want you to suffer. Ask that person to take you to the doctor. You deserve to have treatment. You deserve to live in less pain. You deserve to have your needs met.
Finding the right medicine can take time, but sticking with it until your cocktail is correct is worth the time and suffering of the trial and error process. The long-term goal is remission, and the short-term goal is the amelioration of pain. It can feel hopeless, but please don’t give up. Medicine is the cornerstone of your recovery.
Mindfulness is another coping skill available to you. Mindfulness, an immensely helpful tool, is the practice of experiencing the present moment exactly as it is without passing judgment. The present moment is not good or bad, it’s just what is. You can learn to step back from your thoughts and accept the present moment, and doing so can give you some immediate relief. When you are mindful, you are not worried about anything that is going to happen in the future and you do not regret anything that happened in your past. You ground yourself firmly in the present. There is an abundance of information on how to be mindful on Mindful – healthy mind, healthy life, which is full of techniques for developing this skill that can serve you for years to come. Learning to be mindful will be helpful almost immediately.
I am unable to work, and often unable to do much at all. I can leave the house, but it comes at a high price sometimes. I am currently falling into the pit of depression and can do less and less every day. However, I now have a toolbox of coping skills available to me. I have been working on developing these tools and coping strategies for 12 years. I still have to refer back to this website, which contains all my tricks, to remind myself what to do when I’m struggling. At times when thinking is not my strong suit, I need written instructions on how to cope, even after 12 years of practice.
I have a very beautiful life and so much in it for which to be grateful. I have friends to talk to on the phone, a partner who walks through life with me, a family that supports me as best they can, food in my pantry, disability income, and clean water. When I am in an episode, all that gratitude goes out the window, but when I come back (and I’ve always come back) to reality, it is a very beautiful life that I’m coming back to. I am grateful for what I have, and not resentful about what I lack. Because I offer love to other people, I have a lot of love returned to me. Outside of that my circumstances are beyond my control. I did nothing to deserve food or clean water. I just got lucky.
When I’m in an episode and I’m in incredible pain or even want to end my life, I have to use my tools to wait it out. Mindfulness gives me momentary relief. Writing helps me name my feelings. Keeping level blood sugar prevents escalation of panic symptoms. Meditating while focusing on my breath slows my heart rate. Playing on the computer or reading helps with racing thoughts. Drinking water helps my body do its job. Going outside lets me look at the sky and imagine outer space, which gives me the comfort of a vast perspective. Using my coping skills gives me small moments of relief, and sometimes those small moments are the only things keeping me alive. A minute of feeling just okay can be the difference between leaving and staying. My coping skills are where I find my quality of life when I’m in pain.
I know that from the outside, it looks like I do nothing with my life. I can’t work. I can’t even drive anymore, because it’s too dangerous. Going to the grocery store is something I need major support to do, and I am almost guaranteed to have an episode that starts halfway through. I always go to therapy, and everything else is bonus points. I often feel worthless.
My life is not normal, and it can hurt tremendously. I have to remember that there is no universal measuring stick for what a person should be able to achieve. There is no universal standard for a “good” life. The life you lead is valid, no matter how different it is from the life you wish you had.
I do not lead a normal life, but I do lead a beautiful one. I focus on the things I can control and the things that are good, even if I’m not currently capable of gratitude. Sometimes the best I can do is acknowledge that something is good, not be grateful for it. Sometimes I hate everything and feel like life is pointless. I remind myself that life is pointless, which means I decide what the point of my life is. Personally, I choose loving others, learning things, and sharing knowledge about mental illness as the point of my life. At my worst, I can still love someone. I can love someone when I cannot move or speak. If I have slightly more ability, I can look up something online to learn about. If I have more ability than that, I can write about mental illness on my website or on Quora. There. Point of life met. I can still feel awful while achieving something important to me.
I cannot live a normal life, but my experience as a human moving through the world is as valid as anyone else’s. I love my life when I’m healthy. I hate my life when I’m depressed. The goal is to ameliorate my pain as best I can through medical help, therapy, coping skills, and bodily health, so that I can love my life more often than I hate it. I pay close attention now to the good moments because I get fewer of them than the average neurotypical person. I make sure to be grateful when I am capable of being grateful, which is not all the time. My life is beautiful, and I accept that it’s okay to not be normal.
Please remember that your experience as a human is as valid and as important as anyone else’s experience. Everyone living is capable of existing. Try to exist well by loving others and being kind to yourself. Anything else is bonus points.
By Emily Harrington, The Goldfish Painter
I am not a doctor or any sort of mental health professional. I am a psychiatric patient with multiple mental illnesses that I have survived for 12 years now. My secondhand knowledge comes from doctors, psychologists, therapists, books, college courses in psychology, and the internet. My firsthand knowledge comes from the feelings, experiences, thoughts, symptoms, problems, and solutions that I have lived through. I know myself well, but again, I am not a professional. The information on this site is not a replacement for getting an actual diagnosis or professional help. Coping skills are fantastic, and I hope you learn some here and that they help you, but please seek and continue real medical treatment if you are struggling with mental illness. I wish you the best. You can do hard things.