For a long time, mental illnesses were something to keep secret.
Some people didn’t even believe they were real, and those that did felt they needed to hide them away and be ashamed of it.
People saw them as a weakness, but guess what?
It’s time to own your mental illness.
It’s time to be proud of who you are and the obstacles you’ve overcome and continue to overcome.
It’s finally time to get rid of those stigmas and face life in an honest way.
Now, to “own” your mental illness doesn’t mean you need to go shouting over the rooftops about it, though you absolutely can.
There is no pressure to become an activist for people with your illness, no need to tell people in line at the grocery store.
But there is, at least, the personal responsibility to be honest with yourself about your mental illness and work on your own perception of it and how you view or talk to yourself about it.
I have health anxiety and other types of anxieties, and I have many people close to me who are diagnosed with things like OCD, bipolar, and depression.
I’ve gotten a first hand look at how we go around in the world with our mental illnesses, and these tips will help you embrace who you are and make the most of your life instead of hiding away.
This self-love workbook is a fantastic way of realigning your own thoughts and outlook on yourself, which is important to do before you can really deal with anyone else’s feelings or thoughts about you.
1. Get Diagnosed or Be Honest with Yourself about Your Mental Illness
Before you can actually focus on improving your life with mental illness, you need to be honest with yourself about what it is you have.
For some people, this means opening up to a therapist about how their brain works so you can get an official diagnosis, and for others, it simply means being honest with yourself and not pretending like you don’t feel a certain way when you do.
I love online therapy like Talkspace because of how easy it is to get in touch with someone and not have to worry about where in the world they are or facing someone in the flesh.
All denial to yourself or to anyone else is going to do is to make it harder for you to get help, harder for you to embrace who you are, and harder for you to live a happy and successful life with mental illness.
They say, with so many things, that the first step is acceptance, and that’s the case here too.
2. Change How You Talk About It
Even while writing this, I still tended to use words like “struggle with mental illness” and “deal with mental illness” before erasing them.
I’m not saying it’s NOT a struggle, at times, with mental illness, more so for some people than others.
But when we constantly use words related to mental illness that are inherently negative, it becomes seen as something negative.
This isn’t to take away from the difficulty of mental illness for those who have one, but ultimately, in the long run, you’ll get farther by using phrases like “my brain works differently” rather than talking about the struggling with and the dealing with.
Your brain might learn differently, your brain might work differently, or you may feel emotions differently – but that doesn’t put a value judgment on which way is right and which way is wrong or that you are in any way a bad person because your brain works in a certain way.
3. Be Open to Other People About Your Mental Illness
You may not feel comfortable talking about your mental illness to people you don’t know very well, or maybe it’s something that doesn’t come naturally when you’re first diagnosed.
But over time, and especially with people close to you, being open and honest about your mental illness can do a world of good in helping people around you understand how your brain works and helping normalize what it means to have a mental illness.
It can also help you educated people on things like what not to say to someone with anxiety.
Because, let’s be honest – whether it’s anxiety or depression or bipolar, the minute you open your mouth and speak about it, the sooner other people will chime in to say that they, too, have a mental illness and thank you for opening up about it!
This is also a big part of “owning” it and not being ashamed of your mental illness.
People can lead by example, and if you show the world that having a mental illness isn’t something you’re ashamed of, then you’re starting a positive change in how other people think about themselves and their friends with mental illnesses.
4. Find the Good in How Your Brain Works
There are some mental illnesses that are more crippling on a day to day basis than others, and this is in no way meant to say “it’s a good thing you have a mental illness!”
I know there are so many days where I wish I didn’t have one, and it is never okay to tell someone “just snap out of it” or “just be positive.”
However, I do think there is benefit in really understanding how your brain works and, if possible, finding some good in it.
For example, someone with OCD may be extremely detail oriented and that can help them complete projects thoroughly and never miss a step or a beat.
If you have anxiety, you might be a more empathetic person because you understand what it feels like to have people not understand you or why you’re feeling a certain way.
There are tons of resources and ways we can learn to live our best lives, but for many of us – mental illness isn’t going away.
It’s a part of us, and if we can find a tiny bit of good in it instead of constantly feeling like we’re fighting against ourselves, we’ll be much better off.
5. Do Things Every Day That Help You Function the Best
Whether it’s getting enough sleep, taking your pills, getting out and seeing friends, being honest about your mental illness means you need to be honest with yourself about what things you need to do each day and what good habits you need to maintain to function the best you can.
Obviously, there are some mental illnesses, like depression, that make this a harder ask as your brain is fogged up with lack of motivation to help yourself at times, but do what you can.
It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be grand, and you might not hit all of the “must-dos” each day.
If you know that making your bed or simply getting out of it means you have a better day than not, than make that your goal and work up to other things.
There is a danger in not recognizing when you feel and perform your best in life.
If eating well and sleeping well is essential for helping you to more easily manage your OCD, then you can’t keep eating badly and not getting enough sleep because “other people can do it and still feel fine.”
If your medication is what keeps your depression manageable or non-existent, it may feel unfair at times that you have to take it, but you have to be honest with yourself and how it helps you and continue to take it.
Over time, you can learn to own your mental illness and not be a victim of it.
It can be a part of you – just one part of you, and not something that you need to constantly rail against.