I know that I am not alone in saying that I too often focus on the frustrations of living with mental illness. It is easy to dwell on the friendships lost, relationships compromised, the times we have had to take a step back from our education or careers, not knowing what it is like to function as a ‘normal’ person (although I am still convinced that no one really knows).
Admittedly, when I first considered writing a piece about what I have gained from living with mental illness, I wasn’t sure how to approach it because I tend to get stuck on what I have lost. But when I think about it, living with mental illness has brought a lot of unexpected positive change to my life.
A New Perspective
Living with mental illness has made me a better person. Through my own experience of living with mental illness, I gained perspective on the experiences of others that I would not have otherwise developed. I was barely a teenager when I first developed a mental illness. I was self-centred, and for a combination of reasons I was angry at the world and resented the people within it.
Through my experience, I began to understand that everyone is living with invisible struggles. I developed the mentality that everybody should be treated with unconditional kindness; I became more selfless, compassionate and understanding of the experiences of others.
Through connecting with others who were going through similar struggles, I developed a passion for helping people and improving the lives of others. This passion eventually fuelled my decision to pursue a career in mental health.
A New Career Path
When I was trying to find ways to understand and cope with my mental illness, I turned to services like The Butterfly Foundation and ReachOut.com for support, and I was extremely appreciative of the work they did. Around the same time, my future as a performer started to look like more of a dream and less of a reality. I felt lost and directionless. Living with mental illness gave me a new passion to pursue.
In my recovery, I threw myself into advocating for mental health awareness; I once again turned to The Butterfly Foundation and ReachOut.com, this time for volunteer opportunities. I was fascinated to learn more about the development and treatment of mental illness, and I was painfully aware of the stigma surrounding mental illness and the lack of services that leaves sufferers feeling helpless and alone. I decided that I wanted to help other people going through the struggles that I did, and I wanted to contribute to the positive change around how mental illness is viewed and addressed.
I am now at the end of my psychology degree, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. People often express to me how lucky I am to be so clear and passionate about my career path, and I know that I would not have the same passion for my career in mental health if it weren’t for my own experience.
A Mask Lifted
I was raised to brush everything under the carpet. I grew up with a constant pressure to wear a mask and pretend like I was happy and everything in my life was perfect. I now realise that this pressure both contributed to and exacerbated my mental illness.
At my lowest point, I realised just how damaging (even life-threatening) this mask could be. As I opened up to more and more people about my illness in my recovery, I learned the value in talking more openly about my mental health; I felt less isolated, less exhausted, less afraid.
I eventually began to speak publicly about my mental illness through batyr, which provided me the opportunity to help others feel like they are not alone and encourage more open conversations about mental health. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to use my own experiences to empower and inspire others.
Being more open about my mental health has also allowed me to connect with others more wholesomely and genuinely, and although I am still working on it, it has encouraged me to be more authentically and unapologetically myself.
Although living with mental illness is painful and frustrating at times, it has also shaped the parts of myself that I am most proud of, and I would not be the person that I am without it.
Saria is a speaker for batyr, and is the first of our contributors to our new blog series What my experience with mental ill health has given me.