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Patient story: how not to let illness define you

First learning you’re mentally ill is a very difficult thing to cope with for anybody. Many people live most of their lives without realizing anything about them is different. The most important lessons to learn when diagnosed with mental illness are to accept the fact that you’re ill and to get on the same page as your doctors and therapists. When I first became ill, I was paranoid and scared and didn’t trust that my doctors were truly looking out for my best interests. I felt that everyone was against me and that I had little control over what was happening to me. If I could go back in time to when I first became ill, my advice to myself would be, “Listen to and trust those trying to help you. They’re there for you. Learn to be honest and work with them because that’s the only way you’re ever going to get better.”

It's also important to recognize that dealing with mental illness is like a marathon, not a sprint. You shouldn’t expect to get better immediately, so don’t be worried if it seems like your treatment isn’t helping right away. It takes hard work, time and dedication to get through treatment. It’s easy to get upset if it seems you’re not getting better fast enough, but take solace in even small steps forward. Remember, most people who are diagnosed with mental illness have to live with it, in some form, for the rest of their lives. However, how you approach your illness can greatly affect the toll it takes on you. If you work hard, adhere to your treatment plan and make conscious efforts to change, you will find that your illness will hopefully decrease to the point that, instead of being a huge burden, it becomes more of an inconvenience than anything else.

There are many good ways to cope with your mental illness. I personally suggest engaging your artistic side. Many people with mental illness have creative minds and a unique perspective on the world. Try writing, painting, drawing, playing an instrument, etc. Engaging your imagination to create art works to your benefit in many ways. It helps keep you occupied, gives you something productive to do, will very likely improve your mood and, perhaps most importantly, offers a release and helps you forget about your illness and symptoms.

Remember: even if your illness never goes away completely, you don’t have to let it define you. You can have the same things in life as everyone else: hobbies, work, relationships and happiness. If you work with the doctors, you will very likely see your symptoms reduce to the point where they are manageable. When I first became ill, I felt like the illness was in control of me. After several years of treatment, while I still am sick, I feel as if I am in more control of the illness. So, be honest with yourself and your doctors, take their advice, stay on your medications and try to foster good relationships with the people around you. Mental illness is by no means a death sentence. So, do all you can to combat it, and you’ll have a great chance at a happy and fulfilling life!

ETP Patient

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